Tuesday, February 26, 2013

People Charging their Cell Phones at the Library...

This afternoon I visited the Main Branch at the Ottawa Public Library to use the Internet Connection.

I sat down and set up my computer and settled in.  Just as I was finishing up another lady arrived and spied the available seats.  Noticing it was getting a little busy, I pulled my computer forward and she sat down across from me.

She then started unpacking her purse leaving items on the table across from me.  I paid no heed to what she was doing as I continued on with my work. She left for a couple of minutes, leaving her stuff on the table and returned.

I paid half attention to what she was doing now as I found this a little odd.  She took out her cell phone charger and plugged it into the wall.  She tapped the lady on the shoulder sitting at the next table over and inquired if she was charging her cell phone?  The prodded lady nodded in agreement.  She then asked if it was annoying to have to charge her cell phone.

Next she sat down and plugged in her headphones to her cell phone and fiddled with it for a little bit.  Then came the music from the headphones that I could easily hear.  I tried my best to not to bop along.

I noticed gradually how the surrounding tables started to empty.  The music continues and, of course, she starts to sing Michael Jackson's Thriller song.   I continue typing like nothing is happening.

Five minutes later there were three of us in the section of the library.  A lady working on her Apple Laptop with her own earphones in, myself and sitting across from me singing a poor rendition of "She Drives Me Crazy" was the "I'm chargin' my cell phone" lady.   The music continued for a little while.

Eventually. for some stupid reason, the wireless internet connection dropped.  Instead of trying to restart my computer and try again, I closed it up.  I was thinking to myself that if I do this quickly and quietly, she may leave me alone.

Got the computer, mouse and power cord into my bag and was just reaching for my sweatshirt when....

"I'M GLAD YOUR LEAVING" echoes throughout the 3rd floor of the Ottawa Public Library.

I look at the Apple lap top lady who looks at me quizzically, I shrug and she smirks figuring cell phone chargin' lady is listening to something weird.

I put my sweatshirt on, grab my bag and push in the chairs.  Just as I push in the chair...

"I'M GLAD YOUR LEAVING" rings out again.

I leave giving the Apple lap top lady another look and roll my eyes.  She is doing everything possible not to laugh.

I walk past the library's information desk where a librarian looks at me quizzically.  I shrug, but no response. She doesn't know what to think.  I take the opportunity to hastily make my way out of the library.

Moral of the story: People who use the library to charge their cell phones are glad to clear an area and let the world know it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Smug Scone Witch

With a desire for some afternoon tea and scones, my wife and I set out to the New Edinburgh area of Ottawa.  We took OC Transpo Route 9 northward from Hurdman Station along the Vanier Parkway and got off at Beechwood Avenue.

From there we walked eastward along Beechwood Avenue to the Books on Beechwood store to see what the famed local reading establishment was reading. The bookstore also shares a building with  to The Scone Witch (35 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa) which is terrific if you wish to purchase a book and skip over for some tea and a nibble.

We continued over to the Scone Witch and got in a lengthy line.  We were expecting a lengthy line as The Scone Witch's two locations are a popular outing for both locals and tourists alike.  We had previously enjoyed the other Scone Witch location on Albert and thought we would rediscover the New Edinburgh area by visiting the second. The line though was not moving fast at all but that was not the only issue.

Upon joining the end of what seemed to be a well thought out line process to order and pay for your food, we started contemplating our order.  We agreed we wanted six Scones and would have one of each of the five regular scones and one of the sweet and savory scones.  Next, we started looking to for tea and coffee options as well as the cost.  This is where the wheels fell off  of the improved organization.  The single chalkboard with coffee and tea choices was hidden on a pillar facing away from the line.  To make matters worse we couldn't find the pricing or sizing of the tea.  We knew they served tea as there were listings of different types of tea on the hidden chalkboard and tea pots coming and going from the nearby tables.  But we didn't know whether there were individual cups for take away purposes. So we decided to skip this option and finished formulating our order.

The Order: 6 scones to go.

Unlike our last visit to the Albert Street location, there were actually customers here looking for the famous Scones and a spot of tea. The line seemed to drag on and on as we waited not moving that fast.  We watched employees behind the counter dash back and forth.  Somehow the end of the line where we were standing happen to intersect the main traffic path for employees coming out and back from the main tables with hot pots of tea going one way and empty dishes going the other. There were a couple of near misses of employees with dishes and customers surprised to be almost road kill on the Scone Witch Highway.

