A blessed UNION

Describing themselves as a Canadian take on Southern hospitality, Union truly is a blessing to the Ottawa dining scene.

After the onslaught that Ottawa experienced this year in Southern dining*, (*read Fat Boys and SmoQue Shack), I was underwhelmed to have yet another “Southern style” restaurant opening in, what some would call, a saturated market. But one month after their inaugural trial run, I was still hearing an array of positive feedback from experienced and trusted diners. Naturally, I had to check it out for myself.

I should have trusted that with Chef Chris Lord behind the scenes, this Southern secret would be nothing like the aforementioned smoke houses. Although the cuisine is Southern inspired,(as is the communal seating, ambiance and soundtrack), the food is unique to Lord’s iconoclastic hand. Although I was only able to sneak in for the late night menu, I was pleasantly surprised to see a few dishes that evaded the ever so obvious jerkpulledporkbrisketribs. Inspired and refreshing, the late night menu was tasty and exciting: biscuits with rabbit gravy, deviled eggs, pickled pig ears to name a few. Perhaps not trailblazing, but definitely a teaser for what the full menu holds and certainly a different avenue of Southern cuisine explored, something that Fat Boys and SmoQue Shack ignored.

Aside from merely delivering approachable late night grub, there is a vibe that resonates throughout Union. Whether it be the dimly lit room, Julian Garner’s impressive mural or the crooning of Mississippi soul pumping through the airwaves, (or maybe I had one too many bourbon cocktails that night.  Those libations are delicious and deadly. Thank you Jeff), Union personifies “hip”. It actually might be Centretown’s key to getting its groove back. The place is constantly packed, with barely a vacant barstool in sight.

The men behind the scenes of Union have all, in very different ways, contributed significantly to the dining scene in Ottawa. It is for that reason that people want to see them succeed and will support their latest venture. The guys have put forth their mission statement as a, “…brotherhood of growers, cookers and eaters”. Though this statement unifies Centretown’s latest joint, I think the influential “union” at hand is the coming together of talent such as Lord, Gedz and Fantin. These guys know what it takes to shake our little city up a bit, while still being able to land on their feet.

So if you’re in the neighbourhood and don’t feel like jetting off to Hintonburg for a seriously groovy time, pop in to Union for a meal, a quick bite, some fantastic bourbon or a cold beer served up in a mason jar.

Did I mention I love my beer served in mason jars?

Unionlocal613

@Unionlocal613

315 Somerset Street West

(613) 231-1010

Images via

Chef’s Night: great expections, poor execution

The corner of Richmond and Churchill Avenue. Somerset and O’connor. Bronson and Gladstone. These are the intersections of the up and coming dining scene in Ottawa. And when I say up and coming, I should truly rephrase and say: these are the intersections that will see Ottawa’s foodies through to the next wave of exceptional dining. The nation’s capital has been knocked down, teased, bullied for its lack luster dining culture. But when you really think about what the city has to offer, it doesn’t fall short of amazing, at least in the gustatory field. Exceptional dining is available at our fingertips and with places like Union and gezellig prepared to uphold the precedent, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. For that reason, whenever I attend chef’s night at Oz Kafe, I expect to be treated to the truly exceptional, exemplary displays of cuisine that Ottawa has to offer. I’ve written about Chef’s night many times before, simply because the experience is such a unique one. It’s not often that you are treated to the city’s creme de la creme, course apres course, for $25. It’s a steal and usually, something that each diner leaves raving about.

Except this time.

The last chef’s  featured Twitch (Michael Portigal) from Whalesbone Oyster House who has upheld an incredible reputation in the Ottawa dining scene. A few month’s ago, Chef’s night was graced with Twitch’s presence  and included a full blown decadence of the odds and ends of an animal (Spare Parts); it was a night that took every foodie for mouthwatering ride. This time, however, the meal fell short for most of the foodies that attended. The first course set each diner up for disaster. Because to start a four course meal with the best dish and progressively allow deteriorated dishes to hit the tables made each palette cringe.

