Let me bid, first of all, a hearty welcome to a new live music stage in Old Strathcona. Edmonton is rebounding nicely from the great venue drought of a few years ago and smaller, sweatier rooms like Have Mercy are some of my favourite places to see a band.
Barn-slatted and bordered by wire grating, Have Mercy exults in a gentrified roadhouse vibe, tapping the usual icons sonically and visually (beer signs, Johnny Cash), laying on the odd retro touch (squat tube televisions on the bar) and boasting a penchant for tattoos as both iconography and server ornamentation. Partaking in the cultural markers of a notional American south, it seems an apt complement to its downstairs neighbor El Cortez, or would be if an orange-faced billionaire stood on the stairs and told El Cortez patrons they weren’t allowed to come up.
Have Mercy’s menu is tight—in contrast to its lengthy list of American, and other, whiskeys—and delves into the food of Mason-Dixon’s southern proletariat, from sides of collard greens and succotash to frito pie and mac n’ cheese to Memphis dry rub ribs. Once equipped with a libation, my co-diner suggested the fried green tomatoes with shrimp ($13), which led to a discussion with the server of whether the tomatoes are of a kind that are green when ripe, or if they’re just unripe tomatoes. A different, but not less nice, Have Mercy staff member dropped by to hear the question himself and convey it to the chef. Turns out, Have Mercy’s green tomatoes are the unripened kind.
Three thick green tomato slices had been battered and fried to fluffy brown exaggerations of themselves, topped with a couple of huge grilled shrimp and laid over spicy tomato gravy with chunks of andouille sausage in them. I admired the addition of garlic sprouts to the plate, a shock of sharp flavour cutting through all that crispiness and gorgeous lubricity.
After contemplating the ribs, my co-diner about-faced to the queso dip with chips ($11) as an entree. The fried chicken with donuts stroked my reflexes a moment, but I opted for the pulled pork and sausage sandwich ($15), which at least had slaw on it.
The food actually surprised me with how quickly it emerged, steaming hot, from the kitchen. My co-diner commended the mini-skillet his molten cheese, dolloped with diced jalapenos, came in but he got only a few chips from the basket into the dip when he seemed to lose interest. My smoky, saucy hank of shredded pork and sausage tucked in a nicely toasted bun was a good, if not outstanding, and I helplessly ate every last crumb of the garlic-thyme fries.
Our server noticed co-diner’s largely untouched food and inquired. He said there was nothing really wrong with it, he just found it bland. The other hospitality representative reappeared to confirm that the item had been stricken from our bill, but he would leave the chips in case we wanted to nibble on them. More drinks were ordered—in my case, a shot of Bulleit rye ($6.50) to aid with digestion.
In the end, Have Mercy’s efficient, engaged service style won the night. Their strict adherence to southern-fried food tropes could be a bit limiting in the long run, but if they listen to all their customers as actively as they listened to us, they’ll figure out how to keep that stage available to local and touring musicians for some time to come.
8232 Gateway Blvd