I have one word for you: poutine and back bacon. No, I have 3 words for you: poutine, back bacon and beaver tails. No, no, I have…what I’m trying to get at is, Canadian cuisine. More specifically, what I imagined was the only food available in our nation’s capital. (In case you missed the Monty Python reference in the first couple of sentences, click here)
When my boyfriend told me he had been accepted into a Master’s program in Ottawa, I had two immediate reactions: “yay!” and “oh man, this means I have to go to Ottawa”. Don’t get me wrong – Ottawa is a beautiful city, with lots to see and do. But I was a little weary of what it had to offer above and beyond skating (which I do about as well as a Bambi learning to walk) and the Parliament buildings (fun fact: the desks there are those old school desks where you can lift the top and store your documents or pens. They also store, as one MP demonstrated when we were there last, candy you sneak to get you through those long debate sessions).
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when my research showed that Ottawa has a rather vibrant and up-and-coming restaurant scene. My boyfriend and I are, what you would call “foodies” (a word which I realize is completely passé, kind of like passé itself). We love eating, is what it boils down to, and if we can eat at unique places that offer meals we wouldn’t make ourselves, we’re in.
With that – and because my boyfriend refuses to start a food blog with me – here are my top 5 must-eat spots in Ottawa:
1) Town – first off, their motto is “Town loves you”, which already scores them points. This was the first restaurant we went to in Ottawa, and it has become a staple in the last year and a half. They change their menu somewhat regularly and always have local ingredients. One of my favourite dishes is their mortadella mousse (on crostini, with a whole poached egg on top – delicious, and what could possibly make the best breakfast ever). But for the dessert fiends out there, their ice cream sunday takes the cake – salted caramel ice cream + chocolate sauce + whipped cream + caramel popcorn + peanuts = us not talking for a good 20 minutes while we ate.
2) Murray Street Kitchen – charcuterie, how I love you! Cheese and meat plates, with toast, various jams, fruits and mustards are one of my favourite ways to begin (or end) a meal. What’s awesome about Murray Street is their selection of meats – all from Canada (most from around Ontario – they even have a map showing you where it all comes from), and all unique like buffalo and bison. There was the first place I ever had elk salami. And once you go elk….
3) Fraser Cafe – a new find, and ranked one of the top restaurants in Ottawa by a few publications. What Fraser Cafe does – other than source supremely fresh oysters, offer a great selection of very reasonably priced wines and provide a great selection of cheeses for cheese plates (are you sensing a theme here?) – is offer a special “Kitchen’s Choice” dish. The chef prepares whatever strikes his fancy. No two dishes are the same in a given night, and you’re not allowed to make any requests or substitutions. When we went, I ended up with an herb-crusted trout, in a citrus sauce with potatoes, radishes and tempura green onions…it was all kinds of right.
4) Union Local 613 – at first glance, this looks like a Soviet-themed vodka bar (their logo reminded me of Toronto’s Pravda), but in reality it’s a southern comfort food, family-style restaurant. Mason jars as cups, long wooden communal style tables, and a great selection of bourbon really nails the theme home. We had fried chicken and grits – gourmet style. Plus, one of my favourite comfort foods, devilled eggs! This is the second restaurant we’ve been to that actually had devilled eggs (aka the food my grandma made back in Romania) on the menu. I just wish my stomach had capacity for more by the end of it all.
5) Beaver Tails stand in Byward Market – ok, not a restaurant, but come on! It’s Ottawa! You have to get a Beaver Tail (with Nutella if you’re feeling extra saucy)