Yuko Inoue (blog) came to Ottawa from Japan one year ago to study at Carleton University. After a summer serving as photo editor of The Charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper, she’s now starting her second year of journalism. In her spare time, Yuko likes art, live music and exploring the city’s food scene.
Snow finally fell in parts of Ottawa on Thursday — but, meanwhile, I was drinking lemonade and waiting for a hot sandwich inspired by the country Canadians escape to during the winter: Cuba.
Nestled into a little stretch of shops in Old Ottawa South, I came face-to-face with Havana Cafe‘s “Cuban Club.” Let me explain my first date with him:
The Cuban Club from Havana Cafe
Tender grilled chicken, lightly flavoured with pepper and cilantro jumped into my mouth, dancing in harmony with caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato and a bit of mayo. Both sides of the bread were crunchy, while the bread inside absorbed the juice from the chicken and veggies. I nearly burnt my tongue, but couldn’t stop from hastily munching on it as soon as it arrived.
But perhaps the best perk was the price: $5.65 — WITH taxes and a lemonade thrown in. Way to go when living a student life. (Even better, considering that Havana Cafe is within walking distance to Carleton University.)
Another option is the Cuban wrap with rice and beans, grilled veggies and Yucca chips (fried Cuban root vegetable that is something between sweet potato and potato). Once you know and trust Havana Cafe’s sensitivity in flavouring food, I would definitely recommend this $10 plate.
The Cuban Wrap from Havana Cafe
Old Ottawa South — “between the bridges” — is a neighbourhood that’s growing quickly. With the recent arrival of great spots like Taylor’s Food & Wine and Stella Luna Gelato Cafe, it’s easy to spend an afternoon walking the sloping streets and perusing the shops.
On a wall instead Havana Cafe was a (typical) Cuban photo of both the young and old sitting in front of a porch, smiling, as a big, happy family. And it seems to be an attitude that carried over to the cafe’s staff, too. “Smile,” said one staff member, taking a photo of a family that came for a take-out order. Looks like they’ve brought the Cuban flavour, and haven’t lost the energy yet either.
While this will be Havana Cafe’s second winter to go through in Ottawa, like me, they recently renovated the lower floor for cocktail parties, birthdays and meetings. The vibe is private, yet friendly. Another great perk is that people can order meals that are not in the menu, as long as they are Cuban. The menu offers a suggestion: “Backyard pig roast.”
So instead of splurging on a $500 flight to escape the Ottawa winter, why not hop on an bus and come over for some Cuban comfort? And all for $5.
Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. She is also a contributing editor for Local Tourist Ottawa.
Take a typical day in the life of Hilary and multiply it by a trillion. Welcome to my Sunday.
My days are normally composed of food, biking and roommate love, and this past weekend all three were exaggerated exponentially. To my great pleasure, I might add.
Perplexed? For those that don’t know, OFC is an event held to help combat community hunger and raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank. The day operates like a scavenger hunt: participants are given a list of tasks at the beginning of the day that they need to complete and photograph over the next several hours. This year’s challenge saw 30 teams competing for the grand prize: a load of wine, gift certificates for local restaurants and food shops, and bragging rights for the next year.
As soon as I heard about the hunt, I knew it was right up my alley. I asked my roommate Brittany if she wanted to be my partner and, just like that, Team YUKON DO IT! was born. I was more that a little pleased to become a honourary Yukoner for the day.
Brittany and I with our Yukon ski team jackets (well, with her Yukon ski team jackets..)
Being students, Britt and I faced a tricky dilemma: we don’t have a car. This concerned us. We knew the hunt would send us across the city, and that time and speedy transportation would be of the essence. A combination of determination and a desire to be active (mixed with our no-other-option circumstances) led to our decision to do the OFC on our bikes.
And so, on Sunday morning, Britt and I rolled up to the Urban Element in Wellington West for the morning kick-off. After the grand prize was announced and several delicious Life of Pie freebie scones were consumed, we received THE LIST. Our route was promptly plotted, and we left in a flurry, leaving behind a screeching of tires and a blur of saddlebags.
