Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Little West of Accurate by The Works in Westboro

Yesterday found ourselves touring Ottawa's community of Westboro.  Around 11:30 A.M. my mother-in-law, wife and myself stopped off at the The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro (326 Richmond Road, Ottawa) for lunch.

We arrived early as we had previously been to this location's sister restaurant in The Glebe to find it packed with a line up on previous occasions.  This time, there was plenty of space as two tables were taken.  One table was on the other side of the restaurant and the second was in our section.  The only unfortunate part was the occupied table in our section had a baby in a stroller who would scream periodically.  Normally, this does not phase me, but this kid's screams were worse than 3 five year olds' fingernails on a chalkboard at the same time.  How on earth did this kid find a way to be that annoying at such a young age?  I do hope he grows up to have a little brother or sister to annoy with that screeching.  But this was not the restaurant's fault, it was obviously the kids.

The Works self brands as a "gourmet burger bistro." To the average customer it is a place to order a burger with a vast choosing of different topping options from simple bacon and cheese to roast mushrooms and Elvis approved peanut butter.

After arriving at the front door we were seated immediately by our waiter.  He warmly welcomed us and provided us with menus.  In less than five minutes he returned to inquire if we would like to order drinks while we continued to peruse the menus.  We ordered our drinks and did the usual "are you ready to order?" questions around the table before placing our orders.

The Order: 1 Teriyaki Melt (Sautéed wild mushrooms, teriyaki sauce & swiss cheese) with Sweet Potato Fries and glass of water, 1 Smokey Mountain (Smokey bbq sauce, jack cheese & bacon strips) with regular fries and a Pepsi and 1 Greek Goddess (Diced ripe tomatoes, minced garlic, feta cheese & oregano) with Sweet Potato Fries.

Our drinks returned quickly in the usual The Works' standard issue Anchor measuring cups by our waiter with the great voice.  I noticed as he dropped off the drinks that he was very well spoken and sounded like he could easily give directions on emergency procedures on an Air Canada flight better than the current crop of stewardesses.  He had a clear baritone voice and the knowledge on how to work the table as a waiter (e.g. welcoming the party, drinks, etc.)   Everything seemed fine until, 20 minutes after ordering, the food arrived.

My Smokey Mountain BBQ burger and my Mother-in-Laws' Teriyaki Melt were fine.  But my wife opened up her burger with a stunned look on her face.  Since when does a "Greek Godess" burger come a quite noticeable slice of avocado?  We looked around for our waiter who had disappeared to the back.  I grabbed a menu instead to make sure there was not an error made.

As we flipped through the menu, our waiter stopped by to inquire about the puzzled look on our faces. We were inquired about what toppings the Greek Goddess burger had on it.  He replied that my wife's burger was actually the Guardian Angel burger and offered to replace it.  My wife politely declined as she noted she likes the burger toppings and would try it out.  The waiter seemed satisfied and left.

My wife noted later that waiter didn't copy anything down when taking our orders.  I noted some wait staff in the past have done that as they have a good memory and a knack for serving tables.  Upon further reflection, perhaps the not writing down the order was not the issue but typing in the order was.  Alphabetically perhaps "Greek Godess" and "Guardian Angel" burgers were right next to each other on the waiter's order screen when entering it into the restaurant's computer system for the kitchen and billing purposes.  The unfortunate part in either not writing down the order or entering into the computer system correctly is we were charged an extra $1.00 for the burger ordered.  But at least the waiter offered to change the burger for us if my wife wished.

The Smokey Mountain burger came as exactly specified.  The cheese was melted over a ground beef patty and BBQ sauce with two pieces of bacon in the shape of an "X".   I bit into it, sure all the toppings were there and a quality burger experience.  My tongue though was saying something was missing.  A little ketchup maybe?  Nope, relish? Nope.  Just couldn't figure it out.  Would I order it again, sure, but with so many other burger options on the menu why just try one?  

