We were so excited last weekend when stars and schedules aligned to allow us a dinner out with our busy friends, John, Carleigh, David and Jessi! This is an adventurous group who loves to eat well and David in particular is known for being a big time burger fan, so Cleaver came to mind right away. If you haven’t been there yet, you may know them by their reputation for having an extensive slider menu and completely off-the-wall cocktail list.
I was especially excited to try a drink I’d seen on Cleaver’s drool-worthy Instagram feed earlier that week – the Super Soft Birthday, named after my favourite episode of Letterkenny! The drink itself was boozy, creamy, sweet and delicious. The caramel sauce and sprinkle rim was also a winner. Does it even matter what the other ingredients are?
Matt went for something a little less flashy with the Jerry Curl – a mildly spicy, sweet and balanced drink made with vodka, blackberry & Pasilla chili syrup, pepper bitters, prosecco and an adorable curl of lime.
Jessi has to carefully avoid shellfish, tree nuts and gluten, which is too bad for someone who loves good food as much as she does. After a bit of back-and-forth between Jessi, the server and the kitchen, she ended up going for some savoury roasted cauliflower ($12) with what appeared to be cabbage and parmesan (not pictured due to the photographer getting too excited about all the meat) as well as a couple of sliders on gluten free buns. Jessi really liked the lamb slider – she said it was cooked nicely, moist, tender and didn’t fall apart. She really liked the cool, creamy sauce and sweet tomato jam on there as well. The gluten free buns she deemed “okay”, but I’m glad they had the option at all since sliders are such an integral part of the Cleaver menu.
David ordered the bomb fries ($10). He generously offered us a few and now I can’t stop thinking about them. I loved the way the sharp scallions, zesty pepperoncini and fresh cilantro worked perfectly against the rich, creamy sauce, which landed somewhere between sour cream and mayonnaise. Life changing! I’m getting upset just writing about it, so it’s time to move on to the next dish.
John and Carleigh ordered an impressive mix of sliders and mains to share. They tried a pizzette ($16) (a small pizza/flatbread) made with sweet potato purée, mushrooms, feta, spinach, pieces of roast potato, miso and pumpkin seeds. Carleigh slid me a little slice and I really liked the combination of sweet and umami flavours mixed together on the crisp, thin crust. It was tasty, but quite different from anything else I’ve ever tried. Messy, too!
John and Carleigh also shared an order of the bucatini ($16) with house bacon, broccolini, parmesan, cream and egg. The dish was downright sexy with the runny poached egg. It looked like it might actually be too tasty to share, so when I go back to order this myself some day soon, Matt needs to take note in advance that he might not be getting a bite!
Even the word “kale” makes him a little grumpy, but he also has a hard time saying no to deep fried anything, so I convinced him to split an order of kale tempura ($10). These were crisp and light in the mouth, but quite filling. They came with a savoury dipping sauce that had been brightened up considerably with fresh ginger. Matt and I agreed we’d definitely get these again to share with friends over a beer or two!
Matt and I also sort of shared an order of the duck fat fries with truffle and parmesan ($10) – we barely put a dent in these despite the perfect crispness and the super savoury, luxurious toppings. We couldn’t even appreciate these delicious morsels because of how badly we over-ordered.
So now it’s time to talk sliders. You can order them individually for $7 (or $9 for the soft shell crab) and our server suggested anywhere from 3-5 was enough to make a person happy. Then they all come out on big slabs together, so on behalf of food pedants everywhere I’d like to ask that you keep your order straight in your head and don’t grab a friend’s snack by mistake! I’ll give you a quick rundown of some of the flavours we tried:
Buffalo chicken, slaw and pickles. David tried this one and thought it could have had more buffalo sauce and a little less slaw.
Soft shell crab with yuzu aioli and cilantro. (FYI – yuzu is a trendy Asian citrus fruit!) Matt and I had never actually tried soft shell crab before, so we were pumped to order some of these monsters. It ended up requiring a lot more chewing than I felt was worth it for the amount of sweet crab meat I found inside. The yuzu aioli had a faint tartar sauce vibe, but not a bright enough flavour to help me out with the salty shellfish. This slider was filling and presented beautifully, but neither of us ended up being fans of this new (to us) protein. A couple of basics, I know!
Duck with Asian peanut slaw and tare glaze topped with crunchy noodles. John and David said they really liked the meat, but that this one was overall quite salty.
Pork with caraway slaw and garlic aioli. David remarked that the slaw brought a really bright flavour to this slider. I’ll have to try it next time!
Chipotle cheeseburger topped with funions. The spicy chipotle sauce was pretty hot for me, but Jessi had this one too (on a gluten free bun without the funions) and thought it could have been spicier, so I suppose I might just be a big baby. The little burger patty was juicy and the melty cheese helped offset some of the spice. Excellent!
Buttermilk chicken with celeriac slaw, fresh cucumber and garlic aioli. This was one of my favourites. The refreshing cucumber and cool aioli were a beautiful balance to the salty chicken, which was cooked perfectly. This was such a nicely balanced bite!
Shrimp po’ boy with a zesty, creamy sauce. This one was extremely tasty and the shrimp were cooked perfectly. They had a beautiful, crisp crust and the flesh was still steaming hot. It made for a pretty tall stack, but crushed down nicely for reasonably sized bites.
I plan to return soon for drinks and shared snacks or really any meal when I have time in my schedule for a sodium-induced blood pressure spike afterwards. I do get grumpy when food is served on big, sliding platters like this that clutter the table, but that was a small price to pay for such creative dishes and drinks at what felt like reasonable prices considering the quality and selection. Service was friendly and helpful from when I made the reservation until it was time to get the bill, the attention to detail for our friend’s allergies was reassuring and the bustling, energetic atmosphere really made our dinner with friends feel like a big night out. I highly recommend Cleaver (102 – 524 17 Ave SW) for your next night out – just remember to wear your stretchy pants!