Task 17: You at any bagel shop with a bagel on your fingers
For the next six hours, Britt and I made our way across the city, fueled only by our competitive will to win and a bag of a dozen day-old bagels that we had bought to complete an earlier challenge. I swear, doughy carbohydrates have never tasted so good.
As far as neighbourhood hopping went, we planned the day to minimize backtracking, a goal that I think we accomplished fairly well. Being on bikes, we managed to illegally enter parking lots, dodge/carefully peddle through construction, park on sidewalks and nearly run over a few people in the Market.
This year’s tasks were fun and creative, some more challenging than others. Here are the stories that accompany a few of our favourites…
1. Task #20: You and a Kraft single beside the most expensive piece of cheese you can find
Who knew that journalism student persistence would pay off in the form of processed cheese? For this challenge, Britt and I were left stranded outside of La Bottega in the Market, at a loss for where to find a piece of cheese to juxtapose the $74.99/kg chunk we eventually found. The answer was McDonalds. Surely the golden arches didn’t use real cheese on their Big Macs, I thought. After rushing to the cash at the downtown location and pestering a couple of employees, I eventually managed to convince one of them to wrap up a piece of their processed cheese for me. Disobeying social norms and asking strange requests while pouting really pays off.
2. Task #23: You holding a live “Sebastien” from the Little Mermaid
Come on, you can’t honestly tell me that you wouldn’t love to hang out with a lobster. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces and one with the water, or something, but holding a wriggling sea creature was one of the highlights of my day.
3. Task #36: You shaving chicken off any shawarma skewer
Britt and I biked past shawarma shops all day long, telling ourselves as we whizzed past each that we were reserving this task completion for Cedar Springs, the tiny grocery shop and shawarma deli in our neighbourhood, Old Ottawa South. It was the end of the day when Britt and I finally burst into the shop and begged the men behind the counter to let us wield sharp knives and pose with their chicken spits. After some persuasive talk and a promise to plug their groceria to everyone we know (plug, plug, plug) they let us take our picture. Bonus: they even lent us a chef’s coat and hat so we could check that task off our list. Britt still has the hat and can be seen wearing it around the house on occasion.
4. Task #9: Crawl down Preston with a plate on your head! (Make sure we can see the Little Italy street sign!)
In which we convinced the fine folk at Pub Italia to lend us a plate as we biked one-handed down Preston Street holding said dish. Bikes tossed aside, we paid tribute to the next Dishcrawl Ottawa neighbourhood.
5. Task #32: You rolling a sushi roll anywhere but at home
This was actually the most difficult challenge to accomplish. We were close to giving up on this one after several sushi restaurant visits filled with rejection and sadness (they all claimed something ridiculous about health regulations…). Finally, one sushi joint on the corner of Murray Street and Dalhousie let me behind the counter. I think they could see the desperation in my eyes.
To see all our pictures from the other challenges, check out the Flickr set Britt and I submitted to be judged. Please ignore my helmet hair and general dishevelment.
That night at the closing ceremonies, people didn’t even recognize us. We promptly reminded them that we were the girls on bikes wearing spandex and Yukon ski team windbreakers. This helped.
When the lead organizer Carolynn got up to announce the winners, Britt and I held our breath. We had completed all the tasks except one, but were unsure how well our score would stand up to the 29 other teams.
And then we won.
It was a FANTASTIC moment, and we ecstatically jumped out of our seats to accept our prize, golden crowns and dog-toy-on-a-plate sandwich trophy, the latter of which now sits on our fireplace mantle.
Now, would someone like to massage my calves? I’m feeling a little sore…
To check out the other albums from the Ottawa Foodie Challenge, visit their blog where they’ll eventually be posting the links to all the Flickr photo sets. Did any of you participate in the OFC? Tell us about your day!
