Monday, May 20, 2013

Beech of a Burger

On Friday at lunch, I traveled over to Beech Street which is nearby Little Italy to investigate one of Ottawa's newest, yet already receiving a lot of buzz, burger place.  Beech St. Burger (40 Beech Street, Ottawa) replaced Danni Panini near the corner of Beech & Rochester. In fact, Beech St. Burger is so new, the debit machine is still printed and, presumably, registered to Danni Panini.  Will Beech St. Burger survive the evolving Ottawa burger wars amongst Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Hintonburger, The Works and Manhattan's?

I visited at 11:45 A.M. to see two people ahead of me in line in this small restaurant.  The restaurant, about the same size as Hintonburger, is staffed by what appeared to be a husband and wife. Thus,  it felt family owned.  Unlike Hintonburger, the kitchen is open concept which means you can see your burger hitting the grill and your fries being made.  Perhaps this made the wait for your meal a little more palatable than Hintonburger where you feel like your order disappeared behind a wall only to magically reappear hopefully 15 to 20 minutes later.   Beech Street burger though, only took about 10 minutes to have everything prepped and served up.  But first the order.

After waiting 2 minutes for the customers in front to move along, I was warmly greeted by a lady inquiring what I would like.  I ordered.

The Order: 1 Beech Street Burger (1 Double Pattied Burger) with Beech Street Size Fries (Large Fries) and a Coke.

My order was moved along to the grill where a large man pulled out two patties and put it on the grill.  I watched as the patties started to cook.  But I also had to ensure I stayed out of the way of the increasing customer traffic from ordering, attending the fountain drink machine and gathered their orders from the front. Not a lot of room to maneuver near the counter but if everyone cooperates it isn't too bad.  Eventually my, advertised "Handmade, local beef burgers"and "Fresh Cut Fries" were ready for pickup in a traditional slightly greased stained burger joint brown paper.  I filled my cup with Coke from the fountain station and headed outside to the street side patio to open my bag and dig in.

The burger was awesome! Similar to Five Guys Burger and Fries in taste and freshness.  Juicy but not "Call the Health Department" pink juicy.  Were the patties handmade as advertised? Hard to say, but with the high number of customers coming through the door, it would be hard to keep up with demand by handmaking the burgers. But I will not discount the "Handmade Burgers" claim as I don't have any evidence but a little skepticism of the above noted demand for their product.

The toppings were average tomatoes, lettuce etc. you would find at any other joint. Thus the $7.00 price for the burger alone seemed a little steep but is a just a little more expensive than the same burger at  Five Guys at $6.50.

The "Fresh Cut Fries" were interesting.  Not as greasy as Five Guys Burgers and Fries but not much different, except for perhaps the salt content, from New York Fries.  Decent offering tastewise but quantity wise on the Beech Street Size (i.e. large fries) Five Guys give you more but also charges more.  But the quantity at Beech Street is about the same as at Le Bac A Frites for a similar price at $4.00.

Overall, Beech St Burger provides solid burger and fries taste wise.  Dollar wise at $13 and change for a burger, fries and a fountain soft drink it is expensive.  If the price was around $10 I may mark this place as a favourite though. Good spot to visit once in a while but not all the time.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Way Way Back Movie

My wife had found earlier this week free movie prescreening tickets on for Fox Searchlight Pictures'  "The Way Way Back" movie that is to be shown starting July 5th.  The movie stars Steve Carell and many others including Allison Janney (The West Wing) in a coming of age comedy.

Following dinner at Kelsey's on Thursday evening, my wife and I headed over to the Cineplex Odeon at South Keys Shopping Centre.  We were expecting unorganized chaos and long waits in line due to our previous experience with "The Guilt Trip". Thus, we packed a couple of books and a lot of patience.

We arrived shortly after 6 P.M. to the theater for the 7 P.M. showing.  We were met at the front with a representative scanning our printed passes in exchange for free movie tickets.  We then moved over to Cineplex Odeon's usher who admits people into the theater area.  So far so good. Next, we were asked to line up outside the theater.   So far so good, GoFobo seemed organized and moving patrons along quickly.

We arrived at the lineup to enter the theater to wait.  We had expected here to wait for 30 minutes.  But a couple of pleasant surprises were in store.  There was another representative, possibly from Fox Searchlight, handing out free movie t-shirts.  Then we were invited to enter the theater.

Front of T-Shirt

Before the movie started, a draw for a $100 HMV Gift card was held that was won by someone in the "Way Way Back" row of the theater. A nice touch compared to the previous experience at the Guilt Trip where only 2 things of swag was handed out and the rest of us left with nothing.  Fox Searchlight Pictures went above and beyond the call by handing out free t-shirts as well as the free prescreening tickets.

