Kelly Brisson, the voice behind the delicious blog The Gouda Life, shares her favorite places to chow-down in Ottawa for Canada Day.
To many who may not know better, Ottawa might be the last place you’d think to visit when you’re considering an enticing culinary destination in Canada. However, in the past few years, we’ve been eagerly pulling up our wooly socks and proving ourselves as worthy as the rest.
Ottawa is home to a diverse many, and our culinary scene represents that now more than ever. Whether you’re in the mood for a 12-course tasting menu vaguely resembling a science experiment gone exceptionally right at Atelier, a wooden board spilling over with house-made charcuterie, pickles and cheese at Murray Street Kitchen, cafeteria style Mexican that’s both expertly made and authentic in every sense at Ahora, or a perfect Italian sandwich piled high with spicy, pickled eggplant, cold cuts and tangy mustard at Dirienzo’s, Ottawa has you covered. Every corner of the world is represented, though admittedly some are still working on perfecting their craft. We’ve never before had such a thriving, innovative food scene and while at times it’s hard to pull Ottawans away from their familiar chain restaurants and dark, dingy pubs, people seem to be hopefully enthusiastic about the change in culinary scenery lately.
I’m thrilled to be able to share a few of my most beloved, frequently visited spots in Ottawa with all of you just in time to celebrate Canada’s 145th birthday. I’ve called this city home for 26 years and I’ve come to feel a copious amount of pride and passion for it. Now more than ever, Ottawa thrives with exciting, creative food, inspiring people, and a lively arts scene that we can only hope will rival that of the bigger, more established Canadian cities in good time.
[Pressed] I first want to bring you on a trip to a shop most known for it’s incredible gourmet sandwiches and so much more. Pressed is equal parts coffee shop, smoke-house, cozy, communal living room, and innovative kitchen. Jeff Stewart, the man behind the curtain, left his long time desk job to fulfill the dream we’ve all only let airily cross our minds. Pressed opened its doors merely 7 months ago, and has since become a Mecca for Centretown folks to listen to live music, hear spoken word, share a pint of local beer, and dig into a monstrously delicious menu of everything from Falafel Sandwiches with Smoked Babaganouj, and Pickled Red Cabbage to Waffles, appropriately named “The Hangover”, piled high with local beef brisket, smoked and cooked in house, St Albert’s Cheese Curds (a Canadian delicacy – think poutine!), and gravy. If that’s not Canadian, I’m not sure what is. Much to patrons delight, Jeff takes special care to consider local vendors when he’s creating his menus. The beer, another local favourite, Kichesippi, is always cold and ready to share with friends, new and old. I visit Pressed more than one person probably should, but I just can’t help myself – the inviting atmosphere and bold, bang-on flavours keep me coming back again and again.
[Bridgehead Coffee] Of course, we wouldn’t be Canada without our frigid (-30 some days!) winters, and from what I’ve found, there is no better way to battle the nippy cold and bring your icy finger tips back to life than with a toasty warm mug of Bridgehead coffee tucked between them. Admittedly, I am here at least 4 times a week, sunshine, rain or snow. A company native to Ottawa, Bridgehead prides itself on having a conscious. When they aren’t slinging coffee, or building a brand new Roastery (so Ottawa can enjoy even fresher coffee!), they are raising money for Growing Up Organic, which helps schools build and maintain organic gardens, donating money so their growers have an opportunity to improve their farms and projects, fundraising to bring clean water to communities in Oromia or helping growers in Nicaragua rebuild after the 2011 earthquake. Bridgehead is a coffee shop with a heart that pumps community, kindness and a helping hand into Ottawa. I couldn’t be happier to support a business that in turn supports so many others.