The fries were perfect, fresh cut fries style with a decent temperature with not too much salt.  I could tell they were freshly made as the last bits of oil were still evident.  A glob of ketchup and you were good to go.

The Sweet potato fries were also excellent.  Chewy goodness that, accompanied with a spot of ketchup you were enjoying and only wanting more.

My wife's Greek Godess turned Guardian Angel burger turned out pretty well.  The avocado along with the cheese turned into an interesting gourmet experience.

My Mother-in-Law seemed to enjoy her Teriyaki melt as it slowly vamoosed from sight.

Our waiter, noticing we were finished, stopped by to do his usual speech about getting the dirty stuff out of the way and if we would like any tea or coffee.  We politely declined as we wished to start our tour of the interesting neighbourhood of Westboro.   He quickly returned with the bill and we were off.

Overall, the Works provides an interesting concept of specializing in gourmet burgers.  Wait staff though need a little training in attention to detail when entering in burgers.  At Glebe location previously, my wife and I had a somehow wrongly entered burger selection on our bill that needed fixing.  This time our waiter at the Westboro location either entered the burger wrong or ordered the wrong one with the kitchen.  There should be one ordering system that the wait staff can enter the order in, double check it and submit it to the kitchen and to the billing system in one time.  The double checking part obviously needs to be stressed.   Otherwise, the service was timely and the burgers were well done.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Face up to it, Dolly's Breakfast is Good But a Little Expensive

On Monday August 5th, my family was in town for the long weekend.  We had a recommendation from a friend of my brothers to try brunch at Stone Face Dolly's (416 Preston Street, Ottawa).  

My sister called ahead to see if they had space for a table of eight.  The reply came if we hurried we could get a table otherwise we were out of luck.  In two car trips over my father ferried us all over.

The first five of us sat down.  We were warmly greeted by the hostess and taken to the back of the restaurant where our table for eight awaited.  We nervously perused the menus having noted the sign at the handwritten sign in permanent black marker at front of the restaurant saying you will not be seated until all members of your party have arrived.  

Our waitress though played it cool.  She let us peruse the menus in piece investigating what we were going to order while we waited.  The line up at the front door started to grow.  

Eventually, the owner came over and inquired as to the status of the 3 members still missing.  A quick phone call and we relayed to him that the rest of the party would be there momentarily.  In the meantime though we were ready to order our food including for those that were not there.  This sated the owner who kept looking at the front door noticing his brunch line up was lengthening.  

The Order: Banana Bread French Toast with side of Fresh Fruit and Coffee.

The three missing members of my family finally arrived.  Our food followed about five minutes after.   Good food preparation and service timing by the restaurant.

The Banana Bread French Toast was exquisite.  The banana bread was top notch and, coupled with a little syrup, made for delectable taste for the tongue.   Along with the fresh fruit it was a good tasting meal.  

The price for the Banana Bread French Toast platter compared to the price though was a little wanting.  A small bowl of fruit and two slices of banana bread with some maple syrup for $12.00 plus taxes?  Seemed a little expensive to me.  Sure it was supposedly gourmet french toast, but considering the regular french toast with the same side of fruit was $11.50 it seemed steep especially without the coffee.    Perhaps when the restaurant is lined up out the door for brunch, the restaurant can charge whatever it wants then.

Service wise our waitress was pretty good.  She refilled our drinks at no charge and let us take our time.  No rush service despite that looming line up at the front door.  

Overall, Stone Face Dolly's can be a little pricey platewise, but it seems to draw the crowds for the weekend brunch service.  If you are looking for a good brunch and do not mind paying a little more than normal, this restaurant is for you.   A tip though, make sure to arrive before 10:00 A.M, otherwise you will be stuck in line at the front of the restaurant salivating over the meal that is about to be had.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Comedy of Errors at Scores

On Sunday August 11 at 2 P.M., my wife, mother in law and myself visited Scores (150 Trainyards Drive, Ottawa) in hopes of having our usual quality chicken meal with decent service.