Back of T-Shirt
Finally, the main presentation began! No movie trailers for other movies were shown, just the 90 minute main picture.  The main plot line sees a young awkward teenager who is forced into a summer trip with his mom and her new boyfriend (Steve Carrell) and boyfriend's teenage daughter to a summer house.  Duncan, the teenager, seems completely awkward and is derided by Carrell's character.   Duncan looks completely depressed until he happens to upon the Water Wizz waterpark where he is hired onto a staff of missfits.  Here he gains his self esteem and moves on from there.

The movie itself is a decent family comedy but not as funny as the Hangover series. But it is more funnier than The Guilt Trip which was saw last December.  Don't expect this movie to garner any awards for hilarity or acting, but do at least see it in theaters coming July 5th.

Thanks to Gofobo and Fox Searchlight Pictures for providing this opportunity to see a decent comedy in theaters.  Organization and speed of service seemed to have been improved.  The free t-shirts, which I have now worn my shirt twice, was also a nice touch. Congrats on providing a fun night out for my wife and myself.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Unexpected Terrific Kelsey's

Last night my wife and I obtained prescreening tickets to see Fox Searchlight Pictures movie "The Way Way Back".  But first we needed to find a place to eat before attending the movie at the Cineplex Odeon at the South Keys Shopping Centre.

Online we found a coupon for a free appetizer if you sign up for the Kelsey's eKlub.  I had been hankering for some nachos and this also being Thursday, wings were half price.  Couple that with a burger and fries, you have a great time with typical bar food at a significantly reduced price. So we decided to stop off at the nearby Kelsey's (2206 Bank Street, Ottawa) for dinner.

We were debating our choice as at the Richmond Hill Kelsey's we had mixed results on our visits and the Newmarket Kelsey's we were barely even noticed.  The Newmarket location we were seated and given menues.  10 minutes later, we left after our waiter could not seem to find his/her area as we never saw or heard from them.  So we were a little leery about what to expect from this Kelsey's.

We arrived at 5:00 P.M. and were seated immediately within a rather calm restaurant atmosphere   A few customers were sprinkled throughout the main dining area. Restaurant didn't seem that busy at the start, but gradually filled as our meal went on.

We pulled out our eKlub e-mail providing us with a free appetizer choice between a 7 Layer Dip or a Cheese Spinach Dip and then perused the menus.

Our waitress, Jennifer, stopped by to welcome us to Kelsey's and inquired how we were doing today, if we had any questions about the menu, drinks and if we were ready to order.  We ordered everything at once as we had previously sketched out what we wished to order before arriving.

The Order: 1 7 Layer Dip (deep fried pita, tortillias, etc.), 1 Cheddar Bacon Sirloin Burger with Fries and Dr. Pepper, and 16 Regular Honey Garlic Wings with Ranch and 1 glass of water

We waited about 5 minutes before our drinks arrived. Throughout the meal Jennifer ensure the Dr. Pepper and water were constantly refilled.  We never had to wait for drinks to be refilled which is usually a good sign of the attentive service at a restaurant.  This service would continue and is one of the reasons we were impressed with this visit to Kelsey's.

 The complimentary 7 layer dip arrived 5 minutes after the drinks.  Service was steady as Jennifer placed the plate of food down, got two smaller plates and moved them in front of us.  She also took the opportunity to quickly refill our drinks.  The 7 layer dip itself comes with tortilla chips and deep fried pita.  The pita was pretty soft and tasty all by itself never mind with the dip. The dip itself had salsa, tomatoes, different cheeses, spinach dip and sour cream.  Great combination to dig through either with the provided spoon or with the tortilla chips.  The portions were perfectly portioned with the last piece of pita being used to mop up the end of the dip.  The empty 7 layer dips were quickly whisked away by Jennifer and replaced with ketchup, mustard and vinegar bottles for the forthcoming burger, fries and the rest of the meal.

Less than 10 more minutes went by and the rest of our meal arrived.  The service continued with Jennifer checking if we had everything and five minutes into our meal asking if everything was o.k. or if there were any issues with our meal.  Nothing wrong and everything was right.  A quick smile and she was gone to serve her other tables which were now becoming more numerous.

The Cheddar Bacon Sirloin Burger was top notch.  Melted cheese accompanied with bacon not overcooked  crispy or undercooked slimy accompanied a very tasty burger paddy.  A perfect burger that only needed a slight dash of ketchup and mustard.  No sloppiness of toppings onto the plate either, just a perfect portion to compliment the burger.   The accompanying fries were the only issue I had with the entire meal, sure they were good, but the they were about room temperature only.

The Honey Garlic wings that came by were accompanied by the ranch dressing in a cup with a couple of pieces of celery and carrots.  My wife dug into these but was willing to share in exchange for some fries.  The wings were good but were over slathered in the Honey Garlic sauce.  Thank goodness Jennifer had left us with copious amounts of napkins as these were definitely needed to remove the excess honey garlic sauce dripping from our fingers after each wing was consumed.

