Diner Week Critique: Rideau Inn B&B (…and Ottawa, ON)

Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise

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I had never been to a Bed & Breakfast before but I certainly felt equally comfortable with both parts. Beds have been a staple of my (and every other mid-20s human being’s) life for years with increased importance during college. Breakfast has become an increasing passion through the Diners Without Frosted Tips project.  Together, this concept couldn’t lose.

What made the Rideau Inn B&B even better was it’s location – Ottawa, ON. It’s cool in its own right to spend a weekend in Canada (yet another new experience) but I stumbled on something better. Ottawa may not have been featured in any Man V. Food,  [Food] Paradise or the like yet, but it’s definitely a food town. One hell of food town at that.

First, in regards to the Rideau Inn B&B, you can’t ask for a better location. It’s located centrally to explore Ottawa along Rue Elgin. It’s a street that runs through a commercial section lined with local restaurants and food stores then continues all the way down to the city’s historic Parliament. Real estate value must only increase with a 24-hour diner less than 60 seconds away.

The Inn itself was a positive experience. It’s privately owned by friendly locals so they can offer tips and sights from the city. After checking you in, staff doesn’t really bother you at all (they’re present for breakfast) and you have easy access to come and go as you please.  The room was clean and spacious enough for two, amenities worked well and the package came with parking and breakfast each morning.  At under $90 per night total, there was a  lot of value at the Rideau Inn B&B.

Breakfast at a B&B however surprised me. I don’t know if it’s standard B&B procedure, but it was more continental self-serve than sit down to homemade pancakes.  Nevertheless, you can certainly get by with fresh fruit, some homemade pastries, cereal, toast/bagels with a robust spread to choose from and real Canadian maple syrup at your disposal. It might even be beneficial to have light fare for breakfast considering what the rest of an Ottawa day will likely have in store.

The host recommended the major market downtown as the first must-stop. Calling ByWard Market major is an understatement. It’s part farmer’s market, part restaurant district, part arts commercial district. Over 400 different vendors are in the neighborhood and you can get virtually anything you can think of (pure Canadian maple syrup  most definitely included). The lone item you can’t leave without trying (straight from a Canadian journalist) is there too, a local pastry called Beaver Tails.

At the core, Beaver Tails are just fried dough similar to what you could see at any fair. These are thinner than your average pizza fritta and there’s cinnamon sugar rather than mere powder. The classic variety is topped off with fresh lemon squeeze to give just a touch of tang. It’s light, flaky, feels great on your palette and leaves a nice sugary residue on the tips of your fingers for later. There are plenty of options to try if you’d like (chocolate, nutella, etc.) but give the classic a chance first time through.

Any afternoon at ByWard should lead to an evening back on Elgin.  For pubs, there are locales like the Sir John A. It’s spacious with outdoor seating for when the weather is nice and plenty of tables/counter inside for when it’s not.  There are plenty of local and regional brews to sample and a late night kitchen so you can do so without feeling like crap.  The can’t pass item on that list is poutine, a French fry based dish with gravy and cheese curds melted on top. It has origins in Quebec but certainly a Canadian dish available throughout the country now.

When a simple pub experience doesn’t do the trick, there is a place where you can get cutting edge evening experiences.  It’s new in 2010 and called Town. This place can fit seemlessly in Manhattan, Brooklyn or any other hip, culinary crazed hot bed right now but it’s Ottawa who is lucky enough to call it home. Town. fits with many of the major current restaurant trends: a local product focus, ever-changing daily menu based on ingredients, classic and original cocktails, minimalist decor with an indie chef selected playlist, plenty of tasting/small plate options in addition to full entrees.

Photo courtesy of Town. on WordPress

It was an unbelievable surprise find.  The meatballs stuffed with ricotta were a filling and delicious small plate that allowed some flexibility with the ordering (had to then do a cheese plate, some of the Canadian semi-softs are brilliant). Whatever the house cocktail for the day (mint, gin, “something sweet”), it was also wonderful and complimented the array of Canadian whiskeys I’d sample later. The best part was getting that cutting edge experience but only paying reasonable restaurant prices.  For two folks drinking wine, cocktails and ordering multiple small plates, we still had an evening for under $80.

When I booked the Ottawa weekend, I never thought I’d want to get back there so fast. It was simply a convenient locale for a short adventure, but Montreal or Toronto were the real goals. After the weekend of great eating and relaxation however, Ottawa holds its own as a major destination and is on my short list of underrated food cities (someone alert Travel Channel or Food Network, all right?).  Whoever is up for a roadtrip that ends with dinner/drinks at Town. and photos with the Terry Fox statue, hit me up pronto.

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