ottawa restaurants

Where there’s smoke, there’s great barbeque

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!

Going Down South at Union Local 613

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
Sweet Tea

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!

Union Local 613 on Urbanspoon

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.
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=1534193#sthash.uSy8JKLF.dpuf

Take it to the streets. "The Manx Pub" has the best tacos you’ll ever have!

Have you ever tasted something so rapturous, so luscious, so drool inducing that it almost made you weep? Where successive rounds of “OMIGOD’s” were uttered because it felt as if you were being transported from the here and now? Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to The Manx Pub‘s pulled-pork tacos (PPT)! Filled with copious amounts of sumptuous meat, dressed with a rich flavourful sauce and topped with buttery avocado, the chef at The Manx was able to elevate these tacos from mere plebeian to out-of-body experience.

The tacos sparked discussion. We debated on the merits of soft shell vs. hard shell and my friend astutely noted that by crisping the soft shell it allowed the whole to remain intact and impervious to pesky leakages. Not to say that the PPT’s weren’t messy. They were definitely a chin-dripping 5-napkin affair. The genius, however was in the full package. The tender meat, the blend of spices, and the outer taco shell were harmoniously unified to near flawlessness.

If there is an award for best taco, best meal, best restaurant of 2013 (and I know there is) and if there is a God (and I for sure know there is) this award must, IT MUST go to The Manx for its pulled-pork tacos. This is not an exaggeration or excessive hyperbole. It’s straight-out reverence for a job well done. Excellence must be rewarded.

These tacos are from the “specials” menu. Here’s hoping they make it up to the big leagues of the “mains.” But in case not, you must run right now to get your fix. Me? I’ll be telling the world about my taco moment!

P.S. You have but a few mere months to enjoy these blurry pictures. iPhone 5s is coming! iPHONE 5S IS COMING!!!

The Manx on Urbanspoon

Eating my way through Boston — Part 1

New England native Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.” Although I can’t be absolutely certain, I suspect that he could have been rhapsodizing about Boston, a city that he and I both share a great affection for.

Boston is like a second home to me. I love its people, its buildings and I love riding the T.  Boston is where I sleep the best. It’s where I’m happiest and feel safest. It’s where my beloved Red Sox play and best of all, it’s where I have the coolest dinning experiences. Check out some of the haunts I frequented during my latest visit.

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After months away from the city, I crave pizza. And I always run to Upper Crust, a pizzeria offering a Neapolitan-style, thin crust pizza. There are various locations throughout the greater Boston area.  The Beacon Hill restautrant has community tables, where customers share the dining space.  Over the years, it has been awarded the titles of “Best Gourmet Pizza” and “Boston’s Best Pizza”from local media. And it’s my personal favourite.

Upper Crust Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

My next stop was John F. Kennedy’s first home out in Brookline. It was the first day of tours after being closed for winter. JFK lived in the Beals street house from birth through his toddler years. The first floor contains the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The dining room is set up as it was for a typical meal in the Kennedy household. You’ll notice the kids’ table on the left. The tour guide noted that the dining room is where Papa Joseph would quiz the kids on current events. They were expected to be able to debate and discuss, even at a young age. This is where it all began!

The tour guide played us a recording of family matriarch Rose Kennedy narrating the goings-on in the kitchen. The kitchen is set up as it would have been around 1917.

After the tour, I headed to Kupel’s bakery to pick up some bagels and some iced tea. Kupel’s is listed by epicurious.com as one of the best bagel shops in America. I have to agree. The bagels were soft and chewy.  IMHO, they were the best bagels I have ever tasted.

Kupel's Bagels on Urbanspoon

While walking up Harvard Ave. in Brookline, I spotted Dorado’s. I remembered it being listed as one of the best taco restaurants in Boston. This place serves high-quality, authentic mexican food. I ordered shrimp tacos (chipotle marinated and beer battered shrimp, jicama, pineapple salsa, Baja crema). Simply amazing and delicious. They crunchiness of the battered shrimp and jicama combined with the freshness of the pineapple salsa and the tang of Baja crema made this a perfect taco. When you’re in Boston next, skip the many Mexican chain restaurants and head to Dorado’s. Next time I am there, I want to try the cemitas, a popular sandwich from the south-central Mexican state of Puebla.