We continued to wait watching the older person at cash ringing up the orders.  Periodically she would lightly cough into her hand, study the cash register, ring up the order and hand change back.  Seemed to take a little while on ringing up each order even though the customers were not the issue.  Not sure if she was coming down with the start of cold, but this was wear the slowness of the line was.  The other two employees were doing Yeoman's work.  Inquiring with customers what they wished, gathering the order and putting it next to the cash register or adding any required spreads.  The help was nice but getting through the cash seemed to be the issue in terms of speed and friendliness of service.

The cashier looked lost entering the order into the cash register and finally came up with $12.60 for a total which was correct.  Next we handed the cashier a $20.00 bill.  Normally at a coffee shop like Tim Hortons, the cashier then enters in the amount given (i.e. $20.00) and lets the cash register calculate the change.  Not at the Scone Witch where the cashier seemed flummoxed and gave us the "I'm calculating the change in my brain" type of look.  Eventually we got our change and left The Scone Witch.  

The Scones were not as good as the ones we had from the Albert Street location.  I chalk this up to the first time trying something is the best time and nothing ever shall come close.  At the time of this review, my wife and I have enjoyed about five of the six scones.  They taste far better when either fresh out of the oven at the Scone Witch or microwaved for twenty to thirty seconds accompanied by your favorite cup of tea.

Overall, both Scone Witch locations seemed smug in their delivery.  The whole ambient feeling from the customer's point of view is that the Scone Witch has the best scones in Ottawa, but the service is quite lacking.  It is like the management knows that service can be sub-par or disorganized but customers will return because of the terrific tasting scones.   At the Albert Street location it was finding where to place and obtain to your order followed by where the cash was.  It seemed to be that management expected the customers to know exactly where to go.  Thus, new customers end up frustrated with very little help from the employees unless you inquire.  At the Beechwood location it was the lack of prices, sizes and visibility of the tea and coffee menu to where a customer would normally place an order for food and drink.  The Scone Witch needs to learn to be a little more welcoming to new customers by having things visible and service quick and efficient.  Sure the Scones are terrific, but there are other tea places starting to make noise in Ottawa with pastries.  Thus, both taste and service will need to be be superb especially at the prices being charged.  But perhaps the service issue may not be resolved.  Since returning home, I've deduced, with a little help from Google, the cashier  was actually Heather Matthews, the owner and founder of the Scone Witch.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pure Gelato Goodness

After my adventure to the Pita Pit, I was still a little hungry.  What better than to follow up a pita with a walk and some desert.

I left the Byward Market and headed down Elgin Street to another one of my favorite places from university, Pure Gelato (350 Elgin Street, Ottawa).

Located on the southwest corner at Waverly & Elgin, I visited at 12:15 P.M. to find a group in the front enjoying their gelato goodness.  I wandered over to the display case full of gelato.  I was met there by one employee who said if I wanted a taste or had any questions to just ask.  That is the kind of service you get here at the Pure Gelato, no rush service when the place is not lined up.  I scoured the two display cases full of gelato and narrowed down my choices to one.

The Order: 1 Single Scoop of Toblerone & Orange Gelato on a Sugar Cone

I handed over $5.00 for the Gelato and left.

The Gelato was interesting as I could taste the chocolateness but the orange, not so much.  Don't get me wrong, the Gelato was good, but the Orange was barely there to compete.  Surprised that that Toblerone even let Orange be on the product label in the display case.

I've been to this particular Pure Gelato location a couple of times over the past decade.  During the summer it can be lined up out the door with no space to sit inside.  I believe I've only actually sat inside on one occasion out of the six times I've visited.  But, I've never left this location dissappointed as the great tasting gelato makes up for it.

Overall, Pure Gelato on Elgin Street is a great spot on a warm evening to grab a little bit of desert after a hot dinner date at one of the local restaurants.  It is is also a good spot, provided you can find a coveted seat in the front window, to people watch the passers by on Elgin Street.  Love this place for the variety of great tasting flavors to savor of gelator.

A Pit of Deliciousness at the Pita Pit

Today for lunch I decided to return to one of my old favourites when I was a university student, The Pita Pit (373 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa).

I stopped off at 11:30 A.M. to the fast food pita filling shop that is full of deliciousness.  I entered the store with no one in line and about four people sitting enjoying their overstuffed Pitas.

Ah the memories of this place.  I scoured the menu and racked my brain to remember what my old guaranteed goodness pita was at this place.  Hmmm.....Right....Got it!

The Order: 1 9" Turkey Pita

I paid an overpriced $7.90 (including taxes) for the 9" round pita.  You know prices are going up when it is $7.90 for a pita compared to a $5.50 plus tax 12" sandwich from Subway.  This was really the only beef I had with the Pita Pit. If they had the Pita for less than $7.00 including taxes I would be a little more agreeable.