Overall, our meal was excellent.  Jennifer was attentive in ensuring we had everything to enjoy ourselves.  She also stopped by our table to retrieve dishes when finished.  She kept things moving at a steady pace without making us feel rushed.  The Kelsey's location is ideal as it is mere walking distance to the nearby Cineplex Odeon for dinner and a date with your significant other.  As well both the theatre and restaurant are within a short walk of the nearby OC Transpo South Keys Transitway Station making getting there easy.  For a chain restaurant, this Kelsey's was an unexpected hit.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013 Canadian Tulip Festival: Ottawa Awash in Colour!

Tulip Festival Logo Sculpture at Ottawa City Hall

The 2013 Canadian Tulip Festival is now two thirds of the way through the scheduled three weekends.  The first weekend was a bit of a disappointment as most of the tulip blooms had yet to appear.  But this past week's daytime heat has resolved that issue.

Tulips at Commissioners Park

The second weekend, especially today (Sunday) though saw colder temperatures meaning many of the tulip blooms did not want to open.  Instead they seemed to shiver in the breeze.  The best tulip sighting location so far has been Commissioner's Park with over 300,000 tulips in bloom.

Lots of different colours highlight Commissioners Park with bonus contributions of surrounding trees spring blossoms.  Tour buses dislodge hundreds of tourists into the park daily from nearby Carling Avenue while a plethora of strollers emanate from mini vans from the Park's Parking lot.  

Trees in spring blossom overlooking tulips at Commissioners Park

Next weekend may be the end of the Tulip Festival and the tulip blooms themselves.  The great die back of the blooms wipes away what has only been temporarily created.  That is until next year.  

See more photos of the Canadian Tulip Festival in my Ottawa photo section.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mediocre Colonnade Pizza

Today for lunch I headed over to Colonnade Pizza (280 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa) which I had heard about off and on in the local restaurant buzz as one of the best pizza places.

This restaurant location is kind of hidden on Metcalfe Street at the base of what appears to be an apartment building.  Coupled with that, the building itself is  within a downtown residential area filled apartment buildings and, being the nation's capital, the odd embassy.  The only signs of commercial activity are a block to the east where the Elgin Street restaurant scene is located. Otherwise this is the most centrally located out of the way pizza place in Ottawa.

I entered off the Metcalfe Street side a little confused.  I checked the Gilmour side to see the empty streetside patio empty with no tables on a glorious sunshiny 27 degree Celsius spring day. Odd!  Even worse, I looked at the Metcalfe Street side with a single glass door and the rest of the front windows covered in coloured vinyl. It looked like the place was closed.  I tried the door and surprisingly it opened and I walked into a regular restaurant front entrance. I grabbed a menu from the front and perused it.  Lots to choose from with four different sizes (Personal, Small, Medium and Large) to choose from.  At the front, different sizes of pizza boxes on the wall help to guide you on what sizes your pizza may be.  The vinyl clad windows hide the conveniently located kitchen where the pizzas are made.  The kitchen in the front enables both waitresses to serve the eat in patrons as well as the customers wishing take out.

I placed my order with the front counter which also acts as the host station for those that visit to eat in.

The Order: 1 Meat lovers Personal Pan pizza to go.

I waited patiently for a reasonable 15 minutes for the pizza to be prepared, baked, cut and boxed.  The two kitchen staff looked like older gentlemen who had been making pizza for years.  Together they worked quickly and quietly to move several pizzas through production.

The ambiance of the restaurant is basic nothing overly impressive visually or the sound wise.  Just a good neighbourhood pizza restaurant with basic tables, chairs and carpeting.

My pizza was eventually ready and I headed over to the nearby lawns abutting the Rideau Canal. A good summer spot to watch the cyclists go by on the nearby recreation paths and maybe even a boat on the historic Rideau Canal.

The pizza was interesting rendition.  The pizza crust reminded me of the Pizza Hut crust, firm and crunchy but not burnt.  The sauce was super hot and complimented the meat quite well.  The meat though was a little different.  The meat combination of Italian Sausage, pepperoni and bacon tasted like a smoked meat sandwich but in pizza form.  The cheese though was a disappointment. Instead of traditionally having the cheese underneath the toppings, the cheese is on top.  The cheese was melted on almost solid to envelop the top of what my tongue confusingly thought was a smoked meat sandwich pizza style.  The cheese, instead of being a foundation for a good pizza, was now performing more of a functionary roll.  Add to this the quite noticeable generous grease stains on the bottom of the box were a little alarming.  How much grease was I inhaling as opposed to the local Dominos?  I did not wish to know.

