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.
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.
I stared at it like I would an expressionist painting. What was his vision? His Motivation? Was he in pain? Troubled? Inebriated? No. Just “Inspired by spring,” I was told. As a visual, it was bright and uplifting, expressive and assured. It pained me to take the first bite and unravel the masterpiece but this canvas was made for savouring.
Layered on a brushstroke of pesto were little diamonds of young yellow beets. The earthy quality of the beets were a perfect match for the refreshingly tender peas, served alongside their shoots. Crisp little domes of pastry hid luxuriously rich duck pâté. The honeycomb gem was a treasure and provided sweetness and unique texture.
There was nothing not to like about this salad. Within a flash I had devoured it. I was sad yet ever so thankful to have enjoyed a wild-fully original gustatory chef-d’oeuvre. Bring on Spring.
This bright jewel of a dish was created by Chef Kirk Morrison for his tasting menu at Restaurant 18. And it was the best thing I ate this month.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I seem to be surrounded by people who are obsessed with food. It’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. For a while now my friends and family have hinted about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friend Zimby. Enjoy!
Pork Belly. Allow me to repeat those two simple concepts. Pork. Belly.
If you’re like me, those two words trigger a veritable eruption of sensations, among them lust (yes, lust), desire, salivation and greed. That last one is important. Greed. For there is never, it would seem, enough pork belly on one’s plate to sate those carnal urges rending the very fabric of our civility. Must. Have. MOOOOOORE! But we’ll get back to this swinish nectar of the gods later.
One evening last month, your humble servant and that other humble servant (you know, the cool dude who writes about food) and I ventured into the funky neighbourhood that is home to Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar. We were accompanied by the lovely Catherine, who wanted to check out this “hipster fortress” – so named by a displeased reviewer on Urban Spoon.
Our first visit was on a Friday evening at 7. We had reserved a table for 6:30, but two of us were late. Cool Food Dude, punctual to a fault, was patiently waiting for us when we arrived, adopting his usual pose: seated, shoulders slightly hunched over his faithful iPhone, no doubt checking up on some stupid reality show or other… The ambiance was indeed hip. A lamp in the Rococo style sat just to our left. Exposed vents? Check. Trendy art work? Check. Wooden school desks (circa 1970s) standing in for dining tables? Oh yes, definitely check. The only non-hipster accoutrement were the mustard colour walls. Please. Sooooo 90’s.
Pressed Urban Gourmet Sandwich Bar, 750 Gladstone Ave., Ottawa
Our first foray to Pressed was for dinner. Service was friendly, attentive and charming. The server was a newbie – if memory serves, it was her very first night. Her unfamiliarity with the menu was more than made up for by her eagerness to please. Pressed allows community groups to have meetings on the premises. While we were there that evening, there was a prayer-group-slash-community-action gathering from the Afro-Canadian community, having a lively conversation that was much fun to eavesdrop on.
As for the food, both C.F.D. and Catherine maddeningly ordered the same dish: pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale. Both termed it very nice, if somewhat on the plain side. And indeed, the fish, not to mention the presentation, was a bit naked. But still, a generous portion of trout, cooked just right. Yours truly ordered the five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles. Ah yes. Pork. Belly. Now, pork belly can be cooked a myriad of ways. But let’s look at two in particular: you can dry bake it at low temps for a few hours, let it sit for a while and then crisp it under a broiler or on the barbeque, so that it is flakes succulently apart with your fork, with the meaty flesh oh so tenderly giving way to the crispy, bacony layer of fat. Like what they do at Café Odile. Or should I say, like what they USED to do at Café Odile, as, sadly, that beloved resto is about to close its doors. Or…
Five-spice pork belly on dragon noodles
Pan-seared Whalesbone trout with orange glaze, tarragon butter and sautéed kale
You can do what they do at Pressed: render away most if not all of the fat, leaving behind a chewy, less fatty and, hence, less flavourful concoction. Good? Hell yeah. But not the earth-shaking, orgasmic experience of the aforementioned variety. And to Pressed’s credit, they give you a HUGE portion of pork belly. So in some respects you’re getting quantity over quality, although as I said, the quality is perfectly fine. The spicing was just right, and the noodles were cooked perfectly. After dinner, my companion had an allongé coffee. It was bland, barely passable. More on the coffee later.
We spoke to the owner after our dinner. A very affable chap who expressed the hope that we’d come again. And sure enough, we did – the very next morning. He seemed genuinely pleased to see us. We had heard wonderful things about the brunch, and I am pleased to report that we were not at all disappointed. For brunch, you order at the counter and get your meal delivered to your table. In our case, the meal deliverer was a delightful young woman made up to look like a hottie straight from the 40s or 50s. Hair up in a bun, high heels, hip hugging skirt with an explosion of bright red on the lips. Seriously, this woman looked just like my mom, circa 1958. Hi Mom! Love you.
Onto the food. Catherine ordered the florentine – Wilted Swiss chard, poached eggs, house-made hollandaise served on a buttery waffle. The eggs were cooked PERFECTLY. Runny but not too runny, just the right degree of firmness. The waffle could have flown away on a feather, such was its airy, fluffy lightness. And the sauce was nice and tangy. Yours truly had more of a dessert waffle, with a gazillion local strawberries sitting on a bed of fresh whipped cream, lying atop that same wonderful waffle. Simple, yet just right. One sour note, though (and I mean that literally): the filtered coffee was dreadful. A sour taste to it, made with what seemed like fishy water. Thought it might be the mug, so we got a fresh cup, but equally disappointing.