Taste wise the Turkey Pita was great! The vegetables tasted great.  The only complaint was the mayonnaise   When I was finishing up the Pita, I found the mayonnaise in the bottom of the pita which caused it to drip all over my face.  Tasted pretty good though, just messy.  Will have to remember that for next time to eat the mayonnaise end first.  

Overall, the Pita Pit has been an old standby for nutritious fast food.  Lots of vegetables and meat are available to choose from to make your Pita of deliciousness   Prices have increased to a point where it is starting to be debatable about Pita Pit's cost efficiency.  Finally, the best part is when you have the munchies after a night out at the bar in the nearby Byward Market as the Pita Pit is open very late.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway

A couple of weeks ago I got my skates sharpened and wanted to test them out.  A cold Family Day was the just the time to do it!

Rideau Canal Skateway near Somerset Street.

I started near the Somerset Street Bridge instead of near the National Arts Centre (NAC) as this area is usually congested with tourists, Beavertail  Connoisseurs and those putting on their skates.  It is a great area to avoid as normally this is the area with the worst ice on the Canal due to the volume of people.  

I skated southward and picked up a Beavertail at the Fifth Avenue Rest area  and opposite that Nabob was handing out free coffee to skaters passing by.  

I continued southwards passing families big and small.  Everything from 4 year olds who obviously grew up on blades racing down the canal to others who were toddling along doing the odd faceplant.  The usual annoying wall of four people across doing about half the speed of many others were also overcome with some interesting maneuvering to pass them.  I finished skating near Bank Street bridge which was about 3.5 Kilometers south from where I started.  I found a spot to take off my skates and reacquaint my feet with my boots.   
Bank Street bridge overlooking the Rideau Canal Skateway

As I was removing my skates, a father, son and daughter were putting their skates on.  The daughter had hers on first and zipped off to do a few rounds of the area while waiting for the other two to catch up.  4 year old son was next.  He toddled a little bit in the area while Dad put his skates on.  The son toddle over and looked at the Rideau Canal Skateway map which was surrounded by a little snow plowed from the ice.  He looked over the map and then tried moving again only to find himself tumbling over onto his back.  Of course there were tears.  No sign of big sister returning to her little brother's aid.  But his father calmly came over and picked up son and put him back on the ice feet first.  The kid let the world know that less than 5 minutes on skates he was done.   A little smile came across my face knowing this father was in a predicament.  Does he take the son's skates off?  What does he do with sister? Is this the end?  Not so fast, they brought the sled.  Not sure what happened as I got up and left towards Bank Street to continue on with my day.  But I imagine the father left son's skates and placed him in the sled and went off to find sister.  Son probably later retook to his feet to enjoy skating just like his older sister.  

I continued northwards along Bank Street.  I stopped off at Kettleman's Bagels looking for a bagel and coffee.  The place was lined up out the door!  I continued northward to Bridgehead to grab a coffee.  I then left there still feeling a little hungry but at least warmed up with my medium black coffee.  I boarded an OC Transpo Route 7 bus to Laurier Avenue.  I continued across Laurier to Ottawa City Hall to attend the Mayor's Family Day celebration.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson mugging with Winterlude's Ice Hog Mascots

There was free soup and hot chocolate as well as skating on the Rink of Dreams.  Mascots from Winterlude and City programs were both cheering and frightening the little ankle biters out there.  The soup was delicious with each person leaving with a cup full of the heartwarming elixir. 

This being a skating day for myself and many others, there was one place in Ottawa to attend.  Inside City Hall is the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery holding the memorabilia of Scott's extensive figure skating career including the 1948 Olympic Gold Medal from St. Moritz, Switzerland Games. 

Barbara Ann Scott's 1948 Olympic Gold Medal 

It was nice to warm up in Ottawa's City Hall.  City Hall has plenty to look with not only the Barbara Ann Scott Gallery but also an art gallery that rotates through works by local artists on a monthly basis.  As well tourist information and OC Transpo information are also available.  It is quite the place to visit both inside and out.  

I continued eastward along Laurier Avenue over the Rideau Canal Bridge to end my morning skate adventure along the Rideau Canal.

Looking southward from the Laurier Street Bridge at the Rideau Canal Skateway 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bridgehead to Chocolate Chippie?

After a skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway, I was in the mood for a place to warm up both the outside and inside of me.

Since I was in the Glebe, I decided to do a little walk from the Bank Street Bridge towards the downtown via Bridgehead (750 Bank Street, Ottawa).

I entered at 10:35 A.M. to a bustling coffee shop full of families on this family day.  Some were drinking coffee and surfing the internet while others were enjoying a nibble and a drink of choice after skating.

