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Nov 29, 2007 12:32 PM

Earls vs. Joeys

Earls vs. Joeys

After the rash of suburban restaurant posts we saw a few weeks ago, I wanted to revisit both of these places and explore the current state of box store highbrow nosh.

Earls. Saturday night.

We found ourselves in Earls after a long day at a convention. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the backs of the trio of over-candied hostesses. They were excited by some sort of dramatic activities in a section of the restaurant that appeared to be a high school function of some kind. It began to feel a bit agonizing until we were eyeballed by an alert waiter who snaked us into his section and rescued us from getting off to a bad start. I decided to order entirely off the feature menu.

An entire box of spinach was brought to the table with figs and goat cheese with a balsamic dressing. It was good, but so ludicrous in scale that eating figs was like rustling through a leaf pile. Maybe that was part of the "Fall" theme? As my tolerance for raw vegetables is fairly low, I did my best to clear off a reasonable amount.

A massive pork chop came to the table before a moment passed - It had a bacon and apple chunky gravy on it. Undersalted, somewhat overcooked, but not intolerably so. Somehow bacon and apples didn't really come across in the flavour but it wasn't bad - a semi-sweet, semi-boozy with animal fat in it sort of way.

Despite my rebelling stomach, I really wanted to believe that the feature pumpkin pie would be either cheesecakeish with a nasty cross hatch of squirt bottle sauces, or an interpretation of diner style done a tad more upscale. Neither appeared - merely a cracked wedge of canned pumpkin with an undercookedcrisco crust.

Our waiter was so good I want to believe that dinner was better then it was. Maybe that's part of the Earl's plan. The price-point seems to have come down a touch from the high water mark of the last few years. The "Alberta Size" portions were ridiculous, and the ingredients weren't exactly bottom rung, so I hope they scale down the weight on the plate a touch and spend more money on love. You could really see so many moments where a decent recipe stumbled in execution. The door staff make it harder for the waiters, and then the waiters deal with the expectations of the customers - the kitchen staff fail to execute or in assembly mistake generosity for quality.

Joey Tomatoes - Chinook. Weekday. Early Evening.

Started off with a better seating experience. Our happiness was quickly erradicated by our horrific waitress. She complained about her shoes (they were expensive but making her feet sore), her shift (not a lot of happy customers), her bracelet (she just got it, it was expensive and kept catching on her sweater, also expensive). We ordered a bottle of wine, but not by name, rather, by number, from a list of maybe 20.

No appetizers, just entrees. I had a roasted chicken thing, as I heard they were all pre - roasted and heated sous vide. I couldn't really tell. As with so many restaurant roast chickens, it was not an experience, but just a complicated way to ingest calories.

If there is any conclusion to come to - it's that a good waiter made me order more bad food, and the bad waitress had me ordering less bad food. I don't know who to thank, but in either case the food lost.

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  1. Wow, you had a 'him' serve you at an Earls. In Edmonton, it seems that the main criteria for becoming a wait or door staff is that you properly fill out, or fall out of, the requisite black dress.

    As for the food, it is usually mediocre at best, but the chicken, brie and fig sandwich on a ciabatta is exceptional! And service and food quality are so inconsistent it is almost funny. I don't eat there often, but occassionally just because of convenience. Sometimes, they let me split 1/2 fries and 1/2 salad with the sandwich, sometimes they say they don't do that, sometimes they want an extra $1. It seems random.

    The only Joeys I've tried is one in South Edmonton Common that is supposed to be more upscale than the others in town. Just another typical brown leather/ dark wood, boring and characterless restaurant where the staff is pretentious and the food blah.

    Earls is OK for after-work drinks, but I hope I never have to eat in either again.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Dan G

      Thanks for the reviews, Gobstopper. I laughed, I cried...

      I wholeheartedly second the chicken, brie, and fig sandwich at Earl's. It is the only item I order when I go there. However, even this sandwich suffers inconsistency issues—sometimes the chicken is dried out, sometimes not; sometimes there is not enough fig jam, sometimes too much.

      Last year, I went to the Moxie's in Market Mall. The steak and goat cheese salad was actually reasonably portioned and decent—fresh greens, perfectly medium-rare steak, decent sauce/dressing. Just not enough goat cheese for the turophile in me.

      1. re: aktivistin

        The steak and goat cheese salad is my usual when I go to Moxie's. I don't mind the amount of goat cheese but I usually get the dressing on the side because I found sometimes they add too lilttle or too much dressing.

        The ahi tuna crisps appetizer ain't bad either.