I’m really sad to tear down a meal that had so much potential, but when push comes to shove, sometimes a tough critic provides perspective. It was evident that the meal was thoughtful and aimed to take a stab at creativity, but 3 of the 4 dishes sadly missed the mark.

         {Mushu Pork tongue with buckwheat pancakes, seaweed and watermelon}

Course #1: This was the stand out of the night, setting up the experience with a reasonably high standard. Although the buckwheat pancake was slightly dry, the hoisin allowed this minor fault to be pushed to the sidelines and the course was well received.

{Cured Mackerel, kimchi, taro gnocchi, oyster sauce}

Course #2: Mackerel dish was tasty, colourful and well executed although the stodgy gnocchi did not lend a helping hand to the dish. The kimchi kept the dish zippy, especially with an extremely oily poisson like mackerel.

 

{Chamomile, lamb, mint, strawberries and pistachio}

Course #3: Unfortunately this is where we hit rock bottom, with a dish that required far better integration of sweetness and acid. The lamb, despite this cut usually being well cooked, was cooked beyond repair. Scattered strawberries for that punch of sweetness was uninspiring.

{Sesame crostini, semi-fredo, beets, honey}

Course#4: I appreciate the innovation of this dish and understand what was meant to be accomplished. The charred flavour of the  sesame crostini paired with a savoury puree of beets had the intention of creating the perception of sweetness while integrating a smokiness to the dish. Without cloying on the palette by integrating this smokey element, the dish still was poorly executed due to the severe flavour of the not-quite-ripe-enough beets.

In a nutshell, a let down for most, but many will turn a blind eye to this disappointment and continue, rightfully, to praise one of Ottawa’s most revered chefs.

 

Toronto Brunch: Aunties & Uncles

Toronto is brimming with quaint bistros and diners that serve up creative versions of breakfast classics. I’ve explored the likes of the Drake Cafe, School in Liberty Village (yet to be beat) and my most recent excursion found me brunching at Aunties and Uncles on College, just East of Bathurst.

At first glance, Aunties and Uncles possesses the typical hipster vibe, adorned with worn out signage, multi-coloured picnic tables, tattooed servers and most notably, a line out the door.  Seeing as though the resto is #1 on BlogTO’s 2011 list of Best Brunches…I was under the impression that it’s all worth the wait.

Once we were seated at our diner-inspired table inside, we were presented with the specials which included a Breakfast Burger, special omelet and more, all in addition to the regular menu, which boasts many breakfast sandwiches, said to be the chef’s specialty.

After ordering one Breakfast Burger, the Breakfast Pocket, French Toast, and plenty of beverages (it was a Sunday morning, after all), we awaited our meals patiently….and then not so patiently…and then irritably. Once our meals did arrive, we all agreed that the main features of our plates (burger, pocket, toast) were quite pleasant, while the sides (home fries and greens) lacked flavor and certainly weren’t note-worthy. I’ve always been a firm believer in sides not taking the backseat to a dish, and I don’t believe Aunties and Uncles follows that mantra.

Breakfast Burger / Breakfast Pocket / French Toast

The worst moment of our Sunday brunch experience came at the very end though, when the restaurant’s cash only policy was enforced on us with the utmost attitude. Add to that, a receipt with mere numbers (with no indication as to their corresponding meal) was presented to us, a group of 3, who each ordered food at different price points. I’m always told by friends who have history in serving that dividing bills is actually NOT an impossible task like so many make it out to be. But alas, the following steps needed to take place before we could go on our merry ways: A) Run to the bank for cash B) Retrieve the menus to figure out who’s was who’s and C) Take out our calculators to divvy it all up. Of course, no help was offered by our server who was too busy chatting nearby while we put on our thinking caps.

All in all, I can’t say whether this was all an unfortunate turn of events, but I can surely say it was enough to convince me to never return. There are far too many restaurants in this glorious city, that welcome guests with open arms, pay attention to your needs, and help wherever they can. It’s true what they say, service really is everything. And in a nutshell, a few mouth-watering potatoes go a long way too.

What’s your favourite BRUNCH spot in Toronto?

