Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) is working her way through the Tomato’s 2013 and 2014 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of The Cavern on her own blog.
The Cavern (@CavernYEG) is a cozy little shop/bistro/bar that opened on the now somewhat food-centric 104 Street promenade in downtown Edmonton. Within a year it was voted by readers into The Tomato’s list of the top 100 best eats and drinks in the city, and for good reason. Having been there a few times within the last couple months, I can say, without a doubt, that the food, wine and service is top notch, which is why it is all the more important to let all of you in on everything that makes this place such a great new hangout.
The Cavern’s philosophy? They want to offer a chic experience with exceptional food quality at the heart. I spoke with owner Tricia Bell about the last 15 months, gaining insight into the mind of, not only a turophile (a.k.a. cheese-lover), but someone who is, in every sense of the word, an entrepreneur. She shows passion for and investment in the local community, sustainability and healthy living. Tricia is a perfectionist — detail-oriented, driven, rooted to her ideals — who pours her heart and soul into her work, and it shows.
From my discussions with other restaurants this year I gathered that Edmonton’s food and business community is rather tight knit, so I loved that Tricia reiterated that to me. The Cavern is very supportive of independent shops in the downtown neighbourhood, purchasing whatever local food items they can access and afford including wine from DeVine Wine and Spirits, extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from Evoolution and produce from the City Market. In addition, they stock Alberta-made cheese, preserves from Jam Lady and Fruits of Sherbrooke, old style brittle candy from Sweet in Calgary and vegan cookies from Bloom in Edmonton, among others. Tricia says that local businesses want each other to succeed, so they contribute by investing however they can. If that means buying items they can use on their menus, participating in cross-promotional events, advertising through word-of-mouth or making community donations, that is what they will do.
Sustainability is also high on The Cavern’s list of priorities. Although they must import many of their cheese products from around the globe, they strive to be sustainable in many other ways that did not even occur to me. Tricia says that one thing they attempt to do and have been successful with so far, is to leave as small of an environmental footprint as possible. Often times restaurants will have quite a bit of food waste, but at The Cavern, while portions are ample, they are never huge. Therefore, little, if anything goes into the garbage (usually no more than a bit of jelly or preserve and possibly a few nuts). They also avoid working with producers that provide overly processed foods that can cause environmental or health issues in the long run, and since the menu at the cafe is also designed with the idea of serving whole, natural foods that are close to their original form, they are able to work without most heavy-duty cooking equipment that use a lot of energy. All take-out packaging used by the shop is compact, biodegradable or reusable as well. Additionally, The Cavern fosters sustainability by working with those who are connected to the source of production — coffee served is roasted in Portland by Coava, a company that works directly with farmers in the regions and communities where the coffee is grown.
Community is something that the conversation continues to come back to, and Tricia says she feels that the downtown area has been the perfect place to build her business. There have been challenges along the way, but she takes them on with aplomb. Coming from Montreal, Tricia says she is excited to see the future development of Edmonton’s downtown core, particularly the increased blend of residential living and commercial enterprise. For now, the adventure that is The Cavern has been wonderful — she has found that the neighbourhood and city have truly embraced this business and are taking in what they have to offer.
And they certainly have plenty to entice! Open Monday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu inspirations are a combination of what Tricia loves to eat along with the principle of complementary and balanced pairings. However, freshness of ingredients and the integrity of the product is always the starting point. Offerings are dependent on circumstances — Tricia’s appetite driven by the season or weather — and whether she has received a unique item that she wants to introduce to her patrons. Of course, whole ingredients are important, too, because they provide diners with full sustenance and satisfaction while still being light and healthy.
The ambiance is welcoming and the space is intimate, so Tricia is quick to point out that it is not quite suited for parties of more than six people on typical occasions, especially without the option for reservations. Nevertheless, they are quite accommodating and will work with those who are interested in renting The Cavern for private events. If you can, be sure to take advantage of the outdoor seating on Saturdays during City Market hours. Currently, they are limited to terrace seating only at that time, but Tricia said she hopes that The Cavern will soon be able to offer the patio to customers during all operating hours.
That is, in essence, what The Cavern keeps striving for. Tricia wants to be able to give her clientele exactly what they want. As she states, “The Cavern is a labour of love and a work of art to perfect.”