Spotlight CabaretSecond floor, 8217 – 104 St. (elevator accessible)780-760-0202spotlightcabaret.ca11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a weekNo listed delivery serviceFood: 3.5 of 5 SunsAmbience: 4.5 of 5 SunsService: 4.5 of 5 SunsDinner for two excluding tip, taxes or beverages: Basic, $30; loaded $65By GRAHAM HICKSKeep your fingers crossed that the Spotlight Cabaret, in the heart of Old Strathcona, is a roaring success.It’s a bold venture in what was the O2’s second and third floor bar and restaurant, and before that Chili’s Old Strathcona.Spotlight is modeled on those classic Hollywood and New York City fancy bars you see in late-night movies, but in living technicolour – nightly cabaret entertainment and full menu service is offered in the beautifully renovated room, complete with a real stage.On an Edmonton summer afternoon or evening, head upstairs to Spotlight’s spacious outdoor rooftop patio, with its spectacular view of the downtown skyline.I’d bet on Spotlight for two reasons. Owners/operators Jeff Halaby and Aimee Beaudoin are seasoned Edmonton entertainers (Jubilations Dinner Theatre, Caution May Contain Nuts TV comedy, Varscona Theatre) as well as entrepreneurs. They are genuinely nice people who know the local entertainment scene inside out, who understand true hospitality – friendliness, attentiveness, politeness – and have instilled those values in the serving staff.Spotlight’s executive chef Jesse Woodland has impressive credentials. He learned his craft from two of Edmonton’s best, Shane Chartrand and Steve Brochu. Woodland is a recent returnee from Newfoundland, where he had gone to hone his seafood skills.Within the restraint that all restaurants face in this era of retrenchment, of shying away from culinary adventure to the tried and true, of being casual, casual, casual, Spotlight’s food is off to a good start.As promised, some of the seafood – not all – was first-rate. The “Cod’s Pajamas” features a superb pureed salty cod dip on herbed toast, an excellent start to a meal. The “Fish Out of Water” was a properly grilled fresh salmon filet, but had no outstanding flavour, nothing lip-smacking.
The “Cod’s Pajamas” consists of herbed toast with a creamy salt cod dip. Delicious!
The “Fish out of Water” Spotlight menu item is a grilled six-ounce salmon filet.
The “Grifter” veggie burger with its Beyond Meat patty, regular toppings and a distinctive smoked carrot puree was pleasant enough, but, hey, much as we try to fool ourselves (A&W has done a good job), a plant-based burger simply doesn’t have the flavour, texture and juiciness of ground beef. For my next visit, I hear Spotlight’s signature Gatsby Burger with maple, mayo, stout-infused cheddar, beer braised cabbage and a serious meat patty calling my name.As a casual summer dish, the open-faced Avocado Coast on grilled ciabatta was quite perfect with a glass of rose or a crisp, fruity white wine, piled high with avocado slices, arugula and a bruschetta-like chopped tomatoes.
Spotlight’s “Avocado Coast” open-face sandwich with soup.
A pleasant, light sun-drenched dinner on the rooftop patio, served by most pleasant and knowledgeable staff, then a move downstairs as it grows chilly to the beautiful ambience of the cabaret, enjoying burlesque, comedy and “drag queen bingo” entertainment. All this for the most reasonable of prices, for drinks, food and a token cover charge.A fine addition to Edmonton’s hospitality scene. May Spotlight have a great run!FOOD NOTES• Everyone and their dogs are opening second restaurants … Vivo Ristorante (West End, Sherwood Park) is now up to three, with renowned chef Medi Tabtoud running the kitchen at the casual but classy Vivo Windermere.• Splash Poke is up to four outlets with its latest at Northgate, Ono Poke is opening in South Edmonton Common, Reinette (French pastries and snacks) is expanding to West Edmonton Mall, Farrow Sandwiches to 124 Street …• Chris Hrynyk – long-time corporate chef at Sorrentino’s – has taken over the kitchen at the Edmonton Petroleum Golf & Country Club … Dave Husereau, long associated with Evil Dave’s in Jasper, has moved into town and opened the Writer’s Room near the U of A … Jim Pettinger, Sherbrooke Liquor’s former teetotalling beer expert, can now be found at Liquor International on Stony Plain Road. Jim is building a Central European wine selection representing excellent value at $12 to $17 a bottle.• Say what? The downtown Saturday outdoor market, supposed to move to a year-round indoor space on 97 Street, is now back on 104 Street for the summer … Less than a year after opening in the old Pack Rat Louie’s, Bottega Old Strathcona has closed its doors. This prime hospitality real estate deserves a credible, top-notch operator.• Those in search of gluten-free dining now have a guide. Linda Hoang’s food blog features guest writer Sharman Hnatikuk’s “Ultimate Guide to Gluten-free Eating in Edmonton”.