Summerlicious at Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill

As summer reaches its climax, Torontonians take to the streets for the best of music, wine, beer, art and food. Summerlicious is the epitome of summer festivals for foodies and winos alike, allowing just about anyone to enjoy the finest restaurants Toronto has to offer, 181 of them, to be precise. With such a volume of participating restaurants, Torontonians can easily fall prey to high-end restos serving small portions that are big on flavour, but low on benefits – leaving patrons with grumbling stomachs, and disappointed reviews. Luckily for us, many restaurants look to this time for the ultimate in experimentation and culinary delight – offering prix fixe menus with enough scrumptious food to fill you up and bring you joy.

One of the best Oyster joints in Toronto, Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill located on Adelaide, just East of Church, offers the sort of Summerlicious menu that leaves you wanting to make a second reservation during the event’s two week spurt.

On the first night of Summerlicious, I had the pleasure of dining at Starfish, the fish lovers paradise, and I must say that the $35 meal is certainly worth it. If you’re a seafood lover, you should definitely visit this quaint spot, Summerlicious or not.

Seafood Tower

The seafood tower proved to be a popular choice, as I saw the inspired stack of oyster, clam, mussel, prawn, sashimi and crab fill each table surrounding us – and consequently, ours too. This little tower of the sea’s creatures was tasty and fun to devour, but most importantly, fresh as can be! Other appetizer options include a Spanish style tomato, cod and chorizo chowder, or house smoked haddock fish cakes.

Unlike many Summerlicious locations, our mains were filling and well proportioned. The PEI mussels and house cut fries are the classic choice – and made just as one would expect, with white wine, garlic, lemon and herbs. Why mess with a good thing, right? I chose the Irish organic salmon with risotto, which was delightful. Important to note that the risotto is not what one would typically envision (rich, creamy), this has a tomato base with barley, peas and basil, much better suited to a fish ensemble.

Organic salmon with risotto / PEI mussels and house cut frites

Desserts were definitely edible but nothing to rave about. I would suggest the sticky toffee pudding (or STP as they call it) over the poached apricot with raspberry reduction and vanilla ice cream, which wasn’t too exciting (although the ice cream and reduction alone were lovely together).

Sticky toffee pudding / Apricot with vanilla ice cream

Other menu options are marked at “Special Summerlicious Prices” so if you’re looking to order a dozen Oysters, you may as well take advantage while the price is right.
For more information on participating Summerlicious restaurants, click here.

Summerlicious ends July 22!
Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill
100 Adelaide Street East
416-366-7827

Starfish Summerlicious Menu

Brothers Beer Bistro: Sneak Peek

Don’t get too excited, Brothers Beer Bistro isn’t quite open yet but the boys have an exhilarating week ahead, keeping fingers crossed for the inaugural public opening on Friday, May 25th.

The Nuts were fortunate enough to get a sneak peek into Ottawa’s newest restaurant (and beer emporium) and last night attended the first of three soft openings. “Soft openings” are designed to give restauranteurs, wait staff and kitchen staff a trial run, a chance to iron out any kinks, before the opening date. As I was encouraged by owners Pat Asselin and Nick Ringuette to provide feedback and criticism, please read on as this post will act as a giant (and glowing) comment card about my first experience in Brothers Beer Bistro.

As mentioned, Asselin and Ringuette were buzzing about the floor, cheerily overseeing the operation as the floodgates opened and they welcomed their friends and family for the first trial run. Immediately, I felt welcomed (recall from their previous interview on nutshell, Asselin’s desire to cultivate a feeling of a warm hug upon entry to their restaurant? Nailed it).  The restaurant has a warm glow that seeps all the way through the long and narrow space, leading you to a beautiful, (and well stocked) bar. The staff, from the welcoming hostess to the efficient bartender, were – in all facets- hospitable and cheerful. It would be safe to say that Asselin’s former experience working with restauranteur Stephen Beckta has deeply affected his own restaurant’s philosophy. As we settled in at the bar, a hum of excitement vibrated in the air for this highly anticipated “soft” opening. Everyone was excited to be there.