        1. re: aktivistin

          I'll add a third for the chicken brie and fig sandwich, I totally do consider it one of my guilty pleasures - to go to a chain restaurant (gasp!) and get it. I also don't mind the tuna BLT at Joeys. It helps to have a favorite at each of these places, since you do end up there from time to time with work or friends.

          I find it sad that the waitresses at these places are basically becoming the new Hooters girls.

        2. re: Dan G

          DanG I've had that sandwich it was wonderful! I've tried to recreate it at home and I'm missing something...maybe it's the health-conscious part of me that insists on using less brie and whole wheat instead of ciabatta ;) I don't particularly like the Earl's "uniform" for their female serving staff either...something about being served by a person who's clothes make it appear they are better dressed for working a corner is just wrong. I have only been to Earl's a handful of times and while I've been underwhelmed by the food/service I haven't been disappointed either... but then I don't expect much out of 'B' movies either.

        3. hey gobstopper, great rundown. I laughed, a lot. maybe you can complete the dazzling dining trifecta by reviewing milestone's at market mall.

          5 Replies
          1. re: alex8alot

            Let's throw Montana's, Kelsey's, and Moxie's onto the list too. Of course, Gobstopper might take his own life if he had to eat at all those places in the same week, so maybe someone else might step up? :)

            1. re: yen

              That was an awesome review! Hilarious.

              But yen, I have to say I really like the ribs at Montana's. :-)

              1. re: alau2

                And I have to say that I love the thai drummettes at milestone's. They come with a mayo-bsaed sauce... what is there not to love? I don't know if it is actually open yet though.

              2. re: yen

                Take his own life? He'd have to start carrying a portable defribulator! ;)

              3. re: alex8alot

                Does that mean that the MM Milestone's is now open?

              4. I've had a different experience with both restaurants. Although I tend not to like going to franchises as much, I must admit I usually ALWAYS get better food/service at Joey's than at Earls..Not saying the service at either are spectacular or anything though. I don't think there has been a single food item i've really actually enjoyed from Earls.. Also, having friends who used to manage/work at Earl's, they tell me appalling stories of how some of the servers re-use dropped cutlery, use dirty tableclothes to wipe down plates, etc..
                This may have also caused me to be biased against earls, but I know for a fact that Joey's has higher standards. Joey's gets a lot of secret shoppers and random health inspections. If you compared the Joey's records vs Earls records, you will notice that generally, for service & cleanliness, Joey's beats out Earls.

                1. Is there a chain restaurant that's consistently good? Very tough as expansion usually leads to "mainstreaming" of the menu, otherwise how is it that the exact same food could be enjoyed by so many people? Actually, what normally happens is that the food isn't really enjoyed very much by anybody, just tolerated by everybody. Even in the best of cases where a chain keeps a concept/menu that's interesting and fresh, there are bound to be some locations that can't execute properly. Especially in Alberta. Especially when the front of the house staff is hired for their cleavage rather than their customer service skills. I'm happy that "Joey Tomato's" seems to be aiming for a very slightly more edgy image (and I think menu? Didn't eat at the old locations very often) as just plain "Joey's". Earl's features are nice as they change with some frequency and seem to be a little more adventurous. My most recent experience at Earl's involved 3 horrible Manhattans. The first, served in a lipstick smudged glass, was sent back. I drank the 2nd and 3rd even though they were (trying be as charitable as I can here...) not made properly. In fact, I think they were watered down. No brand of whiskey or sweet vermouth that I know of is as light coloured and tasteless as my drinks. Should've stuck with the Albino Rhino.

                  My usual lunch choice at Joey's is the fish tacos. At Earl's I mix it up, but I'll have to try the chicken, brie, and fig sandwich next time I go.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: egon61

                    I actually don't mind Cactus Club for chains. Both locations in Calgary are reasonably consistent.

                    1. re: yen

                      Yen - I think I may well have to drink lead if I try and complete the faux chic dining circuit in Calgary in a week. Glad to hear my suffering paid off...

                      Forget Morgan Spurlock's McD's experiment, the real index of North American gluttony is:


                      Followed by a nasty carb lunch:
                      Joey's Only
                      Coco Brooks
                      (Insert fast food here)

                      Wrap it up with a premium chain restaurant dinner:
                      Cactus Club
                      Red Water Grill(e!)
                      Joey Tomatos
                      Cheesecake Cafe *Worst in class by far*

                      There are alot of restaurants competing for that one spectrum. Appetizer, entree and dessert plus a drink at those places starts at 30, and you can easily find yourself in the 50-60 dollar zone per person. That's comparable to some of the best food in the city, and the saturation means that some restaurants are going to be closing - a test of Calgary's cultural thermometer...

                      1. re: Gobstopper

                        Out of the list above -Kelsey's, Montana's and Cheesecake Cafe do not belong, they would be the B-List. Chili's is decent but is a different style of place.