Dorado Tacos & Cemitas on Urbanspoon
My last stop for the day was Saus, a truly great eatery near Faneuil Hall devoted to Belgian-style frites and waffles. The website states that they believe in the power of the condiment. And they’re not kidding. Saus has over 15 unique dipping sauces on the menu, not including the homemade mayo, ketchup, and gravy.  I availed myself of some fries with truffle ketchup and a Belgian waffle with some homemade Nutella. After a long day of touring the city, a meal at Saus was truly satisfying.

Sorry but I can’t hear you over the Kung Pao Shrimp you’re eating

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I could barely make out what she was saying. ”You’re party has already been seated,” the hostess pointing toward the general vicinity of a table occupied by my patiently waiting friends. No, it wasn’t yet time for me to get fitted for hearing aids. I had just walked into a Chinese restaurant.

Anyone who’s ever stepped foot inside a busy Asian dinning establishment knows that fireworks, shuttle launches and rock concerts have nothing on the auditory levels of a Chinese restaurant. Dishes clang, children whirl about, food sizzles and conversations occur at such a high decibel level that it’s possible to scream and not be heard. If a tree fell in a Chinese restaurant, would anybody hear it? No. No they wouldn’t. But that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes dinner in a thundering environment is in order. As was the case with my recent visit to Yangtze Dinning Lounge.

As enticing plates of Fried Lobster and Steamed Pickerel whizzed by our table, we settled into the tried and true: Straw Mushroom Egg Soup, Springs Rolls, Kulu Chicken, Thai Basil Beef and Kung Po Shrimp. At Yangtze’s, even the basics are fantastically prepared. It may not be the ultimate location for intimate conversation, but Yangtze’s is a great place to eat. For all it’s loudeness, it’s the perfect establishment to bring your kids. They can hoot, holler and run around and no one will even notice. Heck, you can hoot, holler and run around and no one will even notice. Welcome to Yangtze’s!

Get your goat

Did you know that goat is one of the most widely-consumed meat on the planet? It is. And if you live in Ottawa I found the perfect place to get your goat on. It’s called Fishy’s Tropical Grill. Tucked away in the corner of a generic strip mall on Montreal Road in Vanier, Fishy’s is a Caribbean/Jamaican restaurant serving traditional Island food. Curry goat, fried dumplings, ackee, salt fish and more. And Fishy’s just also happens to be a Halal restaurant. Check it out. Friendly service and scrumptious food await you!


Fishy’s famous roti with island veggies and plantain. Delicious!

Lunch at Allium signals the end of "Birthday Month"

My boss and a few colleagues took me out for my birthday lunch. I chose Allium Restaurant because of its proximity to work and also because I enjoy it there.

Allium’s mix of Canadian cuisine and classic French techniques often lands it on various top 10 lists of best restaurants in the city. The menu changes on the first Thursday of every month and often includes your choice of duck, foie gras, salmon, steak, sandwiches and pastas.

I had the Mushroom Tagliatelle which was both tasty and filing. If I have one critique for Allium is that its portions are generally on the smallish side. Not this time. My plate contained a hearty portion of ragù which left me quite satisfied.

Mushroom Tagliatelle brought together slow roasted pork shoulder, tomato confit, bacon,
mushrooms, roasted garlic, chili and eggplant.

The rest of my party had the Club Sandwich. I received a chorus of approving nods when I inquired about how they liked their meal.

Club sandwich and potato salad

Allium is refined yet approachable. It carefully and quite adroitly straddles the line between casual and fine dinning. The menu offers regional and farm-to-table ingredients spun in interesting combinations like the Duck Fat Fried Eggplant with chili and garlic or the Scallop Salad that combines blueberries, nectarines, oranges, pickled red onion, spiced peanuts with a cilantro-parsley dressing.

I highly recommend Allium for anyone looking for bistro fare done right. It is located at 87 Holland Avenue in Ottawa.

