Restaurant Roundup, our cross-country tour of Canada’s great dining scene, is well into Ontario for the moment as we keep moving eastward. We’ve already stopped in Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton - Burlington. This week we're stopping in Ottawa for a look at the essential eats of ByWard Market with the team at foodiePrints.
The heart of Ottawa, the ByWard Market is a bit of an oasis from the office buildings that makeup our downtown core. Established by Colonel John By in 1826 during the construction of one of the national capital region's landmarks, the Rideau Canal, the market originally served as the place from which soldiers, lumberjacks, and labourers could buy fresh food.
A hundred and ninety years young, the ByWard Market still hosts Canada’s oldest open-air farmer’s market. In the 1980s, the market hosted farmers, fish mongers, and butchers, selling meats, eggs, produce, fish, and maple syrup. Now, the approximately four square blocks consists of museums, cafés, specialty food shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, pubs, night clubs, and other attractions, becoming the city's primary tourist and entertainment district. According to the ByWard Market’s Business Improvement Association, the area receives an average 50,000 visitors every weekend.
The ByWard Market is presently in a state of change with longstanding large chain box restaurant the Hard Rock Cafe having closed September 2013. Once one of three side-by-each big box restaurants along York Street, a major thoroughfare, many a tourist had to wonder about the state of Ottawa's food scene. Depending on your exposure to how the National Capital Region dines out, our chef-owned and restaurateur-owned but chef-driven restaurants seem somewhat underexposed, almost underground.
The following are a number of essential eats in the ByWard Market.
Opened in 1999 by Peter Boole to offer an upscale space where people dine, drink at the bar, or do both, Social's kitchen has become a rite-of-passage. A number of its past chefs have gone on to open some of Ottawa's more notable restaurants, including Rene Rodriguez and his Navarra Restaurant; and Steve Mitton and his Murray Street Kitchen, Wine, and Charcuterie.
Today, Chef Kyrn Stein has been working to re-brand the restaurant. Since October 2013, he has brought in Ontario lamb; Organic Oceans steel head trout from Lois Lake, British Columbia; and organic produce from Juniper Farm in Wakefield, Quebec. The intent involves showcasing Canada’s best agricultural products from “pork to chickpeas.” Stein brings with him an impressive resume, representing almost a decade of cooking in professional kitchens. Besides staging at Michelin Star Pied à Terre in London, England, Stein worked his way around a number of Toronto’s notables. His employers include The McEwan Group and Jamie Kennedy. However, it was his time spent at Claudio Aprile’s former Colborne Lane and Ben Heaton’s The Grove that defined his approach to fine dining, especially his intricate and thoughtful plating.
One of his more impressive dishes from his winter menu was vadouvan lamb saddle with belly daal, cauliflower, and poppadum yogurt. On his newly launched summer menu, the lamb saddle is now served with artichoke, minted potatoes, white anchovies, and Cumberland sauce.
Read more about Social
537 Sussex Drive, Ottawa
Ottawa-born René Rodriguez' 6 year-old Navarra was often overlooked when journalists compiled "top 10" restaurant lists for the nation's capital. That is until Rodriguez took the Top Chef Canada title for 2014, the last title as the Food Network has chosen to no longer produce the competition. Having grown up in Mexico, he started cooking at age 12. He attended Eleanor Orsor's Le Cordon Bleu (then on Prince of Wales Drive) at age 24. Rodriguez' resume includes stints at The ARC Lounge at ARC The Hotel (a notable restaurant in a boutique hotel), aforementioned Social, Luxe Bistro (47 York Street), and Black Cat Bistro (then on Murray Street).
At Navarra, he serves finer dining takes on Oaxacan (Mexican) cuisine with Roman and Basque (Spanish) influences. Meals at Navarra are always rich and flavorful. Dishes are plated with extreme attention to detail, an intricate feast for the eyes and palate. Think braised pig cheek with manchego; iberico chorizo and potato stuffed ancho chiles rellanos; beef tartare with pistachio romesco and chives; and rabbit confit “chilaquiles” with serrano chili-tomato salsa.
