Eating my way through Ottawa

Restaurant Review: Anthony’s 

Rustica – Cherry tomatoes, mozza, arugula, shaved parmesan and prosciutto

I am not a believer in the “All pizza is good pizza” motto. I’ve turned my nose up at many a tasteless and cardboardy mess masquerading as good pie. Anthony’s wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza is authentic, toothsome and peerless.

Apart from being quite tasty, many of Anthony’s pizzas are visually arresting. It’s hard to avert your eyes from the frescos of greens and reds. Owner Anthony Balestra has found a wide canvas on which to express himself, using pizza as his medium.

The emphasis is on clean flavours and fresh ingredients. The classic Margherita, with the sparest of adornment, allows the flavours of the San Marzano tomatoes and fresh basil to come through.


Interview with a Chef: Ottawa Ribfest’s Matt Smith of Gator BBQ

Nick Smith, left, and his father Matt, of Gator BBQ.


For over 30 years, Gator BBQ has been delivering mouth-watering chicken, pulled pork and ribs to the hungry crowds of Rib Fests all across North America. Touring Canada and the Northern United States, the Smith family of Port Dover continue to win countless awards and events with their signature southern BBQ cuisine. On the eve of Ottawa Ribfest, I caught up with Matt Smith to discuss his humble BBQ beginnings, his secret for achieving great tasting barbecue and if he ever gets tired of being around so much BBQ!

How did you get involved in the BBQ business?
By accident mostly. I used to be part of the carnival circuit for Conklin Shows and eventually crossed paths with a fella who ran these Ribfests. I started my own team and its grown from there—must be 20 years at least. We were there at the very start!

Tell me about the BBQ process. Boil or bake? Smoker? Hardwood or gas?
Always smoked. Ribs, pork and chicken are done in our smoker (Southern Pride) for various times depending on the meat. Although the fuel is propane, there’s a wood oven that heats the smoker and pumps the heated smoke throughout. (more…)

Restaurant Review: Wilf & Ada’s

While a small crowd huddles in the portico, some stragglers linger out front. Others, like myself, skedaddle and exploit the “we’ll text you when a table is ready” offer. You see, Wilf & Ada’s doesn’t take reservations. Waiting is the only option and there’s no way around it. Is the food worthy of such effort? Affirmative. This place should be on your “must get-to” list!

When you do finally get a table, try the “Eggs in Purgatory.” They will deliver you immediately to heaven. This dish is a carefully conceived idea with delicious results. Picture a small cast-iron skillet containing two eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, covered with a light dusting of Grana Padano, and topped with a heaping of arugula. Toast and homies ride shotgun.

You could also go for the breakfast hash. This particular one I tasted off the “specials” menu was made-up of a trio of roasted root vegetables—beets, squash and yams—tossed with caramelized onions, some crumbled sausage and Parmesan. The mélange was topped with two eggs and a side of toast. An unfussy breakfast, yet beautifully articulated and belly-filling.

What else is worth the wait? The servers. Instantly lovable, gabby and dedicated to ensuring that you have the best experience. The décor has the sparest of adornment yet is fitting for the space. And while the wait is a bit of a bummer, the food at Wilf & Ada’s earns high marks for sticking to the old rule book: make as much of the menu in-house, from scratch and source the best quality ingredients using local suppliers and products whenever possible. And, make it delicious!

Wilf & Ada’s is on 310 Bank Street in Ottawa and is opened 7 am-3pm on weekdays and 8 am-3 pm on weekends.


Kettleman’s Bagel Co.


Walk into Kettleman’s and you’re right in the hub of the action.

To the left, the bagel roller cuts and rolls the dough. To the right,  the bagels are boiled in honey water to seal moisture. The baker then finishes the bagels with fresh poppy or sesame seeds and bakes them for about twenty minutes in a wood-burning oven. The bagels never stop streaming out of the oven (over 6,000 a day), so it’s not uncommon to get one that’s still piping hot.

Founder and Montreal native Craig Buckley opened the first store in Ottawa in April of 1993. By rolling, kettling, and baking traditional Montreal-style bagels in a wood-fired oven using handpicked hardwood, this Ottawa-based business has become a legend around these parts.

A Kettleman’s bagel is toasty and crunchy on the outside and soft, chewy and sweet on the inside. These carby delights come in all the classic varieties like sesame, poppy and cinnamon raisin as well as more audacious flavours like lemon cranberry, mueslix and chocolate.

