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Prime Test Kitchen: Eat. Drink. Be Social

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Fort McMurray has a brand new restaurant with some familiar faces. Prime Test Kitchen, part of the Prime Social Group of Prime Social Kitchen fame, opened its doors in May, and customers are loving the concept.

With a menu split between authentic BBQ and a “test kitchen”, guests are faced with daunting choices, but a winning outcome every time. Guests are loving the menu which showcases authentic southern style BBQ, otherworldly cuisines and some of Prime Social Kitchen (which will be reopening its doors from the fire within the next couple of months) favourites. All of this creativity brought together in a Test Kitchen concept!

But why a test kitchen?

“I kind of built it towards what I thought Fort McMurray was looking for right now. And that’s why we’re a test kitchen right now so we can run two separate menus, knowing in the next two weeks half this menu is going to change. We have access to so many different recipes with all our partners, and that doesn’t even take into account everyone here is so creative,” says owner Andy Parker.

A Test Kitchen allows for the research and development of new crafts and recipes. Menu items are changed out every several weeks.  Parker and his creative team are always eager to get the feedback from all patrons that visit the restaurant.  When guests are seated they receive menus and a comment card to note their likes, dislikes, and recommendations for the meals they have experienced. The team as a whole has found this very helpful in creating and recreating recipes. It also is empowering to the guests to have their voices heard.

Prime Test kitchen has a sister BBQ house in Boston, owned by Kevin Masterson (business partner in Prime Test Kitchen), called Tennessee’s. Massachusetts of all places with three locations…I know that sounds crazy but one taste will explain it all.  A 4-star review from The Boston Globe and many other awards for their BBQ, Parker knew he had to bring this home to Fort McMurray.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and dine with Parker and his fiancée, Anita, along with several colleagues. We started the night off with a few drinks; Parker ordered a round of the delicious Octobubble from The Hatch winery in West Kelowna, a winery located five minutes from Andy and Anita’s house where they spend part of their time.

Parker spoke of the importance of the identity of the restaurant and what it represents.  “We try to support wherever we live and being that we live in both West Kelowna and Fort McMurray we want to support both cities as they are near and dear to our hearts.” The designer of the restaurant is from Kelowna and he contracted everyone from Fort McMurray.

Parker notes that he distances himself from any political rivalries as he tells me his wines by the glass come primarily from his other home in West Kelowna.  Supporting his Alberta roots is the impressive Alberta craft beers menu which I, as a beer nerd instinctively reach for.  However,  I am told by one of the servers that I must simply try their Caesar menu. I order the signature Caesar made with peppercorn gin and flavoured with a stick of beef jerky that’s made right here in-house.  Unlike most Caesar’s that tend to hit you straight away with their spice, this hits you with a sweet savoury flavour.  Also, on the Caesar menu is a slider Caesar with an actual pulled pork slider that comes as a garnish; vegetarian Caesar that comes with a fried dill and cheddar bomb garnish; and lastly, a vegan-style Caesar that has been sourced by a local Kelowna company.

As Parker ordered a selection of appetizers, it became clear that the test kitchen concept is not taken lightly. Andy and the team are eager to show off the BBQ smoker, better known as the Southern Pride.  This massive smoker can carry up to 700 pounds of any type of meat on its six rotating racks. Meat is not the only thing that gets smoked in the Southern Pride but we will touch on that later.  According to the culinary team, “We smoke all of our meats at different temperatures and time frames. Meatballs would naturally take less time as opposed to our pork butts that can take 12-14 hours.”

The appetizers included a selection of Deep Fried Dill Pickles and Steak Bites. The smoked wings were a definite highlight. Available in four different flavours: signature dry rub, mild, tangy and hot, they’re smoked, along with of a variety of other foods, in-house daily. It’s clear the kitchen staff at Prime takes their BBQ and cooking very seriously, including their signature Texas Twinkies which feature cored Jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and chopped brisket, wrapped in bacon then dusted with their signature dry rub and basted in BBQ sauce.  Another true highlight is the Jalapeno Cheddar Bombs which have a nice, but much milder, kick to them. Fans of Prime Social Kitchen will recognize this treat.

The appetizer portion sizes seem to be just perfect, but the Stacked Prime Nachos are generously sized, to put it lightly. Who can resist the smoked pulled pork and BBQ sauce drizzle that sets these nachos atop a very competitive Fort McMurray nacho scene?

When it came time to order our main courses, the table was as split between the Test Kitchen and the BBQ menus. The Shanghai Stir Fry featured during my visit really caught my eye, but after tasting a bacon-wrapped meatball on my visit to the smoker, it became clear that I needed more of that home-smoked flavour. I opted for the Smoke Beef Brisket Dip sandwich, and I had no regrets.

The smoker is impressive, but the family-like atmosphere amongst the staff stands out, too, something Parker is very proud of.  Many of them worked at the former Prime location. He says it’s an honour to have some returning staff relocate back to Fort McMurray from after the fire just to work for him specifically.

Talking to the staff they all are very happy to work in a restaurant that cares about them and their feedback. Assistant chef Neo Arjani shows a lot of pride in his workplace. “It’s a truly amazing team and set-up that we’ve got here. We are looking forward to changing our menu as frequently as possible and adding your personal favourites and requests.”

When my Smoked Beef arrived, complete with Aus Jus, Anita offered some wise word: “Roll your sleeves up.”

I tried some of Andy’s ribs; not only were they as tasty as any rib I have ever had, they slide off the bone perfectly.

My choice of side, the Loaded Mashed Potato, is as tasty as the main course...and a generous serving.  From the delicious appetizers to all of this, I take the second half of my brisket dip to go, but not before trying dessert.

Picture it: a Deep Fried Mars Bar served in a martini glass. It was the perfect sweet contrast to all of the savoury offerings.

It becomes clear that Prime is setting a residence not only for its unique concept but its culture. Prime has just opened its brand new patio just off the fun-filled games room which is packed with big screen televisions, pool tables, shuffleboard, darts, bean bag toss and foosball. Prime is excited to have hockey Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson on board as Parker’s business partner.  You can’t help to be mesmerized by Glenn’s hockey memorabilia that is showcased throughout the restaurant, which Includes all of Glenn’s six Stanley Cups!

You can also look for Prime to continue to be heavily involved in the community. They have already paired with the Northern Lights Health Foundation to raise money for mental health, and are currently working on some other project to give back to the community!

At the end of our visit to Prime Test Kitchen, Parker and his staff listen intently to our feedback. “People have been really nice so far, which is great, but we want feedback. If there’s any area we can improve on we want to know.”

Prime Test Kitchen is blazing a new trail on the Fort McMurray culinary scene. Be sure to become a regular’ll always be met with new and delicious options.