From the vast selections of beer, we ended up with two selections: one recommened by the bartender who suggested we try the Dieu du Ciel Rosee, the other (Blanche de Chambly) was aptly listed as a beer pairing with one of our two appetizers. This is a true selling point of Brothers. Beer pairings will encourage the average beer drinker to branch out and try something new and most gastronomes will gasp at the precision of these pairings.

The appetizers were the high point of our entire meal that consisted of two apps and two mains. To start: Perogies and Beef Tartare. Forget about the everyday perogy served at run-of-the-mill pubs, Brothers’ perogies are exquisite and rich. After tasting this first dish, it quickly became evident that Executive Chef, Darren Flowers, has an unorthodox vision to take traditional pub fare to the next level. Served with a creamy Sauvagine sauce and confit pork, the perogies were the mouthwatering pinnacle of my first visit. Sliding in as a close second was the beef tartare. In true Brothers Beer fashion, the tartare is infused with Wellington beer which the boys soon hope to change to a more expressive flavour of beer, like the Unibroue Maudite.

{Pictured from Top, left to right: Perogies, Maudite Beer, Steak and Frites, Beef Tartare, Kichesippi Fried Chicken}

We anticipated our second course with high hopes and willing taste buds, but it turned out that our appetizers continued to linger in our thoughts, despite the KFC being richly delicious (and innovative!). The steak frites was a tasty finale, but still did not manage to outshine the round of appetizers.

Despite this being the first night of a trial run service, it seemed to myself and Catherine that everything operated like clock work. The servers were calm and collected and if a jolt of the jitters were being experienced behind closed doors, it certainly didn’t reach our   calm cove at the bar.

As we walked away from this delightful new addition to the Ottawa restaurant scene, I couldn’t help but smack my lips and rub my belly with satisfaction. But more than that, I felt a sense of complete gratitude and pleasure.  Whether it was the beer, the food, the atmosphere, or a combination of the three, Ottawa can anticipate a restaurant that will draw thick crowds for a multitude of reasons.

Brothers Beer Bistro

366 Dalhousie

613.282.9452

Conquering Caesar: Canada’s cocktail

As in a nutshell’s resident nightlife correspondent, I feel as though that automatically makes me our Caesar expert as well. List off all the “hangover cures” you want – Advil, Gatorade, Big Mac, four litres of water, shower, quick run, slap in the face – while all are tried, tested and true, nothing does it for me like a cold and delicious Caesar. Extra spicy, of course.

In the good ol’ days when all the nuts lived in one place, after any big night out you could bet your first born that we’d be slothed around a brunch table, Caesar’s in one hand, head in the other.

So, it seemed a little too perfect when we were contacted by Mott’s Clamato to meet with Caesar expert Clint Pattemore to unlock the secret behind Ottawa’s best Caeser.

Over a delicious lunch at Murray Street restaurant we were treated to great food and two rounds of spectacular cocktails (yes, I returned to work afterwards. Sadly). What makes their Caesar the talk of the town? Homemade clamato juice, garlic, chipotle peppers and a secret ingredient – savoury spice. Not to mention it came with a celery stick topped with cheese whiz (!!!!!). If you’re into the traditional taste this one may not be your favourite but it’s smoky undertones definitely makes it a drink to remember.

Created in 1969, in Calgary by a man by the name of Walter Chell, the Caesar has now officially been named “Canada’s cocktail”. Right up there with poutine, smoked meat and Tim Horton’s, it’s true that whenever I’ve been away from the homeland I catch myself wanting, needing and craving the taste of that familiar and perfect combination. Not to mention, that irresistible spicy bean.

When asked why the Caesar has managed to climb it’s way to Canadian glory, Clint had what I consider to be the perfect response – it’s versatile. People can customize it to fit their particular taste. How true.

Bad balance.

And given our nation’s tendency to accommodate, how Canadian.

For Clint, whose job is basically to travel around the country promoting the drink –  (ummm, hello. Are you hiring?) he says the perfect mix is all about balance. No ingredient should overpower the rest – even spice.

He particularly liked it when I asked him if he’s a “mild or wild” kind of guy. Didn’t realize the nuts coined that term, but if Canada’s Caesar EXPERT had never heard it, I guess we did. Copyright.