Overall, Colonnade Pizza is loved by many.  Service was courteous and reasonable.  The pizza though needs a little refinement by adjusting the cheese to be more complimentary rather than functional to hold toppings on. The restaurant itself appeared normal and have a loyal following.  Thus, I would say this restaurant may need another visit for another pizza dish to see if it was a one off issue with just my pizza.  For now though, the pizza was merely mediocre and not that special. That is unless you like a smoked meat pizza theme, then it is a great place to grab a slice.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

No More Hesitation about Pancho Villa

Friday evening, and a wishes for Mexican food and a tour of Ottawa's Tulip Festival, drew us to Elgin Street.  Previously we had been to Ahora and found it to be satisfactory but not overwhelmingly knock your socks off good.

To be fair, we had previously been to Pancho Villa last summer and found the nachos to be subpar but the enchilada to be satisfactory.  But having been to Pancho Villa a number of years ago with good experiences I felt this place deserved a second chance.  I was torn, the previous visit I felt the nachos at this Mexican specialty restaurant to be subpar compared to the neighboring pub versions.  How could that be?  Not sure so on this visit I avoided the nachos and decided for something else.

We strolled down Ottawa's Elgin Street noticing the patios of many of the restaurants at capacity on this beautiful 27 degrees Celsius Friday evening with the Ottawa Tulip Festival starting for the season and NHL playoff fever in full swing with the Ottawa Senators playing in Montreal in a playoff fever.  This being Elgin Street, just south of Tulip Plaza at City Hall and the street itself being named "Sens Mile" the street was bustling.

Pancho Villa (361 Elgin Street, Ottawa) is nestled at the south end of the strip of restaurants on Elgin Street and is in the same restaurant plaza as Lieutenant's Pump which is also a local favourite.  Pancho Villa specializes in traditional Mexican fare with both an outdoor patio and a noticeably brightly painted and well tiled restaurant ambiance. We entered and were welcomed as well as inquired if we would like to sit on the outdoor patio or wished to dine in the restaurant.  The patio seemed full when we arrived so we chose the in door restaurant dining room.  We were the first table inside but soon two other tables arrived.  The others were seated further away and not clustered together like other restaurants might want to try.  This allowed tables to not be disturbed by their neighbours as well as providing enough room for a quiet meal if wished.

We were offered water as well as chips and salsa by a nervous looking server who seemed to be her first night.  In fact, I think we were her first table.  She did well though but the nerves were evident.  A polite couple of smiles and thank you from us seemed to calm her a little bit as we perused the menus.

The chips were a little thinly sliced compared to the traditional store bought Tostitos. The salsa was pretty watery with very little evident vegetables.  But because the chips and salsa were complimentary, they were passable.

The waiter stopped by, proudly wearing his Ottawa Senators T-shirt to inquire if we would any drinks and if we had any questions about the menus.  We ordered a Pepsi for myself and continued to peruse the menu.

Our waiter returned with the Pepsi and we were ready to order.

The Order: 1 Chicken Burrito  (one flour tortilla stuffed with refried beans and chicken filling) served with black beans and house salad and a Pepsi.  1 Chicken Enchiladas (Two rolled corn tortillas stuffed with chicken topped with house sauce and cheese) served with Mexican rice and salad.

The waiter left and returned within a very quick ten minutes with the food.  During that time the other server stopped by and refilled our water glasses.  She was in better spirits as well with a smile on her face and a more confident step in her walk than the first time around.  New employees at restaurants are always fun to watch and encourage.  But back to our meals.

I enjoyed the Burrito. Both meals required a knife and fork due to the house sauce.  Thus, no option to use your hands like at incomparable Taco Bell. The chicken insides were very tasty with complimenting sauce.  A solid performance there.  The black bean accompaniment was also excellent.  The only quibble was the only 3 corn chips provided in the black beans. Luckily, we still had a few corn chips left from earlier that easily made up for this deficiency.  The salad was just regular tossed salad with no real noticeable special preparation.  

The Chicken Enchiladas were similar to the Burritos, but had a slightly spicy zing to them.  The hotness was not overwhelming but noticeable.  The rice was prepared with a sauce that was good but not overwhelming gourmet.  The same plain side salad as the Burritos was included.

Service was pretty decent with the waiter returning periodically to see if we needed anything or would like desert.  The bill also came quick at the end when requested but we definitely were not rushed as the indoor restaurant was not that busy but was steadily building.

Overall, Pancho Villa is a decent spot in Ottawa to enjoy some Mexican food. Nachos need a little work but the Enchiladas and Burritos are solid recipes.  The side salads could be offered with dressing options to make them more customizable  but the rice and refried beans are excellent recipe options. Service, again, was excellent with complimentary chips and salsa accompanied with water while the menues are perused are a nice touch.  We will probably return in the future to Pancho Villa to see if this type of food and service can be maintained.

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