We arrived and waited as the third party in line.  The hostess seemed to be taking her time on a relaxing Sunday afternoon seating her customers.
She asked us to wait five minutes for a table and took our names.  We looked around at half empty restaurant.  My wife inquired as to the wait with the hostess.  The hostess replied that the wait staff was less on a Sunday afternoon due to lower volumes.  There was no one behind us, so our party of three took seats near the door waiting for the hostess to call our name.

In five minutes, she called our name, gathered the menus and moved towards an empty table.  She stopped mid way and asked us to return to the front to wait another five minutes.  It was like the table was a mirage, she even baited us by walking by the salad bar to the table.  She explained the section we were going to be in was being taken care of by a waiter who had a large party of fifteen people who had a reservation.

At this point, I asked to speak to the manager.  The hostess disappeared into the back and returned with the manager.

The manager was the usual manager we had seen in the past at this Scores location.  He usually is right on the mark helping his staff during busy times get food out of the kitchen and is usually a happy person to deal with.

He asked how he could help.  I explained that Scores seems to have let us down.  Last visit three weeks ago with my family I had inquired with him about the lack of plates at the salad bar.  There had been none and customers were forced to use the soup bowls at the other end of the bar.  After inquiring a staff member returned with another load of soup bowls.  Was not for another ten minutes later that the salad plates showed up.   This time I explained what was occurring and I was about ready to leave due to the runaround I was starting to get.

I expected the manager to apologize and find away to experience the usual Scores hospitality.  But it was not the case.  He said there was no need to be rude and I could leave if I wished. He then said that the restaurant reduces staff on Sundays after lunch normally.  He then started into the salesmanship about how Scores had been rated 5 stars in service...blah...blah...blah...blah... He then said he was opening a new section and would gladly seat us himself.

He sat us down in a booth next to the windows and handed us the menus.  Short time later, the waiter, Dex came over and asked if we had ever been to Scores before.  We nodded in agreement that we had mentally noting he was the waiter on our previous visit with an even larger party of 8 people when my family stayed during the August long weekend.

Dex took our order and inquired if we would like him to hold our chicken order for ten minutes so we could enjoy the salad bar?  We would.

The Order: 3 Quarter Chicken dinners 1 side with fries, 1 side with rice and 1 side with steamed vegetables.  Two glasses of water and 1 Pepsi. Note: All chicken meals come with complimentary salad bar access.

An interesting observation though was Dex also served another table near us of a party of ten who had arrived way before us.  Were we a new section as the manager had said?  Doubtful as not only was Dex serving this large party but yet two more tables near us as well that were also sat before us.  New section? Hardly!

I ventured over to the salad bar and got my usual potato salad, carrot salad and coleslaw.  I returned to my seat and dug into my salad.  Scores' potato salad is some of the best I've ever had and this time it did not disappoint.  A creamy sauce with decent sized edible chunks of potato.  The carrot salad and coleslaw were standard nothing special gourmet but not terrible either quality.

The salad bar at Scores is a standard nothing special salad bar that you can visit and fill yourself up at.  It has fresh fruit, chicken soup and usually one other soup of the day, build your own toss salad and a mixture of premade salads for you enjoyment.  On a regular visit this location resupplies the salad bar like clock work ensuring any empty bowls are promptly refilled in a timely fashion.  This visit was no exception.

At fifteen minutes our main chicken dishes arrived from the kitchen with  a female server.  My plate was first.  Since I was sitting closest to the window I had to receive the plate with my hands from the waitress before setting it in front of me.  Upon receiving though, the plate felt funny.  I looked to find what looked to be baked on broccoli chunks on the outside.  I perused the rest of the bottom of the plate to find more baked on vegetable debris.   I pointed out the dirty plate to the server and she promised to get me a new meal.  She disappeared for ten minutes to find a clean plate and get a new serving of fries, chicken and bun.

The chicken was the normal rotisserie juicy roast chicken that I had come to expect.  This particular piece seemed to be a little more meaty than usual meaning I got more for my money.