Hair Republic (1093 Bank Street in Old Ottawa South)
Michelle Nguyen is a busy philanthropist and entrepreneur who has been passionately styling hair and mentoring apprentices for 8 years. Recruited by a prestigious Ottawa salon at a young age, she recently realized her ultimate goal: To open her very own salon in the up and coming area of Old Ottawa South. Her architect husband, John Nguyen, has helped to develop the design and concept of the gorgeous space — Hair Republic Salon.Chantal Sarkisian talked with her recently, finding that with her friendly smile and warm personality, Michelle will blow you and your hair away.
Salons in Ottawa are a dime a dozen; how is Hair Republic (1093 Bank) different from the rest?
We are a small family here. All of our staff are carefully selected, first by their personality and then by their talent. You can’t teach personality, but you can mentor talent. The customers experience here is top priority.
We are also a “Green Circle Salon” which means that we provide eco-friendly solutions to our customers and ensure that everything we use in the salon is recycled. This means that the shampoos and dyes we use are the most certified organic products available on the market today. Our focus is eco-sustainability for the industry. The industry likes to loosely use the term “green” for everything, but they are not 100% committed to it. For example, they lack a waste management set-up and use products that contain lots of chemicals that can be avoided. At this salon, we recycle everything, all the way down to composting the hair. It’s a lot of extra steps to take, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.
Finally, we have unique art hanging on our walls. Working with a local curator in Ottawa allows us to turn our salon into an art gallery. We do not take any commission from the artists. Our focus is to encourage and promote local talent because artists don’t really know how to market themselves. What better venue then a well-lit space with ample bare white walls? The art is displayed on a three-month rotation and gallery showings are open to the public on a regular basis.
I am also personally involved in many philanthropic causes. I like to encourage and promote the local businesses in the community and try to include them in any events that I host at the salon. I support many women’s charities, and am part of a family-operated charity called “Roof of Love.” ROL Cai Ran is a Canadian charity determined to improve lives within poverty struck communities in Vietnam while building awareness and engaging individuals in Western countries in order to establish collective action — 100% of all donations go towards the ROL programs.
Art from local artists fills the walls of Hair Republic
What do you and your salon specialize in?
The staff at Hair Republic are constantly attending training sessions. We even have a mentoring and apprenticeship program for junior stylists. Because we work as a team, there is a huge emphasis on knowledge sharing amongst the stylists. Education is important in this industry, both for the client and for the stylist. We want our clients to know what to do with their hair.
All stylists have their “colour masters” qualification and are trained to do specialized techniques such as balayage and ombré. (That’s the Lauren Conrad dark roots and light hair everyone wants!) Because this is a hands on and assembly-line free salon, you will have your scalp scrubbed, your hair cut, dyed and dried by the same stylist. This is our way of offering an intimate “touch therapy” session for our clients.
I’ve heard talk about your eco-friendly products and rewards program; tell me about that!
We offer many incentives for new clients through our “Welcome Packs” that include things like credit towards referrals, and we have our “VIP Program” that offers 10% off all services and exclusive discounts for a year. We also offer Hair Republic dollars when you return empty bottles of the products purchased at the salon.
Hair Republic's products are largely organic-certified and eco-friendly
As an artist of hair, you obviously support the arts — which is wonderful. But how can local artists join your program?
Local artists should contact Laura, our curator from iam (Independent Artist Management) at email@example.com. She would love to hear from any new local talent!
Back to your bread and butter: Let’s talk about hair! What are some up and coming styles that you are predicting for this winter?
We are blessed to have a collection that was created by our team. Here are a few things that I am personally predicting for the months to come:
Hair threading for up-dos. You know when you pull your hair up into a messy bun and tell your stylist “I want something like this”. The stylist will now literally sew the style onto your head. This achieves a more natural look and it’s always unique.
Precision cuts are coming back. Think 1960’s perfect bobs.
Movement. Lots of blown-out hair with loose curls.