I got in line behind a mother and a kid no more than three years old.  The kid had his eyes glued to the glass display cabinet at the bottom shelf.  This said bottom shelf happened to be merchandised so all the cookies were on the bottom at his eye level.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Of course the Cookie Monster approved Chocolate Chippies happen to be the first one in eyesight of said three year old. His eyes were locked on the top one and he wouldn't take any of the other four Chocolate Chippies.  Upon his turn, his mother lifted him up to tell the server what he wanted.  Of course the kid clammed up and whispered.  Mom tried again, if it wasn't so cute I may have gotten a little irritated.  But the kid was three and just wanted a Chocolate Chippie and he didn't want to go through the rigmarole of explaining to a lady behind the counter with a pair of metal tongs in hand.   So Mom ended up doing it for him and the server transferred said cookie onto a kid sized plate on the counter.  You could see the kid's eyes get wider as he watched the cookie closer than Fort Knox watches Gold. Eventually his Mom had paid for the cookie, hot chocolate and left.

With an ear to ear smile at what preceded me, I placed my order next.

The Order: 1 Medium Blend Medium Sized Coffee.

I paid for the coffee and left the store to venture northward along Bank Street.

The coffee, like any other correctly made Bridgehead coffee, was delicious.  It was smooth going down, not burnt or having a bitter aftertaste.  It truly hit the spot and was better than the free Nabob coffee I had while skating on the Rideau Canal earlier in the day at the OLG Sno-Bus Station opposite the Fifth Avenue Rest Area.  The coffee was perfect and was gone in matter of minutes before I got on an OC Transpo Bus to head downtown.

Overall, this Bridgehead is in a great location in the Glebe.  During the winter get off the Rideau Canal Skateway and head northwards on the west side of the street to the coffee shop with your skates for coffee, hot chocolate and/or cookie.  Year round though the Glebe neighbourhood is a great spot to shop with a lot of unique stores and restaurants as well as nicely kept homes in the surrounding streets.  This Bridghead, like the others in Ottawa, is a treasure for its great coffee with great service and relaxing atmosphere to enjoy your drink.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Final Adventure at Winterlude 2013

This being the final of three weekends of Ottawa's Winterlude Festival, my wife and I thought we would revisit Confederation Park after having a great Saturday breakfast at Lieutenant's Pump on the way over to the Rideau Centre.

Being early on a Saturday morning, the events for the weekend were still being set up and fine tuned. There was plenty to see with new blocks of ice were in place for the public to try their hand at ice carving, new sculptures had been created from the previous weekend and the Korean Lantern Garden was not that crowded yet which presented an excellent opportunity for some photos.

The Lantern Garden of Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival

At Confederation Park there are two areas to visit that draws the attention of this year's visitors.  The first is the usual Crystal Garden filled with the usual ice sculptures that I mentioned last week. The other is the Lantern Garden of Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival which is special to this year's Winterlude in recognition of the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice to end the Korean War in 1953.  A little Korean culture thus takes centre stage with an impressive lantern tunnel as well as other Korean themed sculptures.

A Korean family enjoying winter at the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival

An ice sculpture recognizing the Korean Armistice and the veterans that gave their lives during the war was also constructed.

A Memorial to the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

After touring the Confederation Park, we strode up the stairs to the nearby Mackenzie King Bridge.  The bridge happens to be one of the best spots to take a picture of the Rideau Canal Skateway.  So I took the requisite picture and continued on into the nearby Rideau Centre.  

Rideau Canal Skateway viewed from the Mackenzie King Bridge

Winterlude is fun to attend on a cold winter day but will be ending as of Monday.  The Rideau Canal will still be open through until probably the end of February or the beginning of March.  It really depends on the ice thickness on the canal.  Hopefully though, I will get a few outings on the Rideau Canal Skateway before springs hits.  But I am looking forward to spring when Ottawa's Tulip Festival is in full bloom!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Look for Huong's Vietnamese Bistro Down the Hill.

For Friday dinner my wife and I headed over to Ottawa's Chinatown to visit a decently recommended restaurant slightly off the popular path of Somerset Street West.  Just to the south of Somerset on Booth Street is Huong's Vietnamese Bistro (343 Booth Street, Ottawa). 

Huong's Vietnamese Bistro was positively reviewed in 2011 by the Ottawa Citizen's Food Critic Ann DesBrisay and in the Ottawa Magazine by Shawna Wagman.  As well, Huong's was also consistently highly rated on Urbanspoon.com. So I thought we should test it out to see if it could still be good in 2013. 