The accompanying fries were normal for Scores.  Nothing overly special or unique.  Just regular straight boring old fries.  No potato skins on or seasoned with unique salts from who knows where.  Just boring old fries, nothing great but nothing disgusting either.

The piece de resistance at Scores though has to be the half hamburger that fills in for a roll.  At Swiss Chalet they actually have a dinner roll that sometimes is warm served with butter.  At Scores it is like some idiot purchased bags upon bags of hamburger buns on sale to show his boss he save the company money.  One problem though, Scores doesn't have hamburgers on the menu.  What to do.....what to do....  serve it up with the chicken entrees!  Great idea and great savings too!

After finishing the chicken entree I returned to the salad bar for some food.  Upon returning, my empty chicken plate and cutlery was gone.  What do I eat melon slices and associated juice with? Dex was no where to be found.  I ventured over to the waiter area and snatched a new set of cutlery wrapped in a napkin and resumed eating.

Dex came around again inquiring how our meal was.  No problem came the reply, Dex had been marvelous with timely service in refilling my Pepsi and my co-eaters' water and clearing plates.  The only issue had been the cutlery which I was willing to cut him slack on. We asked for the bill as we did not need dessert and Dex happily obliged.

Overall, this Scores restaurant seems to be slipping.  If the restaurant staff could not handle one more table of three the manager should have been brought out to help.  The restaurant may have had more customers than normal, but in that case would it not be all hands on deck to ensure the best service level was being provided?  Not in this case, the manager had to be brought out of the back after the hostess wished to give customers nothing but the runaround.  Added to that, the quality control on cleaning plates seemed to have also declined.  The baked on piece of broccoli I found was easily visible by any person removing dishes from the dishwasher or about to put food on it.  Sure Dex saved the day with friendly timely service, but we left one of our former favourite restaurants with a bad taste in our mouth.  We will probably return to Scores, just don't expect us for at least three months.  In the meantime, Scores, pull up your socks!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Perfect Pizza on Preston

Earlier this month I had lunch for two Friday's at Preston Pizza (125 Preston Street, Ottawa) in Ottawa's Little Italy.   I had been reading both positive and negative reviews on the restaurant's Urbanspoon listing and wondered which was correct.

There had been negative talk of poor delivery service or front desk help along with not very appealing restaurant interior.  

Later on though the reviews were mixed.  A lot of improvements were made to the interior and the pizza was good.  But there still seemed to be the delivery problem again along with the poor restaurant approval rating.  So which is it?  There was only one way to tell.

I visited for lunch at the beginning of August to find a modern pizza counter with two gentlemen behind the counter.  I surveyed the menu and settled on:

The Order:  2 Meat lovers pizza slices and a can of Pepsi for $5.00

The service was prompt and two slices were dished up in exchange for a five dollar bill.  I left the restaurant and returned to the office.

Upon opening the slices I could tell they were good.  The cheese was melted and the meat was noticeable.  No problems optically.  Taste wise it was one of the better slices I had in Ottawa.  No skimping or hiding the sparse amount of meat under the cheese.  The meat was all on top and definitely not skimped.

The pop though was an issue.  It was more than room temperature, it was pizza parlor hot.   Apparently the refrigerator was on the fritz.

A return the following week, same great tasting pizza, but the pop was cold.  The refrigerator had been fixed.
Overall, Preston Pizza seems to be a much improved place from yesteryear.  The pizza is pretty good and is available at an excellent price for lunch time grabbing, enjoy!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Missing Mitla?

Was recommended to visit a newish Mexican place for lunch on Friday.  Was told it was just the left of the Metro supermarket in New Edinburgh.   With a coworker we set off to find it.  To the east of Metro on Beechwood Avenue there was a pet food store.  Hmmm... that can't be it.   We strolled down Loyer Street that runs down the east side of the Metro store into the residential area.  On the corner of Loyer & Barrette Streets is Mitla (62 Barrette Street, Ottawa) a small Mexican restaurant situated in a house that has been converted into a kitchen with a few tables in the front.  