More styling. This means taking the time to fully style hair, which goes hand-in-hand with the trend of a perfect precision cut.
Don’t fight it; work with the texture of your own hair this season.
Colour. We love blonds and reds. Blonds will be soft and reds offer a huge variety of tones.
Thanks for chatting with us, Michelle! And good luck with your new salon. Don’t miss Hair Republic’s official grand opening on Nov. 5. 2011.
This multimedia piece is the first in a series of small business profiles that Local Tourist will be doing over the next few months. Stella Luna Gelato Café is located at 1103 Bank St. between Sunnyside and Hopewell Avenue.
Hilary Duff is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University and a contributing editor for Local Tourist Ottawa.
Yes, as the name alludes, the shop sells gelato, but as owner Tammy Giuliani says, her café is about so much more than just serving up the classic Italian dessert.
Owner Tammy Giuliani
Rather, Stella Luna thrives on fostering a sense of community. Tammy says her aim is to create an environment more similar to that of a neighbourhood get-together than a café, a place where people of all ages can go to relax and unwind from the workday.
The community Since opening at the end of July, Stella Luna has experienced an incredible start-up boom. In the first few weeks of opening, Tammy says they saw 700 to 900 customers pass through their doors everyday.
That’s a lot of gelato.
“The numbers were just tremendous,” Tammy says. “I think people had been anticipating us for a while. We had time to start a blog and I think it became almost something personal for people, where they could read and follow along.”
This being said, there are already café regulars, such as the couple from India who swear by Tammy’s mango sorbet, claiming it’s almost a perfect duplicate of the quality and flavour they used to get back home.
It’s this high quality of product that Tammy wants to focus on.
Inside Stella Luna’s brightly lit kitchen, a group of certificates is clustered in the corner of one wall, a token to the time spent by Tammy mastering the art of gelato making.
Before the café opened, Tammy traveled to Bologna, Italy to attend a six-week intensive gelato-making course at Carpigiani Gelato University, the first school of its kind in the world.
Here, she was taught all the skills needed to become a true artisan gelato maker.
Unlike many gelato shops that use powder mixes and artificial flavours, when making the gelato for Stella Luna, Tammy says she relies on the real deal: bucketfuls of fruits, chopped nuts and made-in-house syrups.
Listen to Tammy talk about why she chose to make gelato and where she gets her flavour inspiration:
Stella Luna's gelato display case can hold 24 different flavours at once
The history Sitting inconspicuously at the back of the café in a black Stella Luna smock, Tammy doesn’t strike you as the type who would be making gelato.
Tammy enjoys eating gelato as much as she likes making it
Her involvement with Italian custom and the traditional dessert started off as a bit of a whirlwind fairy tale. Travelling to Italy when she was 19, Tammy originally intended to stay in the country for six months.
Her plans quickly changed.
Strolling around Rome on her first day, a man pulled up beside her on a motorcycle. She spoke no Italian and he, no English. Three days later near the Spanish Steps, he proposed.
Today, this man is Alessandro Giuliani, the salt-and-pepper haired man that sits next to Tammy at the back of the café. They’ve been together since their very first movie date in Rome 25 years ago.
Fate brought Tammy both her husband and her future occupation.
“I was born and raised in Ottawa on a dairy farm, so it’s kind of ironic that the girl from the dairy farm met the guy from Italy and made gelato,” she laughs.
Throughout their time in Italy, the young couple became something of gelato connoisseurs, eating their way from shop to shop.
“We would always be trying to find the purest taste and creamiest texture. Over the years we came to know what we wanted to taste in a gelato and when we moved back to Canada that taste wasn’t quite there,” she says.
Watch as Tammy shows Local Tourist how to make pistachio gelato:
It was 10 years ago that the plan to open a gelato café first came into being. That plan, however, was put on the backburner in order to raise their three children, Zachary, Erica and Matthew.
A decade later, Tammy said they were finally ready to brush off the old business plan.