Looking out for my Toronto home girls I asked what he considers to be Toronto’s best Caesar. Looks like Kaylee and Jess will have to try out a little place called Finn’s of Temple. Their wide variety of Caesar options means almost anyone could find something to suit their style. And get this, they have a VEGAN one. Somewhere Jess is doing a summersault.

Kate likes hers with pickle juice. And a side of hand.

For me personally, I consider Fresco’s Bistro Italiano on Elgin to have Ottawa’s best. But, as a spice lover their horseradish addition is what has me sold. 10fourteen also has a Caesar that will allow you to finish it off in about 5 seconds flat. Secret ingredient there? Fresh cucumber juice. Holy hannah, delicious. But, if you’re looking for the real deal hangover Caesar, head to Lieutenants Pump. $10 for a mason jar, complete with 3 shots of alcohol? … “We’ll all have one, thanks.”

However, aside from all the Caesar talk, perhaps the biggest lesson I learned amid lots of laughs with Mr. Pattemore, was his fun fact about tequila. Clearly doing his research on the nutshell girls (we love the stuff), he filled me in that tequila made with 100 per cent Agave is actually the healthiest thing you can drink.

Really not helping me cut down on the partying with tips like that, Clint.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a date with Canada’s favourite cocktail and some good friends. Happy drinking.

The Fresh Perspective

Bloor and Spadina location

“I really like meat, don’t get me wrong, but that place is legitimately delicious enough to convert a carnivore.”

After this tried and true testament from a (very much so) meat-eating male coworker of mine, I knew I was heading to the right spot for dinner last weekend. He was rightfully raving about the sensational vegetarian/ vegan restaurant Fresh – a restaurant that has after one sitting become my absolute new favourite – although it’s by no means new to anyone else in the city.

Is this newfound obsession because I’m a vegan and have finally found a proper dining experience to soothe my savoury eating-out cravings with a little choice? Yes and no. I’m more so newly infatuated – along with the rest of the constant line-up of patrons out the front door – with the abundance of only the freshest ingredients in the Big Smoke which combine to create sublimely fascinating flavours that one would never guess lack meat or dairy.

Without being a Ma and Pa restaurant boasting organics from the backyard or an incognito hole in the wall bakery, Fresh is aesthetically stunning and trendy. Decked in colourful walls and grandiose chandeliers, the restaurant prides itself on the smoothest of service and every chance to mold your meal into exactly what you’d like it to be. Just because your onion rings are made of quinoa, veggie burgers are topped with mouth-watering combinations and heaps of soy (or regular) cheddar — doesn’t mean you’re grumbling stomach is going to have to wait twice as long while the bustling restaurant is served their unique creations. Fresh is fast, efficient and has crafted a menu that will – guaranteed – make your decision nearly impossible to make.
I literally had little veggie stars in my eyes. As I scanned the menu sections – tropical smoothies, boosters, starters, gigantic salads, energizing “bowls” of rice or noodle dishes, regular entrees (with fancy vegan twists) and mouth-watering cakes, cupcakes and cookies – you would never realize you were catering to any sort of dietary restriction, because if anything, this menu is more diverse than most non-vegetarian restos I’ve visited in months past. Both my friend Mallory and I settled for the Prix Fixe – an incredibly underpriced four-course meal ($24 for a smoothie, starter, main and cookie) that resulted in takeaway containers and puffed out tummies after all was said and eaten. I ordered a strawberry, banana and coconut smoothie to start along with a hearty bowl of barley, mixed veggie and cracked pepper soup. At this point, I could have called it a night. But then I saw my “Ninja bowl” wander over; a gaping white dish of soba noodles, wasabi dill dressing, countless greens, sundried tomatoes and crispy tofu tangled in chopsticks. Despite laying claim to a huge appetite, I was practically done for after five scoops of creamy noodles…until my big chocolate chunk cookie was plopped in front of me.

Stressed.