We entered and were welcomed by one of three ladies behind the counter.  The other two were busy preparing the days meals.  The menu changes periodically to reflect what is in season.  Weekly specials are found on Mitla's Facebook page.  

The lady at the counter went through the menu explaining each option and what makes each menu item interesting.

I settled on one of the lunch specials along with a drink special.

The Order: Quesadillas with Chick Pea Salad and a Cantaloupe Water.

We sat down at one of the tables and waited about five minutes for our orders to be prepared.   The food was served to us directly at the table with the lady who originally greeted us ensure we had napkins and cutlery.   This was interesting considering optically the layout looked like more of a lunch counter where you serve yourself.   Service was definitely not lacking.

Portion wise the food at first blush appeared scant.  For thirteen dollars and change including taxes it looked a little lacking in terms of quantity.  

Taste wise though, the lack of quantity was not an issue.  Fresh ingredients throughout carefully prepared made up for the lack of quantity.

The first of three Quesadillas  I enjoyed had black bean sauce.  I added some of the chickpea salad.  The bean sauce was creamy and complimented the chickpeas I added.  

The second and third of the Quesadillas had some kind of cheese inside.  What kind? I'm not sure as I forgot to inquire.   Be careful of one of these two Quesadillas, buried in one of them was a hot pepper.  Good thing I caught this before eating it as it would have knocked my socks off.  

The chickpea salad was also delicious.  Made with chickpeas, a few diced tomatoes and other vegetables it was quite interesting.    

The whole meal was washed down with Cantaloupe Water.  The server explained that a lot of Oaxacan cuisine cooking from Mexico is based on what the local farmers bring to market.  Thus, recipes change throughout the year as different fruits and vegetables come in and out of season.  Cantaloupe was considered in season and thus blended and added to water to present an interesting refreshing drink.   Worth a try.

Overall, Mitla is an interesting place to grab a delicious lunch.  Don't expect vast quantities of food, but do expect quality food made by local cooks.  While we were at their location a couple of people came in to get take out orders.  With a revolving menu, patient staff with real interest in their food and cozy spot Mitla is a hidden gem of a lunch spot.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sweet Treats at Auntie Loo's

Auntie Loo's Treats has moved from their Bronson Avenue location to a new location on Nelson Street.  The Nelson Street location closed in June 2015.

This afternoon I visited Auntie Loo's Treats (507 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa). Located in a older converted house into a storefront, this little bakery has become a well known Ottawa favorite for sweet baked goods that come in both original and gluten free options.

I was warmly greeted upon entering.  The options in the display case were kindly reviewed by the two workers behind the counter.  Auntie Loo herself was doing some business on the computer while the bunch of us chatted about the Bronson Street construction and the upcoming Auntie Loo move to another premises.  Apparently this latter part on the move has been possibly going on for some time.  Not sure what the hold up is but the overall story on the move can be found on Auntie Loo's blog posting.  I do hope they can move soon as from the current location I have no idea how they run a retail business while also supplying at least four  Farm Boy supermarkets.  But I digress....

The Order: 1 Cookies and Cream Cupcake.

I paid for my Cookies and Cream Cupcake and left the store.  While strolling up Bronson Avenue, I unwrapped my deliciously looking sweet treat.  Presentation wise it was top notch.  A chocolate cake looking bottom with a vanilla icing and an added touch of a miniature Oreo cookie on the top.

Taste wise, it was sweet!  The icing is definitely for those with a sweet tooth.  The base, after being unwrapped from the cupcake wrapper, was chocolaty tasting.  Well worth visiting for a try.  At $2.85 (including tax) it can be a steep buy on a daily basis but is well worth a once a week or month treat.

Overall, Auntie Loo's Treats has a good business going.  Opening in 2009 at their current Bronson Street location, they have already outgrown their current spot and are looking to move to bigger spot.  The service is friendly and the food is exquisitely good.   Well worth a trip!

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