After nine months of renovation to their Old Ottawa South location, Tammy and Alessandro transformed the century-old location into a stunning mix of warmth and comfort.
“It was kind of surreal,” Tammy says. “When things started to take shape it was like taking a cartoon and turning it into real life.”
Now, the café is large enough for big families to sit together, but small enough to still remain intimate.
Stella Luna’s menu also reflects the luxurious simplicity the café has strived to accomplish.
When she and Alessandro were first creating the menu for Stella Luna, Tammy says they were considering having an extensive list of products. It wasn’t until later that they decided to focus on the classic Italian delicacies – frappés, granitas, European coffees and, of course, artisan gelato and sorbet.
“The biggest mistake we could make would have been to try and offer everything and not do anything well. Now people are really experiencing a genuine quality,” Tammy says.
Stella Luna is planning on expanding its menu in the upcoming weeks, though, to add gourmet crepes and waffles to their repertoire. The winter season will also bring a change in menu, with plans to add in products like a Madagascar bourbon vanilla gelato with a warm blueberry coulis, hot chocolate and more.
But until the winter, Tammy says she’s just going to keep appreciating the success and community they’ve fostered so far.
“In the evening when all the neighbours walk in, the shop has the ambience of a kitchen party where people get to mingle and talk,” she says. “It’s quite magical when you see people come in and they’re a little bit stressed and then they start eating gelato and their face lights up. It’s fun to watch. To do that is magic.”
Are you opening a new small business in Ottawa? Want to chat? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pearl Pirie is a local arts enthusiast who arrived in Ottawa about 20 years ago for university. She blogs about the city’s literary events — in both word and image. Her second full-length poetry collection is coming out this fall.
It’s been a good summer for Ottawa foodies – two exceptional businesses opened – Luna Gelato Cafe in Old Ottawa South and Maison Chaloin in Lowertown.
Apt 613 gave the lowdown on Luna, which has possibly the creamiest texture of gelato in town and the best presentation, but my money’s more often on another sweet spot.
I’d been watching the spot near Dalhousie and Gigues since their Chocolatier sign went up in mid-June. I suggested to friends that we welcome them by a sleep over on the sidewalk on their opening day to welcome the new business to town, except I had no takers. On July 19th we went by and the Ottawa location of Maison Chaloin was open.
It’s a fourth generation chocolatier from Creste, in Provence, near Avignon with a three-year-old shop in Gatineau at 546 Saint-Joseph. The Quebec location has been getting good reviews on The Urban Spoon.
They bring their patisseries to this side of the river each morning. They have local gelato using organic brown sugar, sundaes, truffles of various kinds, meringues and macaroons in various colours and flavours, as well as bottled goodnesses like lavender-apricot jam or salted caramel. There’s a crepe menu too. They are open for breakfast.
What they do different than some is a linen tablecloth and a plating of french pastries. You can buy them to go, or just singly or you can get a display with a sample of sorbet and a mini meringue, fruit reductions and the pastry of your choice. It looks and tastes luxurious. I’ve taken a few friends there to verify it.
On our most recent visit, hubby and I tucked into their lemon crepe: They vary from just over $5 for a plain crepe to $11.80 for one with Grand Marnier and tropical fruit.
We tried the triple chocolate mousse pyramid as well. It was airy and rich, not overly sweet with a mix of textures of the fresh base and the chocolate shell.
You can get all kinds of gift boxes of truffles but this time we managed to just have two to take with us?
One even got all the way home.
It’s a small place but friendly. It seats 15 at small cafe tables. The food is a treat because it is done so well and presented so well.
Ariel Hartman (Twitter/blog) is originally from Abbotsford, British Columbia, but came to Ottawa to study journalism at Carleton University, where she is now entering her fourth year. She loves antiques, and Agatha Christie books, and could tell you anything you need to know about the JFK era.
Hi, my name is Ariel and I am a pho addict.
