After nine years operating as Elm Café, the successful sandwich shop on 117th Street north of Jasper Avenue has been re-opened as a tiny burrito shop named Speedy’s.
The switch, which happened without warning, caused a near revolt from patrons who’d been getting their “sammies” from Elm for nine years.
Why change a good thing?
“We realized we were becoming just one of many,” said owner Nate Box, referring to the growing number of coffee and sandwich shops in the area. “We decided to stand out as one of the few.”
Other than La Misión Burritos (operated by the folks of Rostizado and Tres Carnales), there is not much in the way of burrito competition.
If anyone, Box — the commander-in-chief of Black Box Hospitality Group — knows what it takes to stay alive in this industry.
His company is responsible for bringing District, Little Brick, Salz and the soon-to-open June’s Deli and Fox Burger in the Gibbard Block to the Edmonton restaurant scene.
Box did nothing to change the shoe-box interior of Elm, save for some wall decor and the word “Burritos” spelled out in big, bright pink letters to let people know what’s on offer.
There are still only four seats inside with a few rickety tables on the patio for overflow customers.
There’s a familiar face behind the counter, that being Justin Benson. A lifetime ago, he slung sandwiches and lattes at Elm before tube steaks and beer at Mayday Dogs.
Now, he’s slinging Jarritos soda, hibiscus-based Jamaicas popular in Mexico, and milky horchata to be served alongside Ryan O’Connor’s hefty burritos.
There are three basic burritos on offer each day plus one daily feature.
The regulars offer pork, chicken mole or chorizo-flavoured tofu as proteins and come packed with rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and your choice of mild or spicy salsa.
Because of the space limitations, the ingredients are prepared offsite and then assembled to order and grilled on panini presses.
The recipe for Speedy Spice is courtesy of O’Connor, who remains tight-lipped on the exact components, but Benson is quick to reveal the bottle of top-shelf tequila used in Tuesday’s special, the Chicken Lime Burrito.
Speedy’s does not have a liquor licence though, so the booze remains for the dish, not the patrons.
As with Box’s other establishments, the quality of the product is never in question. The smoked chicken and pork, for example, are sourced from Real Deal Meats, a butcher shop favoured by many Edmonton chefs.
The one vegetarian option is packed with seasoned tofu, rice and beans, and an abundance of veggies. It’s filling, for sure, and you’d be hard pressed to know the chorizo appears in name only.
A reoccurring special, the braised pork shoulder with pineapple salsa, ancho lime crema, rice and beans and pico de gallo, was my favourite of the lot.
Every bite yields generous amounts of tender pork but the best features are the pineapple salsa and the lime crema that cut through the heaviness of ancho pepper.
If there is any one area I’d like to see improvement in, it’s the heavy-handed use of chili seasoning in every burrito that muddles the fresh, distinct flavours Mexican food is known for.
The ancho-based salsa that comes with the side of thick-cut tortilla chips ($4) suffers the same fate.
At $10 each, the price for these burritos makes up for any major complaints. There is an option to add extra cheese, guacamole or meat for $2 but for the average eater, I’d advise against that option. The burritos are packed to the gills.
Speedy’s stays true to its name; on each visit, I was in and out in 10 minutes. You can find it in the old Elm Café location at 10140 117th St.