We arrived at 4:30 P.M. to find a restaurant that seemed with an ambiance stuck in the 1960s.  The only thing that seemed at all modern was the newspaper reviews framed on the walls from the 2000s.  The glass top tables with decorative fabric table cloths and more copies of the newspaper reviews underneath were a nice touch though. 

The service declined from pretty good to poor by the end of our meal.   There was one server on hand who appeared to be a daughter of the owner of the restaurant.  At first she was attentive in welcoming us and leaving us with the menus and some usual Asian complimentary tea service.    She was also good at gathering the menus and delivering our order to the kitchen and later bringing the food out.  But then things fell through the floor from there.  It felt we were a burden to her as she seemed more interested in her cell phone or computer rather than serving the customers.  She didn't stop by once to see if everything was good after dropping off our food.  We would have also resorted to an air horn to get her attention that we would like the bill when our meal was finished.  She seemed consumed by whatever electronic gadgetry she had on hand. 

The food was another issue...

The Order: 1 Large Pho with rare beef, beef balls and noodles.  1 Large Pho with rare beef, beef balls, noodles and tripe. 

The Pho came quickly, but it should as we were now the only table being served.  The previous table that was there had left shortly after we ordered. No problem with the speed of the food, but the quantity and taste seemed to be issues. 

Quantity wise the first indication was when the plate of bean sprouts was brought out.  At other nearby Vietnamese restaurants like Pho Thu Do and Co Cham a regular size plate is brought out heaped in bean sprouts and other Asian vegetables.  At Huong's a half size plate is served of the bean sprouts and other veggies.   Next is the Pho dishes themselves.  The Large size appears to be a regular Vietnamese restaurant's Medium size.  Thus less Pho is served but, to be fair, the price of $7.50 for a Large Pho at Huong's is a $2.00 cheaper on average than at nearby Vietnamese locales.

Taste wise the Pho is hit and miss.  The beef broth is outstanding and is probably one of the best in Ottawa's Chinatown.  The rare beef though was borderline overcooked and rubbery.  The beef balls as well had apparently been sitting in the broth too long. The ingredients seemed to have been put in the beef broth and left to sit throughout the afternoon waiting to be served up. 

Overall, Huong's Vietnamese Bistro had rave reviews by food critics in Ottawa back in 2011.  Fresh and well prepared dishes were raved about.  Fast forward to 2013, things appear to have slipped in food and service preparation.  A Vietnamese restaurant that cannot serve Pho, the national dish of Vietnam,  with fresh ingredients accompanied by tasty beef broth should not call itself a true "Vietnamese Restaurant".  Huong's Vietnamese Bistro served at best mediocre Pho.  This would have acceptable elsewhere but with Ottawa's Chinatown having numerous Vietnamese restaurants, mediocre quite frankly isn't good enough.  It is sad really when a good restaurant goes downhill and that is exactly what has occurred at Huong's.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gabriel = A New Good Pizza Place?

Today for lunch I visited a succesful expanding Ottawa area restaurant chain, Gabriel Pizza (100 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa). 

I had seen many of Gabriel's advertisments with not only pizza but breakfast and sandwich options.  It seems Gabriel's has branched out from pizza into a more pub style sandwich lunch restaurant to serve the downtown crowd while also providing take out options.

I visited around 11:30 to avoid the Friday lunch rush.  I walked in to a choice of two doors.  I found out later the door on the right is for the restaurant and the door on left was for slices and take out foods.  

I walked up to the counter for a couple of slices and waited to be served.  There were about five or six pizzas laid out on the counter sliced up waiting for the lunch crowd.  There was one gentlemen looking at the pizza and writing a few things.  A lady from the restaurant hollered that there was a customer and another employee came out and took my order.

The Order: 2 slices of bacon, mushroom and cheese pizza and a can of Dr. Pepper.

I settled down at the counter near the window to watch the world go by as I ate my slices of pizza and pop at a steep price of $9.50 including taxes. 

The pizza had good goey tastey cheese. The bacon was tasted freshly done and added to the pizza before heading into the oven.  No skimping on the toppings either as I found the toppings all over the pizza slices from the bottom to the top.  The tomato sauce tasted average which was probably the only average thing about the slice.  Size wise each slice took about a sixth of a medium pizza size or two times the normal pizza slice at average restaurants. 

Overall, Gabriel pizza makes delicious pizza slices.  Next time I may try their waffles or club sandwich to see how they stack up against the competition in Ottawa.  The pizza though is a little on the pricey side but makes up for it with better tasting slice than the average pizza joint.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Pioneer on How Not to Serve Tim Hortons

On my way eastward I stopped in for a mid morning snack to the Tim Hortons at the Pioneer Gas Station (631 Industrial Avenue, Ottawa). 