For those of you unfamiliar with pho, it is basically a brothy Vietnamese soup – usually beef, but there are normally chicken and seafood options available – with either rice or egg noodles. They bring a plate of bean sprouts, lemon grass and fresh basil for the table that you tear up and add to your pho as you see fit as well as Sriacha sauce and some sort of Teriyaki sauce that can be added to taste. Think Build-a-Bear but with an Asian soup.
My roommate and I just moved from Old Ottawa South, where the best food you can get at 3 a.m. is the Chipwagon on the corner of Bank and Sunnyside (which, I actually highly recommend. Seriously, best poutine you can get on wheels) to Chinatown, where you can get a whole Vietnamese feast until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Here is my journey through the delicious spring-roll-ridden maze of pho places along Somerset:
The four restaurants on Ariel's pho-venture
It is actually impossible to miss all the pho places in Chinatown, not only because they are everywhere, but because to a regular white girl who only speaks English and French, they all seemingly have the same name. Within a two-block radius there is New Pho Bo Ga La, Pho Bo Ga King, Pho Bo Ga and Pho Bo Ga LA. I decided that I would task myself with trying them all and finding the best one.
(Ariel’s note to the reader: Pho is actually pronounced “Fe” – think “the” with a lisp – but I always feel really pretentious when I say it like that, so I always say “Fo.” Also it makes saying Pho Bo Ga La far more fun)
The toppings for pho
First on the docket was New Pho Bo Ga La (763 Somerset St. W.). While my dinner partner opted for spicy seafood pho, I went for a Bùn. Bùns are basically vermicelli noodle salads. You choose from a list of toppings to go on top of the vermicelli noodles including BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, BBQ beef, spring rolls, shredded pork, shrimp skewered on a sugar cane, etc. There are usually cucumbers, carrots, lettuce and bean sprouts in the bowl and then your chosen toppings. Prices vary depending on how many toppings you like. I got two so it was only $9 for a huge bowl of delicious-ness. Unlike pho, a Bùn isn’t brothy, and you get a light dressing to pour over your giant bowl of food. It’s a really light and fresh flavour that isn’t heavy and is pretty simple – compared to pho, where there is a lot more participation expected from the orderer. Overall, the food at New Pho Bo Ga La was really good. I felt like I really got my money’s worth out of that Bùn and the spring rolls were unreal! Seriously. Dynamite spring rolls. Our food came quickly and the service was very pleasant.
Overall I give New Pho Bo Ga La 5 spring rolls out of a possible 6.
A vietnamese bùn (photo via flickr)
Next was Pho Bo Ga King (778 Somerset St. W. – actually across the street from New PBGL). Trying to make this as scientific as possible, I ordered essentially the same thing as I did at New PBGL, a Bùn. Pho Bo Ga King had a special on, where your whole meal is 10% off, so it ended up being cheaper than New PBGL, but wasn’t quite as tasty. There wasn’t enough of the light dressing-stuff and the spring rolls were a bit too salty. I did like that the cucumber and carrot to vermicelli noodle ratio was a little more in favour of the veggies though. And, like I said, the price was much better, ending up being about $8 for a Bùn. As for the service, it was nothing compared to New PBGL. We waited for a long time to have our order taken and then had to ask more than once for the waitress to bring us water.
Overall I give Pho Bo Ga King 3.5 spring rolls out of a possible 6.
A bowl of pho (picture via flickr)
The penultimate pho stop was Pho Bo Ga (12A Lebreton St., just on the corner of Somerset). Pho Bo Ga boasts about being voted Ottawa’s best Vietnamese restaurant a few years ago – there’s a nice plaque on the wall and everything. I am slightly ashamed to say that I strayed from the proper scientific method I was taught in grade school. Instead of getting a vermicelli-noodle-bowl-thing (aka another Bùn) I got a VERY delicious beef pho. The pho here was really nice and light. I often find that pho can be pretty salty, but Pho Bo Ga was light and flavourful without bludgeoning your taste buds with salt. While the pho here was by far the best I had tried yet, the spring rolls were only slightly better than mediocre. They were nice and crunchy, but bordered on being a bit dry. Pho Bo Ga was also really reasonably priced. It was $6.50 for a small pho and about $3 for spring rolls which, trust me, is definitely enough food for one hungry person!