Read more about Navarra
93 Murray Street, Ottawa
Murray Street Kitchen
Across the street is Murray Street Kitchen, Wine, and Charcuterie. Ottawa is home to 1128 farms. Farm-to-table may be a fad in other cities. It isn't here, especially after Chef Steve Mitton and Paddy Whelan opened Murray Street Kitchen in 2008. They exposed the city to its first charcuterie bar. Serving Canadian contemporary comfort with Austrian and German influences, Murray Street has a strong "local" ethic.
The menu constantly changes to accommodate available meat and produce. Soul-satisfying plates are whimsically named, oftentimes after farmers. Think pork cretons; gnocchi in smoked lamb Bolognese, and duck fat poached beef short rib. Air Canada’s En Route magazine listed Murray Street Kitchen as one of Canada's Best New Restaurants. Even John Cattuci of Food Network Canada’s “You Gotta Eat Here” stopped by recently.
Murray Street Kitchen
110 Murray Street, Ottawa
The Albion Rooms
Just outside of the ByWard Market on Nicholas is a hotel, containing a very atypical hotel restaurant. Some hotel restaurants in Ottawa choose not to serve the usual suspect mediocrity that earned them their unfortunate stereotype. The Albion Rooms is the result of collaboration between Novotel Ottawa's owner and UK's Gorgeous Group. It aims to be a local destination.
Opened by young Chef Stephane Lasalle, the rustic take on a gastropub serves modern Canadian takes on English food (Scotch eggs, thrice cooked chips, kedgeree, and eton mess) with craft cocktails. Lasalle, a graduate of the Algonquin College School of Hospitality and Tourism, worked at Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar (245 Richmond Road) before climbing his way up the line at The ARC Lounge under Chef Jason Duffy.
Read more about The Albion Rooms
33 Nicholas Street, Ottawa
Hooch Bourbon Bar
Also just outside of the ByWard Market on Rideau is Hooch, Ottawa's second bourbon bar. Now a little over a year old, Hooch was opened by chef Danny Mongeon, serving modern-twists-on-Southern-Comfort menu. His is Kentucky-inspired fare with a nod to New Orleans. Mongeon comes to Hooch by way of a stage with Chef Marc Lepine and his award winning modernist Atelier Restaurant; and stints at venerable Courtyard Restaurant (21 George Street), Churchill's in Westboro (356 Richmond Road), and Brut Cantina Sociale in Gatineau (131 Promenade du Portage).
Popular dishes on Mongeon's menu include his "Greasy Bastard" burger (with andouille sausage, pimento cheese (made with 5 year aged cheddar), fried chicken skin, pickled tomatillo "chow chow," avocado mousse, sweet potato and pepper brioche bun, and sweet potato crisps); fried chicken and waffles (with brined, dredged (in flour, cornstarch, egg white powder, and milk powder), and fried Cornish hen on a crispy buttermilk waffle with maple chipotle emulsion); and signature stuffed pig's trotter. The trotter was inspired by young Marco Pierre White. Mongeon bones out pig trotters, stuffs them with 3 lbs of house-made chorizo, trusses them, and roasts them until crackled. He serves his crispy skinned trotters over “popcorn” grits with pork belly, caramelized seasonal fruit, and red eye gravy.
Hooch Bourbon Bar
180 Rideau Street, Ottawa
Ottawa has an unfortunate reputation for being a gastronomic wasteland. There are now over 2000 restaurants, pubs, cafes, and eateries in the National Capital Region. Many chef entrepreneurs have stepped up, creating a vibrancy to our food scene. Here's hoping a visit to the ByWard market will whet your appetites for tasty treats in other Ottawa neighbourhoods: Hintonburg, West Wellingotn Village, Beechwood, and Little Italy.
Don and Jen grew up in Ottawa, Ontario in a family where food was the centre of celebrations. Don founded Ottawa food blog foodiePrints in 2006 with Jenn coming on board as editor the following year. foodiePrints initially started as a recipe blog, but quickly grew into a collection of stories and local restaurant reviews. The team behind foodiePrints learned Ottawa prepared and served great food! From meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers and other local producers, they have been documenting it all, sharing with their readers around the world.