After a moment of silence, staring and semi fake tears of happiness, my friend laughed and asked when I had last eaten a cookie. I thought about it briefly, and came to the conclusion that it was last November. NOVEMBER. Sure, I had made some lovely desserts for myself – but for the most part, I’ve come to the realization that the restaurant world is made of eggs, milk and cheese, so I’d rarely gone on a hunt for something I could enjoy that had been made by someone else. And isn’t there something just so lovely about eating food you didn’t have to whip up yourself? So, with a little belch and a belt loosen (cute, right?) I ate that cookie with the utmost enthusiasm and happiness. In fact, the experience was so moving, I could have forked in the entire gooey vegan fudge cake staring at me from the cake plate on the nearby bakery bar – because I have always wholeheartedly believed I have a separate pocket in my stomach for dessert after an enormous meal.

Oh, and another thing? They serve wine and beer – good ones, too. I was a set on enjoying the decadent fruity smoothies and food, and didn’t want anything to interfere with that, so I opted out. But this is always something that’s great – if not incredibly important – to note.

If you have 20 to 40 minutes to go early for your dinner, make your way to any of Fresh’s three Toronto locations and tirelessly wait in that line-up. Do. Not. Give. Up. It’s worth the crammed crowd, it’s worth the bloated belly and it’s especially worth the delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. Because really, very few things feel better than a satisfied tummy – especially if it’s full of very, very good (and fresh) things.

Hello, lover.

For the full Fresh menu and dining locations, see http://www.freshrestaurants.ca/main.asp

Restaurant Opening: Brothers Beer Bistro

About 5 years ago, while working at an accounting firm to get himself through school, Patrick Asselin realized that a 9-5 stint in the Ottawa business district just wasn’t going to cut it for him. Instead, he decided to pursue a career as a restauranteur. Working in the corporate world of the restaurant industry and then, working for the illustrious Stephen Beckta, Asselin found his qualms about diving head first into the restaurant industry were quickly dispelled. His time spent in restaurants confirmed his aspirations to open his own restaurant and, in May 2012, Asselin’s pursuits will become a reality.

Asselin teamed up with lifelong friend, Nick Ringuette, another devotee to the restaurant industry and, between the two of them, the idea for Brothers Beer Bistro was born. Although 366 Dalhousie is currently under construction, Brothers has been heavily anticipated by the foodie circles of Ottawa. I sat down to chat with Asselin and Ringuette about their journey to the long-awaited opening date and what challenges they have faced along the way.

Kate: When did you realize that, instead of working the regular 9-5, you wanted to own a restaurant?

Patrick:  While I was working a 9-5. Not everybody is suited for that. It actually took me a long time the become okay with this lifestyle, and then after I worked a 9-5 job for about a year I was like, I can’t do this.

Nick: For me, I got into the restaurant industry when I moved to Ottawa and right away, I knew I loved it.

Kate: How did you two come together? What about your Executive Chef, Darren Flowers?

Patrick: When Nick and I started this, we had an idea of what we wanted this to be. Then while working with Darren at Play Food and Wine, I thought he would be a very organic fit for the restaurant. I think I asked him if he was interested one night out drinking. We are all really good friends, but so different at the same time and that’s what make it work. Our relationships will be part of the atmosphere here.

Kate: Is there anyone in this industry that you particularly admire, or that helped you along the way?

Patrick: My biggest influence was Stephen Beckta. I left a high paying job, during a recession to go work for him because of his incredible reputation. Without Steve as a consultant and mentor, we wouldn’t be opening in 2012.  And I can’t forget Paul Meek and Geoff Skeggs, who helped us foster that passion and grow our namesake. Between the two of them, we wouldn’t have the product, the knowledge or the contacts in the beer world.

Nick: Steve Mitton has great work ethic and is very personable. He has definitely been a huge influence on me. He’s open, helpful, and makes good food taste very good.

Kate: In your effort to open Brothers Beer Bistro, what challenges have you faced?

Patrick: One of the hardest things was managing my expectations of things. That was the biggest hurdle for me. You know, you come up with ideas in your mind and trying to tailor them to reality is difficult. And time management. This is a big project, with no experience, it’s like where to start? Who do you contact first?

Kate: What are you hoping to achieve with the vibe and style of your restaurant?