I’m glad that I got to finish off my birthday month at Allium. It’s been a quite enjoyable to spend time with the cool people in my life. I’m a very lucky dude indeed. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Allium on Urbanspoon

"Birthday Month" – My peeps take me out

My employees mean the world to me. If you met them you’d understand. Smart, funny, talented, hard working, good looking and they even smell good! Quite frankly, I’m the luckiest guy around to have the privilege of managing these terrific people. In addition to being great, they are also quite thoughtful and favour a good old beer and burger combo now and again. So with that, my birthday lunch was set at The Clocktower Brew Pub in trendy Westboro.
The Clocktower Brew Pub Westboro, 418 Richmond Road, Ottawa

This new location in Westboro is stellar. It’s also the largest of its four Ottawa locations. We took advantage of a sunny day to sit out on the patio. A big plus of the Clocktower is that they brew their own beer. Their website states that “attention to detail, authentic ingredients, no preservatives, no additives and small batches ensure our enjoyment.” They also have some cool imported beer. I had Kölsch, a lighter German ale. It tasted great.

House brewed Kölsch is a refreshingly crisp light blonde ale.

I ordered the Rise & Shine burger. Anytime I can incorporate breakfast items into my meal, I’m in! Eggs and bacon on a burger? Brilliant.

Rise & Shine Burger had a sunny side egg, crisp bacon and HP sauce.

One of the crew had a burger with goat cheese, banana peppers and spicy mayo with some soup on the side. His plate was wiped clean so I’m guessing he was pleased with his choice.

Angry Goat Burger: Herbed Goat cheese, banana peppers and spicy mayo.

 

 

Soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, fish & chips and steak & frites make up the majority of the menu. You can also find some unexpected items like the Kung Foo Noodle Bowl, the Chicken and Leek Crock Pot and a Hummus Platter. But in the end, my table went with the tried and true pub grub and we all left full and satisfied.

I wasn’t feeling the greatest that day but it was made better by hanging out at a great new spot with some of my fav people. This birthday month is really about spending time with the people in my life that mean the most to me. And if I get to celebrate at a great place like The Clocktower, then I’m all for extending my bday into September!

Clock Tower Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Birthday Month – Celebrating with "Endless Shrimp"

My friend loves Red Lobster. She also happens to have a birthday near mine. A double birthday celebration at the RL was in order. Although I’m used to amazing New England seafood, Red Lobster ain’t half bad. I worked there when I was a teen so I know just what to order. You can never go wrong with clam chowder and lobster. Great combo. Happy Birthday to us!

Red Lobster on Urbanspoon

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days

Have you ever time travelled? Apparently I have ’cause I somehow ended up in the 1950s hanging out at Dick’s Drive-In & Dairy-Dip. Now the ’50s certainly wouldn’t be my preferred “Quantum Leap” destination, but I made the best of it while I was there. Dick’s motto is “Welcome back to the good old days.” And he ain’t kidding. I wasn’t around in the “Happy Days” era, but I’m thinking this is what things were like for the Fonz: A neighbourhood malt shop served juicy burgers grilled over charcoal with hand cut french fries on the side while a scary hulking sculpture of a milkshake hovered above the tables.

The burgers were quite scrumptious and tasted decidedly retro. They’re real meat topped with fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection. Nice concept. All beef burgers are Angus Pride beef and come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, aioli, sautéed onions, Dijon or regular mustard, unless you say otherwise.

Blurry pics of food are my specialty. Sorry about that 🙁
But here’s what’s “coolamundo” about Dick’s. While it’s unquestionably a 1950s joint with food that harkens back to pre-Kennedy times, its menu items are flat-out present-day diverse. Ostrich burgers, veal burgers, bison burgers and yes kangaroo burgers have a starring role along with the usual diner fare. While I wasn’t in the mood for a gamey culinary adventure, I now know where to go when I have a hankering for something a little more exotic.

While it was “neat-o” to visit the bygone days when they “rocked around the clock,” I was happy to time-travel back to 2012 when Dick’s ranked #4 in the Ottawa Citizen poll for Ottawa’s Best Burger 2012. But hear me out. I’ve been to the supposed top three haunts, and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart and the top of my palate, Dick’s is #1. But don’t just take my word for it, try it out for yourself. “Be there or be square!”

Dick’s Drive-In & Dairy-Dip is located at 1485 Merivale Road, near Clyde Ave.

Dick's Drive-in & Dairy Dip on Urbanspoon