                        My last experience at Kelsey's was just that,MY LAST - Absolutely Horrifying!

                        The recipe for chains these days seems to be:

                        The Restaurant:

                        Dark Wood
                        Brown Paint
                        Some sort of water feature
                        Fake Rock trim
                        Bar chairs comfortable only for those with scoliosis.
                        Located either inside a shopping centre or within 1 km of one, or near a stadium/arena

                        The staff:

                        The Maxim-wannabe hostess and female servers
                        Enrique-like bartender and male servers (one of whom WILL be sporting a faux-hawk hairdo)
                        Two on-duty managers, one of whom scurries about the restaurant comping meals for mistakes made by above servers, while the other, without fail, is at the bar knocking back his sixth pint of Stella.
                        A kitchen staff that resembles a Canadian Idol Audition Lineup, with the token fat kid who always seems to be named Kenny

                        The food and drink

                        Asian influence, particularly in the appies
                        At least one sandwhich or salad that contains Ahi Tuna
                        A quesadilla of some sort
                        Thin-Crust Pizza, usually Wood-fired
                        Some Signature Sweet Slushy Cocktail.
                        A 2oz drink is always referred to as a (Insert Restaurant Name) - Size drink.

                        And of course,

                        A gargantuan dessert, usually of the mud pie or lava cake variety, served on plate that is WAY too big, with the requisite Jackson Pollock inspired mess of chocolate and caramel sauce sprayed everywhere!

                        That's it I'm done!

                        1. re: newJJD

                          That was hilarious..and sadly accurate.

                          1. re: newJJD

                            Re: the sweet slushy cocktails...The second you sit down: "Hi my name's Mindy, I don't know anything about food, but our special today (created just for us by our new bartender who has completed 2 of the 3 night classes needed for a mixology diploma) is our nuclear-blast ghila monster, with 4 types of tequila, 4 types of rum, a splash of every green and yellow liqueur we can find, and a bit of pineapple juice and decorated with whatever fruit rind we had laying around...they're yummy, I had 18 of them last night after my shift...would you like a few to numb your senses so you don't care how bad our food is?".

                            1. re: newJJD

                              The faults you find with these chains are also traits I find at so-called leading restaurants. They usually start the trend actually, and the chains follow. Melrose Place being the prime example, along with a few other spots on 17th Ave SW.

                              It`s really, really hard to open up a truly marvelous restaurant, especially here in Calgary, what with the labour shortage, high real estate costs, lack of overall food talent and the general tastes of the local population.

                              1. re: newJJD

                                Wow, this is so true and have been in the industry for like 6 years... It's sad knowing all this and not doing anything about it.

                            2. re: yen

                              the vancouver ones are consistent as well... although the Maxim centerfold factor is pumped up threefold. My husband still goes there with his buddies for the "ribs"... right. I really do go for the dry ribs. :)

                          2. Both chains have gone downhill. Joey Tomato's especially. Earl's is starting to recover from their disastrous Michael Noble experience. They do score some points from me for sourcing organic ingredients whenever possible.

                            I actually think the chicken-brie-fig sandwich is disgusting. Then again, when I had it the bread was at least two days old. But the most worst thing I ever had there was that beef shortrib entree. What a mess.

                            And what's wrong with Chianti's? It's dead cheap, they use fresh pasta and the service is adequate. Certainly beats going to some of the Italian places in town that aren't cheap, use dried pasta and the service is sub-par.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Shazam

                              Shazam, I'm curious to know as to what made the Michael Noble experience disastrous? As far as I know, he introduced Wonton Crusted Tempura Prawns to the Earl's menu, originally delicious from Catch!

                              1. re: pcard

                                I've eaten at earls exactly twice and the second time had noble's curry chicken deal- it was actually pretty good.

                                Hate to poop the bed here, but if chain places (which are no more abundant in Calgary than anywhere else) so offend you, why do you eat there???

                                1. re: John Manzo

                                  John - in fairness to both houses - I like the soft fish tacos, the spicy chicken, both house beers and shoestring fries.

                                  In fairness to chowhound, I didn't think we needed to stick to the shiny happy reviews of gilchrist and FFWD.

                                  1. re: Gobstopper

                                    we should have a guilty pleasures thread here- I love that spinach dip stuff at Milestones even though I know it's dead easy to make at home...

                                  2. re: John Manzo

                                    For me, Earls (one of the ones in Edmonton) is close to where I work, and the only place for quite a ways that is conducive to drinking after work with colleagues. So I occassionally just end up eating there by default. And my wife, for some reason, always lucks out with the food, so she likes to go there.