Overall Pho Bo Ga gets 5 spring rolls out a possible 6.
The dictionary-sized menu at Pho Bo Ga LA
The last stop on my pho-venture took me to Pho Bo Ga LA (784 Somerset St.). The menu at Pho Bo Ga LA was impressive, possibly one of the biggest I have seen. Not only were there many different kinds of pho, but also Bùns and different types of pad thai. Having already thrown any semblance of scientific method out the window at the last place, I decided to order whatever struck my fancy which, this time around, happened to be a small beef and chicken pho and spring rolls, both of which were wonderful. The pho was saltier than Pho Bo Ga, but was still very tasty. Once again, the spring rolls were wonderful and not at all soggy. One of my friends who I was having dinner with also ordered a lychee milkshake that was spectacularly refreshing and was perfect when I realized I added a little bit too much hot sauce to my pho…
Overall Pho Bo Ga LA gets 4.5 spring rolls out of a possible 6.
Wow, sounds delicious, Ariel! Are any of you interested in showcasing the best food your neighbourhood has to offer? Love trying out new restaurants? Tell us about it at email@example.com.
Chocolate toffee crunch cupcakes from Second Avenue Sweets
Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a quirky 21-year-old who loves multimedia journalism, cycling, food blogging, and churning massive amounts of baked goods out of her cramped student kitchen. She is currently writing an LTOttawa series on her hunt for Ottawa’s perfect cupcake.
Life of Pie, located at 1095 Bank St.
In my quest to find Ottawa’s best cupcake, I have somehow neglected the two bakeries located in my very own backyard: Life of Pie and Second Avenue Sweets.
A proud resident of Old Ottawa South, many of my days have been spent wandering along Bank Street. Life of Pie, which relocated from its Leonard Avenue location last summer, now boasts a bright and friendly storefront (complete with a sitting area by the window, perfect for people watching) on the corner of Sunnyside and Bank.
Life of Pie is one of those shops that have been trying to get connected to their client base through the online world. It was one of these outreach attempts that brought me to finally try their cupcake this past weekend. Since I follow the bakery’s Twitter account, I find out about any contests or promotions they are having in store.
Low and behold, on Saturday afternoon such a Twitter contest was held.
Seeing that the tweet above was posted mere seconds ago, I bolted out of my bedroom, unlocked my bike and pedaled the four short blocks to Life of Pie.
Within three minutes I was at the shop, yelling out their desired phrase like a maniac. The girl at the cash didn’t even know about the contest yet, that’s how fast I was. I biked considerably slower home, where I tried my strawberry cheesecake cupcake in the sunlight of my outdoor porch.
Strawberry cheesecake cupcake - Life of Pie
First impression: It struck me as far more of a muffin than a cupcake. The consistency of the cake was notably more wholesome than the average cupcake, and was less sweet, with chunks of strawberry (and possibly rhubarb?) scattered throughout. Compromising the healthy tasting factor was the sweeter-than-sin cream cheese icing, which delivered a sugar blast straight to my veins. Overall, the cupcake was good, but suffered an identity crisis in the sense that it was way less strawberry cheesecake-inspired and more like some sort of strawberry explosion muffin.
Second Avenue Sweets, located at 151 Second Ave.
The second neighbourhood bakery I tried Saturday was Second Avenue Sweets. The only time I had seen the place was when I visited its next-door neighbour, the Urban Pear, for a mouthwateringly delicious student splurge of a meal. After my meal I had peered inside the bakery and, with my face pressed up against the glass, swore to return one day to the colourful walls and glass dessert displays.