Whatever bagel you choose, they’re even better schmeared with one of the shop’s cream-cheese spreads. Kettleman’s also happen to make some of the most delicious bagel sandwiches. Best of all may be the Breakfast Bagel. Smokey bacon, a perfectly cooked egg, gooey cheddar cheese and served with a crunchy latke on the side.

To keep the line moving, they only accept cash or debit. Service is kind and fast. Kettleman’s is open 24/7 every day of the year, so you can nosh at any time of day or night. And believe me, it’s worth the schlep!

Kettleman’s Bagel Co. is located at 912 Bank St in the Glebe.

Kettleman's bagelsIMG_7114
Kettleman's Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

The best thing I ate this month – January 2015


I received  more than a few puzzled stares when I announced that I had just dined on chicken and waffles at Hooch Bourbon House restaurant. For hardcore obsessives of Southern cuisine, there is nothing more heroic than these two combinations. Where today, most chicken is served devoid of bones or skin, this Cornish hen is proudly dished-up bone-in, skin-on and artfully displayed on its cutting board canvas. A perfect tribute embodying the soul of the south in the dead of winter. The smokey-sweet chipotle maple emulsion provides a compelling counter to the soft, chewy buttermilk waffles and tender crispy chicken. This is a stunner of a dish. A simple, good thing elevated to symphonic heights. And it was the best thing I ate this month.

Hooch Bourbon House restaurant is located at 180 Rideau Street in Ottawa.

Hooch Bourbon House on Urbanspoon

Boston Birthday Bash


There is some inexplicable and subconscious comfort in being around good friends.  Especially ones that are full of generosity, good humour and affability. Friends who will honour your birthday with a night centered around your favourite team even when it is not theirs.

Recently, I was feted with a Boston-themed soiree by these friends of mine and treated to a meal of staggering proportions, a ‘Best of New England’ menu accessorized with Red Sox napkins, balloons, plates and cups. The crab salad was fresh, fragrant, zingy, crunchy with equal parts sweet and creamy. The chowdah was the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had plenty. The broth was clean and allowed the palate to fully access all the flavours of the ingredients with the corn and the chives providing a boost of flavour. The risotto was decadent and flawless. Hefty chunks of perfectly cooked lobster surrounded by tender rice in the most tasty of broths accented by a side of fresh greens.


Restaurant Review: Taqueria La Bonita


Ottawa is 3,366 km from Mexico but quite suddenly I am a mere 10 metres from truly authentic Mexican cuisine. The drab, generic strip-mall location is quite a distance away from Cabo San Lucas but this should not deter you from experiencing the genuine Mexican classic dishes found at Taqueria la bonita.


Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar

18B York Street, Ottawa, ON

You quite literally have to enter the side door to get into Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen + Bar.  Pretty cheeky. Once inside it’s rather expansive. An open-air patio this way to your left, a groovy bar thataway to your right and a mutli-level restaurant straightaway.Consistently noted as one of Ottawa’s finest eateries, Sidedoor is an Asian-fusion restaurant celebrated for two very distinct dishes that are seldom associated with Asia or with fancy-pants dining: tacos and donuts. Although, as we were about to discover, these two dishes have been cleverly brought to inspired levels.It’s essential to remember that the food at Sidedoor is tapas-style, is meant for sharing and is portioned accordingly. The tacos are quite mini, actually. Two bitefulls and it’s over. But it’s not always about how big things are. In this case, the emphasis is on flavour. We sampled the spicy beef, Korean pulled-pork and the Bajan crispy fish tacos. Arranged on soft corn tortillas, they are at once flavourful, delicious, tender, juicy, messy, sinful, dreamy and triumphant. Our personal favourite was the spicy beef tacos with just enough heat and a rightful amount of cool radish and avocado toppings.

Next up, we went for the Coconut-poached halibut. The buttery and tender fish was topped with mango, Thai basil and fresh chili giving every bite an elegant and complex mix of fresh, spicy and sweet.

Finally dessert time had arrived. I’ve never had donuts at a sit-down restaurant, but I was ready. Bring on the white chocolate mint and the white chocolate with cranberry mini donuts. Served pipping hot, they were light and airy with a sweet thin glaze. Easy to eat and share, they were very much worth the wait. I can see myself becoming obsessionally passionate about these swoon-worthy creations.

One thing I observed as the restaurant passed from buzzy happy hour to more serious dinner service, the space retained an almost serene atmosphere, a calmness that can only be described as a pleasure to the senses. We were able to have a conversation without resorting to hollering at each other. Very refreshing.

