Canada: Ottawa — your tastebuds will thank you!

My article was originally published in the April 2011 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine.  I’ve re-posted the text here for those of you using iPads and who therefore can’t access Destinations issue pre-July 2011.  The original article also has gorgeous pictures thanks to Ottawa Tourism.

Ottawa: Your Tastebuds Will Thank You

Banff!  Vancouver!  The far north!  Old Montreal!  The Maritimes!  Toronto!  You’ve heard about, and probably visited, these great Canadian holiday destinations.

And then there’s  Ottawa.  A government town.  Not on most people’s radar for a trip to Canada.  But you would be missing out on some great eating (and some nice site seeing and activities between snacks).

Downtown Ottawa has the magnificent gothic buildings of Canada’s government on  Parliament Hill.  Tour inside and outside, and enjoy summer festivals on the Sparks Street Mall.  For lunch, go to  Lunch (several locations) – featuring fresh, local, eco-friendly sandwiches, soups and salads, ready to take out to eat while you gaze at the Ottawa River.  Stay downtown for dinner, and save room.  Ottawa’s best (but certainly not most expensive) restaurant is Beckta Dining and Wine (226 Nepean Street), and it is reason alone to visit Ottawa.  You will be delighted by the ever-changing, creative market-fresh menu, superb wine parings, and gracious hospitality that Stephen Beckta has created.  If you need to walk a bit before dinner, head west of downtown to visit the dramatic architecture and exhibits of Ottawa’s newest museum, the Canadian War Museum.

Another half day of walking and eating can easily be spent east of Parliament Hill.  Stroll through the ByWard Market for unique shops and summertime farmer’s market stalls.  On the Murray/Dalhousie edge of the Market is a bakery with Ottawa’s best French baguettes and croissants:  The French Baker.  Another pastry treat which everyone must try (once) is the  beavertail – a flattened doughnut, the best covered with brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice (Killaloe Sunrise).  Fancy some paté?    Aubrey’s Butcher has house-made selections (and, if you have access to a kitchen, incredible eggs, meat and milk (in glass bottles!))  Mandatory gelato stops are  Piccolo Grande and Pure Gelato.

Your restaurant options abound in the Market.  The best is another Stephen Beckta resto, the more casual small-plates dining at Play Food and Wine (1 York Street).  You’ll find the same great hospitality and insightful food and drink pairings in a hip setting.  Be sure to ask for one of their phenomenal cocktails.  Other great Market choices include Café Indochine (Vietnamese, I always order #1 and #19), Chez Lucien (burgers),  Domus,  E18teen,  Luxe Bistro,  Murray Street (charcuterie),  Navarra (Spanish),  Sidedoor, and  Stella Osteria.  While you’re in the neighbourhood, check out the National Gallery of Canada (summer 2011 exhibition is “Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome”).

Still need more to eat?  Of course you do, that’s why you’re here!  West of downtown are the foodie neighbourhoods of Westboro and Wellington West.  Walk along Wellington Street West (continue as it turns into Richmond Road) for lots of great shopping — for art, women’s clothes, baby stuff, travel clothes and equipment, Canada’s famous  Lululemon yoga clothes … and, of course, food.  Your most easterly point is The Parkdale Market, a mini version of the ByWard Market, but the area is really book-ended by two locations of Ottawa’s local fair-trade coffee shop chain,  Bridgehead.  If they’re not already sold out, be sure to get a mouth-watering morning bun (a sugared and orange zested croissant roll) to go with your latté.  In addition to the two Beckta restaurants, Ottawa’s other can’t miss resto is here:  The Wellington Gastropub (see my review on the Local Tourist Ottawa site.  Open for both lunch and dinner, the Welly’s menu changes daily.  Specialties include risotto, Qualicum Bay scallops, beef tartare, soups, salads, and their wide selection of wines and beers.  Passion, hospitality and a cool vibe await you.

Continuing along Wellington West, stop in at Il Negozio Nicastro and ask Andrew to recommend some of his marvelous local and imported cheeses for you.  Pick up an Art-is-in Bakery Dynamite White loaf (locally referred to as “crack bread”) here too.  Keep walking west, cross Island Park Drive where Wellington West changes to Richmond Road, until you arrive in Westboro.  Here is yet more shopping and eating.  Want a picnic?  Head to The Piggy Market for heirloom breed-specific sausages, local cheeses,  Bryson Farms local organic veggies, and irresistible half-liters of  Pascale’s ice cream (she has dark chocolate bacon, avocado honey & lime, milk chocolate Beau’s beer, even goat milk flavours!)  You’ll find lots of other good food in Westboro too.

Need some exercise after all this eating?  If you’re here in the winter (late December-early March), you must take a skate on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the longest skating rink in the world (you’ll find beaver tail shops on the ice).  Late April to May is tulip season is Ottawa, where you can walk, jog or bike along canal pathways to see hundreds of thousands of  tulips, many donated by the Netherlands as an appreciation of Canadians’ role in the liberation of Holland.  Across the river in the province of Quebec, go hiking, mountain biking or cross-country skiing in  Gatineau Park.  (Nearby, for breakfast or lunch is Edgar, where you’ll find homemade sweet and savoury goodness.)  After all this food and exercise, relax at Le Nordik in the thermal pools and plan your next trip to Ottawa.

Get off the tourist trail and enjoy a food-filled visit to Canada’s capital.  Your belly will thank you!

Johanna Read is a long time collector of advice on where to eat around the world, and has recently started sharing it beyond her family and friends.  You can follow her @TravelEater on Twitter.

What do you think? Your comments are most welcome.

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