I will travel far and wide for an opportunity to eat at a greasy spoon. Even cross the border into the Great White North and visit the Olympic-frenzied city of Ottawa, Ontario, for a few days to do so.
Wife L , Daughter B, and I took advantage of winter break and drove to the capital city of Canada in about three and a half hours, a very easy cruise up I-81 where we quickly and easily crossed the border with passports in gloved hands.
Ottawa is a mix of gorgeous architecture that includes the Parliament and Supreme Court buildings and pedestrian skyscrapers that house government offices. We stayed at the downtown Albert at Bay hotel, which offers suites for the price of a regular room elsewhere. Other than the underground parking garage, which was like driving in a maze for miniature cars, the hotel was a terrific choice.
It was Winterlude in Ottawa, which means we got to enjoy the ice sculptures lining Confederation Park, though we missed the music and weekend activities the festival offers. Daughter B and I skated along Rideau Canal from downtown to Dow Lake, a good stretch of the legs and a wonderful way to exercise and see the area from a different vantage point.
I had my skates, and Daughter B rented a pair for $16 for two hours. We enjoyed the rest stops set up on the canal that offer hot chocolate and beaver tails ( a k a fried dough or elephant ears, depending on what part of the world you’re from).
We walked to Parliament and enjoyed the light show projected onto the magnificent building. We stopped in the landmark Fairmont Château Laurier hotel and wandered through the lush lobby and enjoyed the photos of the Queen’s visit and other historic moments from the famed hotel’s past.
We really enjoyed Byward Market, the area just to the east of the Parliament buildings that houses lots of restaurants and pubs, markets and bakeries, bookstores and shops.
Walking through that area we came across Wang’s Noodle House, where I had a wonderful wonton noodle soup, filled with wontons and their pork stuffing, delicate noodles, and mixed vegetables in a steamy, tasty broth.
We also tried bubble tea for the first time, a drink that has a tea base mixed with fruit or fruit flavor, in our case watermelon, and also contains tapioca balls. Kind of funky, kind of refreshing, but the tapioca balls, which you suck up through an extra wide straw, were not my favorite.
We also ate at a great place on Bank Street called The Works. This place offers a gazillion options for your “gourmet” hamburger.
Daughter B ordered her burger with Kraft macaroni cheese as the condiment of choice. I had a wonderful burger with roasted red peppers, swiss cheese, and bacon. Drinks, including my chocolate shake, come in measuring cups. We had some of the best onion rings we’ve ever tasted, which come on a tower with two dipping sauces. Wonderful stuff.
Great music filled the restaurants as we waded through our food, enjoying a seat at the window and a look at pedestrians scurrying hither and yon, seeking warmth.
As for the greasy spoon: we ate at Mellos Restaurant. This is where we had the Canadian classic called poutine. It’s the heart attack-inducing comfort food that you can buy from one of the food wagons that pop up now and again on city streets or pretty much anywhere.
What is it? It’s French fries and curd cheese covered in brown gravy. Thank god we walked through the city a few times, because this dish can only hurt you in the battle of the bulge. But, boy, is it good. A pastrami sandwich, hamburger, and eggs over easy all went quite well with it, believe it or not.
We met a family from Syracuse at the next table, and immediately got into a discussion about the Syracuse nail-biter of a win against Georgetown the night before.
And this was a first: The waitress who took our order called it out to the cook and when we were ready to leave, she called out the prices of each one of our items to the woman manning the cash register. Very eco-friendly, I suppose, because there was no paper involved.
We stopped at a couple of French bakeries during our walks and bought macaroons, raspberry-filled cookies, eclairs, and croissants.
One word about the capital city: it’s not cheap. We found the restaurants all to be on the high-end, and the exchange rate was little help. It was weird that we couldn’t exchange our U.S. bills for Canadian at any banks Istopped in. They wanted us to be customers for that service, and we had to find a funky money mart type of place to exchange our money.
We caught the Olympic fever in the city, as Canada gear was everywhere and it seemed the entire city was holding its breath as the men’s hockey team had to go into overtime to defeat the Swiss.|
It was all good fun, and all to be found after a very manageable ride from CNY. I’d recommend saving up and then splurging in the capital, you’ll have as many choices as you want as far as restaurants and a wide range of activities to keep you interested and active.