Visiting an Edmonton Landmark

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Today was our office's fancy holiday lunch. As I mentioned earlier, I chose not to partake as it was going to cost way more than I was willing to spend and couldn't justify that sort of expense on a fancy meal for myself when others in this city have no presents, no food, and no shelter. Instead I donated some of the money I would have spent to Santa's Anonymous and chose to share a more relaxed lunch with a select few. Our dining spot? Pharos Pizza and Spaghetti, a little joint on the University of Alberta Campus, popular with students and nonstudents alike for the past almost 40 years. Turns out, they are shutting down early in the new year (date to be determined by the current landlord) as will the Garneau Theatre next door, another city landmark, most famous for cheap movies for students and holiday showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I had never been to Pharos despite living in Edmonton for the past 17 years, living on campus for one of those, and being a student for 8 (shut up...don't ask).

Everything I've ever heard about Pharos was fantastic. The pizza is supposedly the best in town, the atmosphere friendly, and the prices reasonable. Needless to say, I was excited to go. We had reserved ourselves a booth the day before because it supposedly is packed at lunch time and often fills up before 12. Or so I had been told. By the people I went with. They were wrong. Perhaps it was the proximity of the holidays, the terrible condition of the roads, or the frigid temperatures but in the hour we were there, no more than half of the tables were ever occuppied. However, we ignored the rest of the diners, grabbed the menu and tried to decide on what to order. The menu proudly claims that they serve the finest pizza in town since 1970. Another positive sign. Mmmm, I was looking forward to this. While we struggled to come to a decision between the four of us, I had a look at what other people were eating. Another foursome were munching contentedly on pizza which looked divine. Another couple had ordered a caesar and a greek salad which also looked scrumptious. Oh yes, I was in for a gastronomical feast.

We decided to order two of their medium (10") pizzas but the only one we all agreed on was the special: cheese, sause, pepperoni, mushrooms, and green peppers. Alrighty - two of those please. One thing I'll say for Pharos, they were one of the first places in our city at least to offer patrons the choice of white or whole wheat crust, even back when it wasn't hip to eat pizza with anything other than your traditional crust. Finest Pizza in Town, great reputation, great looking food, AND trend setters when it comes to crust? Amen, brother, amen. The service was great - our waitress was hilarious, friendly and outgoing. Excellent sign. The pizza arrived in good time and looked pretty good at first glance. It smelled wonderful but after the first piece, it became apparent to me that it was nothing special. The crust was excellent. I'll give it that. The right thickness, the right amount of crunch on the edges. The cheese? As you can see by the picture on the right it was coated in cheese. Some folks might not look on this as a negative but trust me, it was. However, on the edges it was melted just perfectly and had that slightly crunchy texture to it. Yummy. Tonnes of green peppers! Another plus! Too many mushrooms but big enough to pick off. The pepperoni was disgusting. I wouldn't even call it pepperoni. It reminded me of those sandwiches you can buy in the cooler at the gas station. Not even halfway decent sandwich meat. Ick. I ended up picking mine off. Another negative. Then there's the sauce. This, combined with the crust, is the favourite part of the pizza. I had done some research online beforehand and people had raved about the sauce. Spicy and delicious. Bring it on, I thought. Um....what sauce? There appeared to be small drops of sauce here and there on various slices but honestly, it was practically nonexistent. A BIG disappointment. However, the few tastes that I did manage to nab? Very good. And the internet reviewers were correct: thick, spicy and delicious. If only our pizza had had some.

Since lunch itself was, overall, a disaster, I decided to order dessert. The choices on the menu are pretty limited. In fact, only two: tiramisu which I couldn't stomach at the time or dixie cups of ice cream. Oh yes, you read that correctly. A restaurant that services little tiny cups of icecream like you used to get as a child. A perfect way to end the meal. It was the perfect size, not too heavy, and how can you screw up vanilla ice cream? I have two complaints about the dixie cups though. One - the price. Pharos charged a whopping $3 for one of these little bundles of creamy heaven. A buck and a half would have been better considering you can buy them in bulk at the grocery store. The second problem? No wooden stick/spoon to scoop it with. Now that would have been great.

All in all, I wouldn't recommend Pharos. While the salads did look promising, the pizza for which they're supposedly famous came no where near to living up to the hype. I'd tell you to give it a pass but since they're closing down in a month or so, there's really no point. My guess is that the reason it was so popular is because it was a common spot for drunken students to head to after a night of drinking. At that point, anything tastes good especially pizza.

8 comments:

Wandering Coyote said...

Ack! Sorry this was so disappointing, especially after all the hype! And serving ice cream that way and at that price is just plain cheesy (no pun intended!).

harpervalley said...

ya, what's with the hype about some places? i went to a hyped up coffee place somewhere, maybe in Campeche or something and was mucho dissapointed...the waiters were snots and wouldn't even look at me so i got up and left and some street workers convinced me to go back and try again. i did but after the rejection the coffee tasted just like ....coffee....nothing great , and the touted ambiance was a hollow haven.

kelly said...

you should have gone to Da De O's

mister anchovy said...

I like their sign. Too bad it wasn't so good as you hoped.

nwtrunner said...

I used to go to Pharoh's in the early 1990's when a PhD student at U of Alberta - it was a particular favourite after long runs or skis in the river valley. Their Popeye Special (spinach and lots of feta cheese) was always our favourite - on whole wheat crust.

I'm really sorry that your first Pharoh's experience was so negative, cuz I have nothing but very fond memories of the place - and it wasn't because we went there drunk or stoned. It really was good and reasonably priced, maybe things have changed - it has been over 15 years since I was last there after all.

Sorry to hear both Pharoh's and the Garneau are closing. Used to love the Garneau's cheap "oldies" and did see Rocky Horror there once. Kinda thing you don't forget!

Captain Karen said...

Kelly is right. I should have gone to DaDeO's...

SME said...

Bummer about the Garneau, and Pharoh's. I had an awesome spinich pizza there (it must have been the Popeye nwtrunner mentioned) when I first moved to the city, and it has such an awesome retro, homey atmosphere. After reading this, tho, I'm glad I only went once. ;D

I did brave Rocky Horror at the Garneau once. Fun, but not my thing.

sp said...

Yuck for so many reasons. At least now you know that you won't miss the place when it's gone.

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