This Tim Hortons location is conveniently located near the Ottawa Train Yards shopping complex for those driving and need gas and perhaps a snack or caffeine fix. 

I arrived to the gas station and found the counter in the main building. On the way in I noted about three Tim Hortons employees working the counter and drive thru. 

I stood at one of the cashes waiting for service next to the display filled with the usual Tim Hortons bagels and donuts.  Nobody came over.  One employee was working the drive thru and another the bakery.  Nothing.  I backed up to see what was going on and realized the other cash was open and an employee was there. Somehow I missed the other cash being open when I walked in but the employee was not standing there either.  Not sure where she came from. Anyway, she was ready to take my order. 

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee and 1 Boston Cream Donut.

She poured my coffee, I paid, gave me the donut and I left. 

On the way out, I tried opening the donut.  The chocolate top on the Boston Cream was now melded to a napkin on the inside of the bag.  In ended up losing half the chocolate to the napkin.  It was interesting trying to separate the now stuck napkin without leaving paper fibres behind.

The coffee though was Tim Hortons perfection.  Just as you would expect at any other Tim Hortons in Ontario. 

Overall, the staff need to learn how to serve a basic donut.  Use the wax paper instead of the napkin.  The coffee though was pretty good especially for a gas station.  I may return in the future, but so far am not impressed.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Almost Awesome A&W

Friday for lunch, after enjoying some Suzy Q donuts, I took OC Transpo's Route 2 downtown to visit the Rideau Centre Food Court.

Upon entering the Food Court at 11:15 A.M., I noticed it was just starting to get busy for the Friday lunch rush.

I ventured over to the A & W (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) and immediately placed my order.

The Order: 1 Teen Burger Combo (Teen Burger, Medium Fries and a A&W Root Beer).

Service was great with two employees taking order and one filling them as they came out of the kitchen.  They worked like clockwork serving up the food meaning I was ordering to picking up my food in two minutes flat.  Pretty impressive for a fast food burger joint where sometimes the teenage employees in robes stand their dumbfounded as to what you want.  Not here though, they ask what you wish and give it to you.

The only quarrel I have, like the last A&W I visited, is the price.  $9.50 including taxes seems a little much for a Teen Burger Combo.  McDonald's can make a  Big Mac Meal for seven and change while A&W can't remove one burger paddy and add bacon for the same price?  Really?

I found an empty table, dropped off my tray, undid my jacket and prepared for the meal.

The Teen Burger was interestingly perfect!  The old school Teen Burger with just the right amount of tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise  bacon and of course the usual burger paddy.  The right consistency and good temperature.

The fries were hot and were a little more flavorful.  Perhaps they added a little more salt?  Not sure but they definitely didn't taste like cardboard like the cardboard served at A&W at St. Laurent Mall.  

The A&W Root Beer though was still smaller than a McDonald's medium sized soft drink. As well the A&W Root Beer, as usual didn't have any ice.  The A&W Root Beer is supposedly put through chilled tubing.  But this tubing quite frankly doesn't adequately substitute for the coldness of ice.  

Overall, this A&W is a step up from the St. Laurent location.  Service was prompt and efficient while the food was better prepared.  It actually seemed like the employees wanted to be there to serve you with a smile.  The only issue, presumably emanating from head office, is the rationing of the ketchup packets to only two per set of fries and two napkins.  Seems like customers are being treated as inmates at a prison and can't be trusted with the condiments and napkins.  Too bad really, A&W finally nailed the Teen Burger and Fries but stumbled on pricing and stinginess on the condiments.

More Adventures at Winterlude 2013

Bear with Fish Ice Sculpture at Ottawa City Hall
This is the second of three weekends of Winterlude 2013 in Ottawa.  Despite the heavy snowfall on Friday, people were out in droves trudging through the snow or enjoying the Rideau Canal Skateway.

My wife and I revisited the Crystal Garden at Confederation Park to see how the results from ice sculpting competition from last weekend turned out.  Overall there were about twelve ice sculptures of which I was able to take the photos below.  Others were hard to get to because of the number of people.  Interestingly these ice sculptures are lit up at night to provide a different ambiance.

Across the street, at Ottawa City Hall, there was figure skating on the Rink of Dreams.  Where young figure skaters wowed the crowd with their choreographed jumps and other movements.

We have pretty well seen everything now for Winterlude 2013 and still have a weekend to go.  Next weekend will be the busiest as it is the long Family Day Weekend in Ottawa.  Hopefully the ice sculptures and snow slides will make it through the rise in temperature to 5 degrees Celsius on Monday with sunshine so everyone else can enjoy!