As for the food, it belongs in rarefied circles. Sidedoor’s chef Jonathan Korecki has been able to elevate the lowly donut and taco and make them so good that they transcend mere adjectives. Having now dined there, regular appearance on the “best-of-the-best lists” come as no surprise.  Consider this food blogger’s taste buds amazed. My dreams are now occupied with tacos and donuts!


Korean pulled-pork taco

Korean pulled-pork taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy beef taco

Spicy prawn taco

Spicy prawn taco

Green papaya salad

Green papaya salad

Crunchy meatball

Crunchy meatball

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Duck leg confit w/ red apple curry, crispy shallots and mint

Coconut-poached halibut

Coconut-poached halibut

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate mint donuts

White chocolate cranberry donut

White chocolate cranberry donut

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Love + art + latin tradition = Café Morala

She emerges from the back to welcome us like returning war heroes. Miriam, the gregarious owner of Cafe Morala, sets the tone for her restaurant, greeting us with warm affection and fussing over every detail of our order. To dine here is to experience veritable Latin cuisine.

The clientele is dotted with loyal fans and neighborhood regulars. English, French and much, much Spanish can be heard. Cafe Morala has been a local Glebe favourite for decades now.

Want authentic empanadas? Yum! Find this place. A master chef formerly from Bolivia pops in daily to deliver handcrafted empanadas from a cherished family recipe. She makes them for her family, for the café and for no one else. The chef’s love, art and tradition meld together in pure synergy to produce perfectly baked pastry stuffed with an abundance of tasty fillings like spinach, chicken-chipotle, beef-vegetable, cheese and lamb. To savour a Cafe Morala empanada is a privilege. After one bite you will “see the light.” They are otherworldly.

One of my other go-to’s is the salad. It’s circus-like colours will fascinate you, like Versace on a plate. Sheep and goat feta, avocado, roasted almonds, strawberries, cranberries, peppers, beets and greens are tossed together with a lemon-Dijon dressing creating a wondrous palate pleaser.

Although not a coffee drinker, I hear (in English, French and Spanish) that this is the place to come for the best coffee in Ottawa. Cafe Maya, cafe baires and cafe caramel are some of its offerings. Pair it with a lemon cookie or try the alfajor, a traditional confection made up of flour, honey, almonds and several spices, such as cinnamon.

To be a patron at Cafe Morala is to revel in its warm ambiance and experience true Latin cuisine. The diner’s pleasure here is truly essential. And I’m a happy patron!

Morala Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Mello’s makes the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten

Last year, the owner’s of Mello’s came up with a cool idea to breathe new life into the 70 year-old diner. A permanent “pop-up.” Why not open in the evenings, reinvent the menu and offer new takes on old classics? Steak, burgers, noodles, dumplings and sandwiches have been elevated to a supernatural level, all wonderfully executed and kindly priced. The basic yet envelop-pushing dishes are some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

The word “best” is bandied about so indiscriminately these days that its true meaning has been distorted. “Best” has become slang-fodder for anything that’s remotely good, pleasing or enjoyable. But it should be reserved for a supremely incomparable, truly award-winning and momentous thing or occasion. So allow me to restore “best” to its original luster and speak about something that is world-class, top-grade and truly “the best,” the Mello’s Burger.

Now I’ve seen a lot of things, been to a lot of places and eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime. Shake Shack, In-N-Out, Craigie on Main…all glorious. But I’ve never ever, NEVER EVER been sent to hamburger heaven as I did that night I visited Mello’s.

A flat-top griddle is used to sear the patty, creating a crunchy caramelized crust and a juicy center. The beef was beefy and each bite oozed with luscious flavour. Served on toasted bread, the burger experience was made all the more memorable with a just-right melding of cheddar, onions, mustard and pickles. This burger, folks, is a thing of beauty.

There is plenty of other fare to be had that is equally as delicious. My pals devoured the scallops with chorizo and rosemary cauliflower puree. It was declared a winner! My side-salad was huge, big on flavour and included a creative combo of ingredient (celery root, eggplant and mint dressing.) There is an inventive but affordable take on a braised beef sandwich with fermented chili sauce, daikon sesame slaw and rings. I spied guests devouring the roast pork cubano sandwich, which is made up of ham, spiced mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles. That’s on my list for my next visit. But really, the ultimate champion of the evening, was without a doubt the Mello’s Burger. It was, truly the best!

Photo source: Ottawa Citizen

Salad: Celery root, eggplant and mint dressing.

Mellos Restaurant on Urbanspoon