The time had finally come and I eagerly walked inside to see what the bakery could offer. The strange characteristic of both Second Avenue Sweets and the Urban Pear is that their locations are hallway-like in shape, in the sense that the building is very long and narrow. Standing in the bakery gave me the impression of being trapped inside of a giant rectangle; in front of me the narrow bakery area stretched on, past my point of view. Horizontal stripes of coloured wallpaper lined the main bakery wall, giving the location a bright and playful feel.
Second Avenue Sweets, located at 151 Second Ave.
The front entrance of Second Avenue Sweets is quite small, and there’s no seating area for customers to enjoy their desserts. Not a huge deal, however, and I ended up taking my cupcake across the street, where I sat on the curb with a smartly purchased carton of milk. I very nearly got my toes run over numerous times, but it was so worth it for a seat in the sun.
As for the cupcakes themselves, Second Avenue Sweets had a few choices for me to decide on. Before making my final decision, I seriously considered the Cupcake of the Week, a decadent looking double chocolate cupcake. In the end, it was my friend and bakery employee Serena who helped influence my final choice. I had no idea that Serena was working in the shop for the summer, but when she suggested the chocolate toffee crunch cupcake, I was sold. Three dollars and one sidelong glance towards the rest of the desserts later and I was off to sample.
Chocolate toffee crunch cupcake - Second Avenue Sweets
Sitting down and opening the cupcake box, I immediately regretted my choice to not grab a napkin. Serena told me earlier that the icing probably hadn’t set yet, since the cupcakes had just been made that morning. As a result, the cupcake had flopped onto its side, creating tiny hills of icing on the bottom of the box. Not helping was the fact that the cupcake was top-heavy, and the poor thing was completely unable to stand on its own. I felt like I was in that episode of Seinfeld where they decide to just sell muffin tops, that’s how big the upper cupcake was. Due to these strange proportions, my cupcake had way more icing than cake. The icing lived up to its promise of toffee flavour abound, and a few Skor bits added a crunch to the creaminess. Midway through my cupcake, I discovered a ganache filling that was a tad more bitter than I would have liked it to be. The surrounding chocolate cake, however, achieved high marks on the sweetness scale.
Who needs seating with you have sunshine and a sidewalk?
Final verdict: the cupcake had a lot of homemade charm, but considering they were one of the priciest cupcakes yet, I expected the presentation to be a little less…well, homemade.
Glebe and Old Ottawa South lovers: Second Avenue Sweets and Life of Pie really are great neighbourhood bakeries (especially if the cupcakes are free!), but they probably have other specialty products that will better satisfy your sweet tooth.
There’s nothing better to end a long work week than an easy night at the movies. Here in Ottawa, we’re lucky to have the always charming, highly characteristic, somewhat sticky-floored Mayfair Theatre.
I headed to this independent theatre in Old Ottawa South last Friday night to catch a double-bill with a friend. Our selection that night? Best Worst Movie (a documentary) and Troll 2 (cheesy 1990 “horror” flick).
The Mayfair has been in operation since 1932, making it one of Ottawa's old independent movie houses!
This is why I love the Mayfair. While these two films go hand-in-hand — Troll 2 had been voted as the “worst movie ever made,” spawning a cult following and the subsequent documentary — the Mayfair doesn’t focus on the latest hits or biggest moneymakers , but rather seeks to offer a unique and memorable movie-going experience.
Friday’s event was a bit special because they had brought in one of the stars from the movie to do a meet-and-greet and a Q&A. Just like the Mayfair, George Hardy was genuine, likable and didn’t take himself too seriously. (Best Worst Movie will confirm that for you!) The dentist-turned-one-time-actor from Alabama had a southern drawl, larger than life smile and earnest charm that can’t be taught.
Me and dentist/one-time actor George Hardy, a star from Troll 2, one of the worst movies ever made.
But it gets better! Hosted by Lee Demarbre, Mayfair co-owner and local director who saved the cinema from near-certain closure in late 2008 , the event served as a fundraiser for community radio station CKCU.