Friday, February 08, 2013

One Suzy Q of a Donut

Today as a treat, and a challenge in the snowstorm, I headed over to SuzyQ Donuts (991 Wellington Street West, Ottawa) to check out one of Ottawa's most recommended baked goods stores.  Even my cousin has recommended this Ottawa Donut Shop to me.

Donut Shop?  Yes, it is a donut shop but not your typical Tim Hortons, it is a gourmet donut shop with interesting flavoured donuts that are downright delicious.

I visited at 10:00 A.M. to find the parking lot full of cars.  I entered the small store, past the "Top Urbanspoon.com Restaurant of 2012" sticker, to find a family of three ordering two of almost every donut in the place.  But thank goodness there were more fresh donuts arriving as I waited.   I was next, and once the family left with at least a dozen donuts I was good to go.

The Order: 1 Dirty Chocolate Donut & 1  Cinnamon Toast Donut

Each donut is $2.00 plus tax each and were neatly individually bagged.  I paid and left.  I had no choice but to leave as there is no seating in the place.  In fact the store is so small there is hardly room for more than four or five customers in the store.

The Dirty Chocolate tasted like delicious dark belgian chocolate with a hint of donut taste.  My wife, who doesn't like donuts,  would love this one.  Too bad I went with our her today, she will be jealous. 

The Cinnamon Toast Donut tasted like a deliciously freshly baked Cinnamon Roll with a couple of cornflake like pieces of cereal on top.  

Overall Suzy Q could do with a move to a more Tim Hortons style location to allow customers to purchase coffee and a few donuts to eat.  The donuts though do stand on their own.  Sure they cost way more than a Tim Hortons donut but these are gourmet donuts that are carefully made by hand freshly on site.  It is worth the cost and the trip to this recommended local Ottawa institution.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Don't Give the Southern Keys to this McDonald's

On Wednesday for lunch I found myself at South Keys Shopping Centre.  I was obviously hungry eying a couple of restaurants while standing in the parking lot.  Would it be a return to Denny's for lunch? No, last time's breakfast was only mediocre.   Kelsey's?  Nope, a little expensive for a quick bite.  Where to go in a Wal-Mart anchored plaza.  McDonald's (2210 Bank Street, Ottawa) of course for a Big Mac Meal!

I visited the McDonald's in the Wal-Mart to get in a medium length line.  Watched as two McDonald's managers impressively tag teamed the line using two cashes but also fetching food for each other's trays.  I was up to the counter to place my order in about two minutes. 

I placed my simple classic McDonald's order...

The Order: 1 Big Mac Meal (Big Mac, Medium Fries and a Medium Coke)

There was a short wait for the fries to finish (of course, why is it always the fries?) but the manager let them finish, scooped them up and dropped off 3 sets of fries on the two trays and I was off. 

The fries were subpar.  Not sure if they were cooked long enough as they were soft and slightly paler than the golden brown McDonald's normally provides. 

The Big Mac also was not up to standard. The top portion was fine with the usual secret sauce and top paddy.  The bottom though was dryer than a Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H Martini:

""I'd like a dry martini, Mr. Kwak. A very dry martini. A very dry, arrid, barren, desiccated, veritable dustbowel of a martini. I want a martini than can be declared a disaster area. Mix me just such a martini."

Yes the burger paddie was dry, it was like it had been cooked and, driven to an Arizona desert and shipped back.  Not sure how this happenned but it was raunch and I'm surprised Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson didn't show up at the opening of the Big Mac container to declare a City of Ottawa Emergency.

I finished up and moved on with my life.  Not sure how the Big Mac's and fries at McDonald's could be so bad, added to the fact, the entire meal was $7.90 including taxes.  What a travesty!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Adventures at Winterlude 2013

On Friday evening and Saturday my wife and I set out to explore the events of the 2013 edition of Ottawa's Winterlude Festival.

We started out on Friday after dinner at Ottawa's City Hall to see set up for the opening ceremonies.

 Across the street in Confederation Park the Crystal Garden filled with ice sculptures beckoned.  The sculptures around the fountain were complete with lighting being adjusted.  The other larger pieces were being unwrapped after a warm Wednesday and Thursday and lights also adjusted.  As well, professional carvers from around the world were starting work on large ice sculptures.  All ice sculptures have to be complete by noon on Sunday ready for judging.
I will return during the week to see the finished larger sculptures because, as expected, the large ice sculptures were croweded with people.  
On Saturday my wife and I returned for a short walk through of Confederation Park and to take the "Bus-O-Neige" to Jacques Cartier Park in Gatineau Quebec. 
We looked at two unwrapped ice sculptures ready to go of a Polar Bear and heard of Muskox


Jacques Cartier Park's Winterlude Snowflake Kingdom was filled with people, snow sculptures and snow slides! 