Patrick: A warm hug. (Chuckles)  No, we really want a cool, casual, fun atmosphere. We want someone to come in after a long day at work and get that warm hug I was talking about. After work, people want to go a buddy’s place. We’re that buddy.

Kate: What, when the restaurant opens, will define a triumphant moment for you? That moment where you can say, “Yes, we did it.”

Patrick: The media event, when Nick and I can step back, see the staff doing their thing. Its autonomous at that point. We can step back and be like, “Whoah”.

Kate: Describe Brothers Beer Bistro in three words.

Nick: Friendly. Professional. Fun.

Kate: Tell me a bit about your menu.

Patrick: Comfort food, with a touch of elegance.

Nick: Good food, being prepared simply, yet well refined. Comfort food with a twist.

Kate: How many beers on tap? In the bottle?

Patrick: 16 on tap, 1 cask and 60 in bottle.

If you had to give up cheese or beer for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Patrick & Nick (almost simultaneously): Cheese!

Patrick: When monks fast, the only thing they are allowed to have is beer. Because it is liquid bread. Beer can sustain me.

Kate: If you were to dine at your own restaurant, what would be the first dish you order, and what beer?

Nick: On any day given of the week, any single thing on the menu. And any beer on the menu. Things are going to be changing constantly , but i have 100% faith in our ability to deliver.

With that kind of confidence in stride, Brothers Beer Bistro is headed for a steady path of success in the year to come. Their plans for an unmatched menu and vast selection of domestic beers will deem Brothers the kind of institution that the Byward Market has been begging for, to keep foodies and brew masters alike hoppy.

Play by Play

As the resident foodie, it’s not often that you’ll find me discussing one particular restaurant. This restaurant just so happens to be one of my absolute favourites, so my lack of discussion to this establishment on nutshell may see unfitting.  Perhaps my silence could have some negligible connection with my current employment at this same establishment and may, to some readers, indicate a bias. However, Play has long been one of my favourite spots in the Byward market. Fashioned around tapas style cuisine, Play focuses on small plates – some to be shared and some to be devoured independently. While offering an assorted and diverse menu of small plates, Play also offers the opportunity to taste wine, by glass, in 3 or 5 ounce pours. This sweet little spin on wining and dining allows the diner to enjoy a wine that will precisely complement the existing dish. A novel idea? Unquestionably. Play’s approach to wine and food pairings enhances the entire experience, from the moment you peruse the menu, to your first taste and the quickly followed sip of meticulously matching wine.

Although Play consistently rests in my list of top 5 restaurants in Ottawa, it has been around for a little over 3 years now. Nothing new to report, or so it may seem. But as the seasons change, so do the  available herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables and what remains is a titivated menu reflecting all things that are seasonally sought after. I love seeing new items replace old ones on the menu: it keeps working there as lively as the first day on the job and it allows eating there to never suffer a dull moment.

The next time you’re in the market, here are a few new plates to taste:

Scallops are not usually my go-to when it comes to ordering the fruits of the sea, but these perfect petoncles are not to be missed. Seared to perfection, they rest on a bed of carrot, jicama and apple slaw, topped with a sizzling, bacon vinaigrette.

Play has really hit the jack-pot with this one, probably their best fish dish to date. Lightly breaded, the filet of cod is topped with a zesty, olive aioli. Coupled with soft erdingi mushrooms, textured edamame and mouth-watering chorizo.

Similar in texture to pulled pork, the rabbit is a delicacy that doesn’t tend to grace many menus in Ottawa. So I gave it a whirl and I was not disappointed. Juicy and tender, the rabbit is enhanced with a mild dose of grainy dijon, braised cabbage and crispy black-eyed peas.

Chef de cuisine, Katie Brown, is often fond of creating dishes that are deconstructed familiarities. In this case, we have a deconstructed hot dog & bun. Replicating the bun, is a sweet yet savoury cornbread that crumbles on command. Replacing what I imagine would be relish is a wave of grilled swiss chard. The S2S ( producer) sausage leaves a delicate flavour of herbs and spice on the palate and is complemented by an olive “ketchup”.