Conscious aside, they make a life-altering cuppa joe. Fair-trade, organic and shade grown coffee varieties and teas line the counter tops while delectable baked goods (like ham and gruyere stuffed croissants that I fantasize about regularly), crunchy homemade granola and sandwiches (made fresh daily) tease you seductively from behind the glass counter. More than just an organic coffee shop, they provide a place for the community to gather and connect. People from every walk of life can be found draped across their cozy booths and tables, sipping their coffee and teas, sharing a buttery baked treat or a savoury homemade sandwich, and connecting with old friends, colleagues and brand new faces. I often stop in and order a Traditional Cappuccino to sip on while I watch the world breeze by before me. They make the best one in the city, and I feel fairly confident in saying so. If you’re ever wandering the streets of Ottawa in need of a freshly squeezed lemonade (sometimes with fresh raspberry pureé!), or an invitingly warm cup of coffee, Bridgehead will see to it that you’re well taken care of.
[Burnt Butter; Italian Kitchen] There are decidedly few restaurants that you walk into and immediately feel comfortable and at ease. Burnt Butter is one of those few. Owned and operated by Gen Lamorie & Chef Steve Wallace, one of the kindest couples I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, it is the type of place you go to sip slowly, graze thoughtfully over their tantalizing menu, and natter away endlessly with a good friend. The food, referred to as “Italian inspired. Inventive in spirit” couldn’t be more dead-on. The flavours of Italy aren’t as apparent as you might expect for an Italian restaurant, but they are there, carefully and lovingly tucked away amongst local meat and produce, vibrant sauces, delicately spiced oils and homemade pastas. On a recent visit, we gorged heavily on everything from a brightly coloured Summer Salad, layered with juicy, electric coloured mango, creamy, ripe avocado and cool, crunchy cucumbers tossed in tangy lime vinaigrette, to a skillfully prepared and perfectly seasoned Beef Tenderloin heaped with a bright and vivacious red pepper and gorgonzola sauce and topped with toasty pistachios. Suffice to say, we walked away entirely blissed out and full bellied, especially after the rich, semi-sweet chocolate truffle and Frangelico Cheesecake were consumed. Further to regular service, Burnt Butter offers a once-monthly Chef-Paired Food & Wine event where patrons are invited to join a lengthy family-style table and eat a themed dinner with sommelier paired wine. Each course is served while the sommelier, John, who is as kind as he is knowledgeable, walks from one end of the table to the other educating diners about the wine. They are always a thrill to attend.
Burnt Butter knows how to treat it’s patrons, both from a service and food quality standpoint, and though there are plenty of new hot spots that I’ve yet to visit, I will continue to return here again and again, because there is nothing quite like being welcomed into a restaurant with warm, inviting smiles by kind hearted people who serve wonderful food.
[Kichesippi Beer Co.] No post about Ottawa would be quite complete without mentioning our beloved beer. We are, after all, a country who lives and dies by our penchant for a quality pint. And if we’re talking quality, then you can’t help but think of Kichesippi Beer Company, one of Ottawa’s most beloved darlings. And in case there was any doubt, they even have their own day; April 15th is known as “Kichesippi Beer Day in Ottawa”, as named by Mayor Jim Watson.
Photos by Andrew Szeto
Craft brewed right here in the city, since the very first batch, Kichesippi, Ottawa’s largest commercial Microbrewery, is a company who prides themselves on being locally owned and operated. With no preservatives or additives and a short 3 month shelf life, they are always busily working away on new batches of their regular offerings and experimenting with new creations to add to their lineup. Their two most common (and adored) beers are the 1855, a dark and malty variety that pours clear and amber hued, tastes of sweet caramel and grassy straw with a bitter finish, and the Natural Blonde, which pours a stunning clear golden yellow and smells of toasty malts. It’s rich and balanced, moderately bitter and boasts just a slight honey sweetness. It’s an easy drinking ale that we find ourselves happily sipping through summer and winter alike.
There is certainly no shortage of expertly made beers in Ottawa, but Kichesippi has the community feel, kind spirited heart and perfectly crafted brews that make them a local favourite to residents new and old.
What are some of your favorite places to visit in Canada?
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