Upon entering Jacques Cartier Park we were greated by a huge snow sculpture.

We wandered around the Snowflake Kingdom and watched the lengthy lines at various snow slides.  The park was a bustling place filled with snow based activities!

We decided to try out a snowslide and waited in line for a group one.  Less than five minutes later we were up the top of the snow slide awaiting our turn.  Snow slides at Jacques Cartier Park are mounds of snow built up, carved out and flooded with water to make them icey slippery. 

We tried one group slide where you link arms with someome else.  A quarter of the way down I was going to fast and had to let go.  I ended up ensuring the crowd watching at the bottom was well enough back as I shot across the bottom of the slide past where the ice stopped.

We ventured further around the park to happen upon another snow sculpture near another set of snow slides.

We reviewed the military display and the Algonquin First Nations displays then happenned upon a snow sculpture in progress of being carved.

One of my favourite views of the National Capital Region is from Jacques Cartier Park overlooking the Ottawa River. 

After visiting Jacques Cartier Park we boarded the "Bus-O-Neige" and returned to Ottawa's City Hall. 

Upon our return a busker had taken to entertain the crowds on his obnoxiously large musical bicycle.

 Together we had a couple of good days exploring the 2013 edition of Winterlude.  There will of course be more adventures as Winterlude continues for the next two weekends as well the 7.8 Kilometre Rideau Canal Skateway continues to be open for as much skating as anyone can handle. 
Winterlude is one of the many reasons I've come to love living in Ottawa.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Mediocre Pizza Boyz

For lunch today I visited Pizza Boyz (1577 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa).  I checked out their lacklustre website with only their latest flyer uploaded, took a gander and visited the Alta Vista Plaza to place the order in person. 

When I visited at 11:45 A.M. there was one person in the store making the pizzas.  He welcomed me and inquired what my order was.  I placed my order as he worked away.

The Order: 1 Medium Pepperoni Pizza (12" pizza). 

He said it would be 15 minutes.  I replied, so about noon it will be ready?  He looked at me quizzically.  I explained it was about 11:45 A.M. so 15 minutes would be about noon.  He nodded his head. 

When ordering pizza and receiving a time the pizza will be ready (i.e. will be ready in 15 minutes) I like to reiterate the time that meal can be expected.  This ensures that the employee doesn't lose track of time and forget the order.  They also know that they have agreed that my order should be ready for around noon. 

I visited the nearby Tim Hortons to grab a coffee and then return to get the pizza. 

Upon my return, it was 11:55 A.M. so I grabbed a newspaper from the window sill and started reading.  At 12:05 P.M. I got up as a couple of guys came in to look over the menu for lunch.  Another Pizza Boyz employee had arrived to help out with what looked to be the start of the lunch rush. 

The original employee brought out my pizza in a plain white non descript box.  I waited as he rang another customer through and then I paid $15.80 (including taxes) and headed home. 

Pizza Boyz Pepperoni & Cheese Pizza

After arriving home I opened the box to find a smallish medium sized pizza. Admittedly it looked about 12" though true to Pizza Boyz's advertising. But I was left wondering how a 12" plain pepperoni pizza could cost $15.80 when the chains can do the same thing for $9.00 to $10.99 before taxes?

Added to this pricing issue, I could barely spot the pepperoni slices on the pizza.  The pepperoni appeared to buried in the cheese.  Most regular Pepperoni pizzas form other pizza parlours have the pepperoni slices on top of the cheese.  Was Pizza Boyz trying to hid the pepperoni for some reason?  Only one way to find out, taste it.

Pizza Boyz Pepperoni & Cheese Pizza

The pizza tasted like any other pepperoni pizza you would eat from the chains.  Nothing fresh or special about the crust or toppings.  In fact I was hard pressed to find the pepperoni slices on the pizza.  As far as I could tell the pepperoni slices were only placed around the outside edge of the pizza just before the crust and were not present closer to the middle of the pizza.  The cheese itself was also just average run-of-the-mill pizza cheese.

With the above in mind, why was the Pizza $15.80 including taxes?  I'm not sure. 

Overall, Pizza Boyz is an overpriced average pizza parlour.  For the price paid, I expected a pizza that a little closer to the gourmet stylings of Abruzzo Pizza in Richmond Hill.  Instead, I got an small sized average tasting pizza that costs $3 to $4 over the average price served by the local chains.  I will have to try somewhere else to find a decent slice.

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