If your mouth isn’t watering already, this will kick it into high gear for you. Most dishes at Play range from $13-$20. Hit this hot spot for a luncheon and you’ll be happy to find a midday special: 2 plates for $20 at lunchtime. Ready yourself to leave satiated but not stuffed, as the small plates will do just the trick to send you on your way with a smile on face.

Soaking up the Sun…

Happy first day of spring, nuts! As of 1:14 p.m. we are officially out of winter! As of noon yesterday, we were also somehow in summer. With temperatures that reached the mid-twenties by noon, we Ottawans have been blessed with a tropical treat! Since our weather seems to be ridiculously temperamental this year, I’m going to take advantage of the sunshine before Mother Nature changes her mind again. What better way to do that, than unwinding after work on a patio with a cool, refreshing bevy and a bite to eat. And so, even though this may be a tad premature, without ado, I present to you a list of my favourite hot spots to visit in Ottawa…

Business Sector:

Royal Oak (180 Kent Street):

One of the newer locations in Ottawa, the Kent Street Oak encompasses everything that you probably already know (and love) about this Ottawa classic…but with a gigantic outdoor patio. In the heart of the business sector, this patio seats 160 patrons and features a different drink special every night. Add in a menu that features a ton of different appetizers and British pub fare, and you have yourself a recipe for a good time.

Parliament Pub (101 Wellington Street):

Looking for a patio that’s unique to Ottawa? Try out Parliament Pub, located directly across from Parliament Hill, with a prime view of the Peace Tower. Known as the place where ‘real politics get done’, it often attracts politicians and their staff, as well as journalists, civil servants and more. Happy Hour runs from 5-7 p.m. and while the beer list isn’t extensive, their drinks will still get the job done!

Fox & The Feather (283 Elgin Street):

There’s something extra-special about being on a patio that is elevated, and that’s what the Fox & the Feather has to offer: a large, second story patio that overlooks Elgin. With a large menu that offers everything from sandwiches to steaks, this full-menu has a food-pick for everyone. My personal fav? The Cajun fajita wrap – YUM.

Preston Street:


Pub Italia (434 ½ Preston Street):

The mecca of all things beer, Pub Italia is known for its Beer Bible, which displays their selection of over 200 beers for their patrons to enjoy. 200 beers and a large patio? Sold.

Heart and Crown (347 Preston Street):

Both Heart and Crown locations in Ottawa are known as patio hot spots. The Preston location boasts the street’s largest patio that wraps around the building. Additionally, Heart and Crown often features live music, which makes the atmosphere even more enjoyable. While they may not have 200 beers available, they still have an extensive drink menu including some great imports on tap (like Boddingtons!).

Byward Market:

Stella Osteria (81 Clarence Street):

The elevated, roof-top patio at Stella is one of Ottawa’s most coveted summer hot spots. Not only is their food delicious, but their drink menu is to-die-for. With an extensive list of cocktails, martinis, and liquers this up-scale patio is perfect if you’re in the mood for some flavour in your after work drink. Of course they serve beer and wine as well, but the patio-drink that I have my eye on: one of their ‘Ice Fizzies’ which combine Prosecco, Liquer and Gelato. WOW.

The Black Thorn Cafe (15 Clarence Street):

Not to be confused with the Black Rose (the back patio of the market’s Heart & Crown), The Black Thorn is further up Clarence Street and boasts a large patio and an extensive drink menu comprised on draught beer, wine and a slew of cocktails and martinis. The food fare is nothing to scoff at either, with a wide variety of appetizers and entrees that are sure to peak your interest, including a selection of gourmet pizzas that have received much critical acclaim.

Cornerstone Bar and Grill (92 Clarence Street):

Known for their large wrap-around patio, Cornerstone definitely has one of the busiest patios in Ottawa. Their signature drink, the mojito is always a great summer pick, but their specialty mojitos that include fresh fruit, such as raspberries, set them apart. With a fun and energetic staff, Cornerstone is always bustling with excitement, making it an ideal place to park it for a few hours and really unwind. This is definitely one of those places where you head for a drink and stay for 10…Cheers!

What’s your favourite patio to visit in Ottawa? Leave us a comment below or drop us a line at inanutshellca@gmail.com