It was diner-hopping with an international flair a couple weekends ago. It involved Phillips Diner in Ogdensburg, N.Y., U.S.A, and then just about 70 miles away the Elgin Street Diner in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
How can it get better than that?
It actually involved a lot more than that, as Wife L, Daughter B, and I crossed the border for a few nights stay in the capital of Canada, a truly diverse city that offers eating options galore. Daughter B earned this brief respite after a great start to her first semester at St. Lawrence University, just an hour and a half from Ottawa.
We crossed into Canada at the bridge in Ogdensburg, but first we stopped for lunch at the Phillips Diner where we saw a horse and buggy tied up outside by its Amish owner. The city mainstay is almost directly across from the gorgeous City Hall, which has a mini-museum just inside its doors and across the way a plaque that details some of the fighting that occurred there during the French and Indian War.
We had a good lunch that was incredibly inexpensive. The horse outside seemed happy; we weren’t sure if leftovers had been shared.
I always find the crossing into Canada a little nerve-wracking. I think it stems from the many trips my Buffalo State classmates and I took from Buffalo to Fort Erie to buy cases of Molson Brador. The crossing was much simpler, pre-9/11, and even though there would be four smirking guys in a dinged-up Ford Maverick that drank oil like we drank beer, we would be whisked through and urged to have a happy day. Now, I quietly hand over our passports, answer yes and no to the couple of questions, and drive cautiously away while looking over my shoulder for Royal Canadian Mounties. Just out of habit.
In Ottawa, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Victoria Park Suites at O’Connor and Gladstone streets. It’s in a good spot: a doable walk to Chinatown, very close to the lively Bank and Elgin streets, and a quick ride to the Byward Market area. It cost about $120 a night.
We had Googled and Googled in search of the best dim sum in the city. Our conclusion was the tiny Hung Sum Restaurant, at the fringe of the bustling Chinatown strip that is Somerset Street. Our waitress explained in halting English how to choose our dim sum, and we marked a sheet with eight different selections that involved about four dim sum each and ranged in price from $2.50 to $4.50.
The wonderful creations came in bamboo steamers. We had several shrimp options that were delicate and delicious. A crisp pork dim sum was filled with flavor. We fought over the fried dumplings, and washed it all down with tea. It was a real treat. All along Somerset there are tiny markets with ducks hanging in the windows, or tea shops, or Pho noodle soup places, or more dim sum restaurants, or … . You get the idea. Throughout Ottawa, really, there are many Asian-influenced restaurants to pick from.
Having sampled dim sum, though, we were ready for another type of food the next day. We tried, for the first time, shawarma, a Lebanese fast food. It’s a big deal in the city. My fellow travelers were worn out after shopping and eating in the bustling Byward Market area and then touring the stunning Parliament building, where we enjoyed views of the city from the Peace Tower.
So I walked over to Bank Street in search of something I could bring back to our room, and I came across Shawarma’s King Restaurant. It is styled after a small cafeteria, and while there is seating it seems like the place to go for food to go.
At this restaurant, shawarma referred to the huge blocks of beef and chicken that are roasted on a spit. The meat is sliced and heaped in a container with rice, tabouleh salad, hot-pink (yep) turnips , and hommus. It is a lot of food. The beef had a hint of vinegar that I liked, but Wife L thought was too strong. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The meals came with warm pita bread that we also enjoyed.
I ordered the full meals, but there also were pita-sandwich options that I could see definitely outdoing Big Macs any day. It was a great meal to end a great day in a city that seems to be filled with youthful energy and that has an eclectic urban feel while at the same time feeling safe and manageable. We strolled through residential neighborhoods that were close to a wild array of shops, restaurants, and cafes. Cranes and scaffolding were everywhere, as the city itself seems to be in the midst of a major renovation, a rare sight in the U.S.
Our final stop before leaving the city was the Elgin Street Diner. I needed some closure, as our trip to the Great White North had started at the Phillips Diner. The Elgin Street is open 24/7, and every booth was filled when we arrived Sunday morning. A manager offered us free lattes to make up for our short wait.
We weren’t able to sample poutine, which was on our food bucket list, but we did enjoy wonderful blueberry pancakes, eggs Benedict, and the special: two eggs, sausage ham, or bacon, home fries, toast, tea, and baked beans ($7.99). The baked beans were an interesting twist. I ate them out of deference to our waitress, but I could live without them so early in the day.
Up and down Elgin Street there were restaurants and pubs serving brunch, and we took a stroll before heading down to check out the Carleton University campus and heading back to the States.
Our international diner-hopping was indeed complete.