Final verdict: a fun place to hang out, with solid food for the most part, great service, nice surroundings and crappy coffee. Oh and do try the pork belly, won’t you?
I found a shrine to serious barbeque. A place that pays homage to the Southern US “Barbeque Belt.” A restaurant that upholds the sanctity and authenticity of barbeque and one that will charm even the most hardened BBQ regionalists. A place called Fatboys Southern Smokehouse Bar-B-Que.
The aroma of hickory hangs in the air, a clear indication that this establishment takes the art of grilling meat very seriously. Many a restaurant prattle on about being the best at this or that. But I do declare that these folks’ crowning glory are its Memphis-style dry rub smoked ribs. Moist, crisp and meaty. Smokey, juicy and gnaw-able. Succulent and quite pleasingly finger-licking tasty. The dry rub of paprika, black pepper, cayenne and brown sugar create complex flavours. The wood burning oven allows the smoke to penetrate the tender meat and gives them that faint taste of caramel and hickory. Sublime. These ribs are bound for stardom. While idyllic on their own, you can also slather them with some of Fatboys’ homemade sauces: Memphis Mustard, Tennessee Sweet or Hillbilly Heat.
If you don’t fancy ribs there are plenty of other offerings to be had. Carolina catfish, Memphis BBQ spaghetti, beef brisket, a smoked burger, a pulled-pork sandwich, the “American Thanksgiving” platter and some smoked bacon mac’n cheese, to name but a few.
Traditionalists may rankle at the thought of real authentic BBQ in the nation’s capital, but they would be wise not to dismiss Fatboy’s dedication to celebrating the art of barbeque in all its glory. As their website states, the “Snow Belt unites with the BBQ Belt, which is why all 13 Southern states flags fly proudly outside Fatboys Southern Smokehouse.” I would go so far as to say that they are not only upholding the BBQ heritage of the South, they are building their own BBQ legacy north of the border with great success!
I have much reverence for the culinary contributions of the people and traditions that are at the root of Southern cuisine. Southern food is a wonderful mélange of many cultures. Native American, African, European and West Indies. Domestic workers who cooked for their own families and for their white employers developed many of the recipes that the world now identifies as Southern.
It is also a cuisine that is forever evolving. If you travel to the South, you’ll discover just how different Southern cuisine is in each locale. North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia have varying interpretations on Southern classics. The culinary influence of the South has extended far north of the Mason-Dixon line in an Ottawa restaurant called Union Local 613.
Union Local 613 bills itself as a brotherhood of growers, cookers and eaters, providing a Canadian take on Southern hospitality. It’s clear that they have a vision and they are sticking to it. The chefs at Union Local 613 are true nonconformists. While they pay homage to traditional Southern cuisine, they are unafraid to exploit combinations that are less obvious of the region. To a purist, it may seem like culinary radicalism.
Hickory smoked hog jowl, Granny Smith apples, celery, toasted walnuts and horseradish dressing. BBQ foie gras torchon, black pepper biscuits and strawberry ketchup. Roasted carrot and parsley salad, Feta, cashews, cumin vinaigrette. This restaurant is courageous with ingredients, and their dishes are more artfully executed and more technically masterful than anywhere else in the city, in my opinion.
Eating there is also a hell of a lot of fun. This, as far as I can tell, is the only place in town where one might find cat head biscuits and gravy, a spicy catfish po’boy and fried pickle spears. Though the menu is always changing, I would expect that classics like shrimp and grits, mac n’ cheese, collards, red velvet cake, fried chicken and cornbread will persist as maintains.
The seating is predominantly communal. Sharing a dinning space is not every one’s preference, but in this restaurant, it works. A nod to Southern neighbourliness. The service is friendly without being overzealous. They seem to love what they do and are proud of the restaurant’s offerings. They care about food and go to great lengths to make sure that you have a good dining experience. When I expressed an interest in the boiled peanuts, the server brought out the cookbook to show me the recipe. When I assaulted them with questions about the restaurant, they invited me to the kitchen and introduced me to the chef. Although the rest of my dinner party raved about the mac n’ cheese, I was less enthused about the flavour combo of macaroni with cauliflower and remained mute. But when the server observed that I had not consumed my serving, she excised the offending dish off my bill. “Why pay for something you didn’t enjoy?” she surmised. I was flabbergasted. Their commitment to hospitality and passion for preserving the culinary traditions of the Southern food that I revere has made me a patron for life.
Union Local 613, 315 Somerset St. W., Ottawa, ON
Buttermilk fried yard bird and pepper vinegar, fried green tomatoes and mac’n cheese
Cracker crusted Louisiana catfish, pecan puree, wilted frisée and lemon, and cheddar and roasted garlic hominy grits
A closer look at the cheddar & roasted garlic hominy grits.Yummm!
Baby back ribs hover between tender and taut; thinly sliced brisket retains its juiciness; crisp chicken skin yields to plump, smoky meat; and pulled pork is consistently moist. – See more at: http://www.atlantamagazine.com/50bestrestaurants/story.aspx?ID=15341 Baby back ribs hover between tender and taut; thinly sliced brisket retains its juiciness; crisp chicken skin yields to plump, smoky meat; and pulled pork is consistently moist.