DRINK: What the heck is natural wine?


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

illustration by

Illustration by Celia Krampien

 You’ve seen it on toothpaste, peanut butter, and ice cream. Now get ready to see it on wine labels and requested at esteemed wine bars. While the term natural wine has been used in France since the 1970s, Europe is always a decade or two ahead of North America. Savvy shoppers on this side of the pond will begin to notice natural on an increasing number of bottles, but trying to decipher exactly what differentiates natural from conventional wines isn’t easy.

That is because — unlike organic and biodynamic wines — natural wines do not have official certification. As such, some wineries that produce natural wines aren’t marketing their product as natural.

Having no single touchstone can create confusion. What is natural to you might not be considered nat-ural to the person who sold it to you or to the winemaker who crafted it. But there is a shared notion of what natural wines are all about. Put briefly, natural wines are unadulterated and therefore, some argue, expressive in a way that conventional wines are not.

The principles that guide natural winemaking include the use of naturally occurring yeasts (also called wild or indigenous yeasts) to ferment the grapes, avoidance of exposure to new oak barrels, and reduction (or even elimination) of added sulphur.

These principles contrast with conventional winemaking techniques that use industrial aromatic yeasts and new oak to impart qualities that have little to do with the vineyard or the grapes. Plus, conventional wines also might overdo the addition of sulphur in order to extend the shelf life of the wine.

“Few, if any, who get used to natural wines can go back to conventional. Drinkers will progress from c’est naturel, c’est bon
and start being more discerning,” 

~ Alice Feiring, New York-based wine critic and author of
Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Soif — for lunch



Mixed Marineau mushrooms (from Le Coprin farm) on toasted baguette. Served with a side of well dressed greens in bouncy condition. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

We add this one to The List of ‘Splendid Summer Patios on which to Drink and Dine Well’. It’s not a long list, so best take note.


Soif’s back patio. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Soif is the Gatineau wine bar opened late last year by superstar sommelier Véronique Rivest, now with chef Jamie Stunt in charge of the kitchen.

You will remember Stunt from his days at Oz Kafe on Elgin Street. Seven years he laboured in that teensy space, putting Oz on the national stage when he and his team won the regional Gold Medal Plates competition in 2012, and then went on to win silver at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna the following year.

He also put Tibetan yak on the Canadian culinary map (from Rosemary Kralik’s Tiraislin Farm), and proved how well the Ashton Brewing Company can create a craft beer to match that exotic meat.

But those are stories for another column.

My first taste of Stunt at Soif was at a soup and salad lunch on that lovely back deck, shaded at noon with mature trees and with a view of some rooftop container gardening. Always a welcomed sight.

Stunt gave spring tomatoes some serious smack by smoking them before pureeing them into a rich red soup. It arrived seasoned well, lightly creamed, lightly oiled, topped with chives. Very nice.

And then mixed Marineau mushrooms (from Le Coprin farm) on toasted baguette. Garlic, onion, mushrooms, wine, dobs of ricotta and snippets of chive piled on good bread, then under the broiler until browned and burbly, served with a side of well dressed greens in bouncy condition. Does it get more perfect?

A wine was chosen to match by a charming server. Can’t for the life of me remember which one. But I do remember three ounces didn’t seem enough.

88 rue Montcalm, Gatineau, 819-600-7643, soifbaravin.ca


CITY BITES INSIDER: Opinicon’s new owner gives scoop on revamped & reopened iconic lodge


Guest Carly Beath (carlyrhiannon.com) photographed the iconic resort on a sunny June day.

Guest Carly Beath (carlyrhiannon.com) photographed the iconic resort on a sunny June day.

Meet Fiona McKean. Over the past eight months, the busy mother of three (and wife of Shopify head, Tobias Lütke) has presided over a massive overhaul of The Opinicon Resort, the century-old Chaffey’s Lock icon.

That overhaul includes a complete revamp of the expansive restaurant. Opened in June, the 115-seat eatery now tempts day trippers and nearby cottagers with an updated menu that moves beyond prime rib to include inventive salads, charcuterie, and fine baking. Ottawa Magazine quizzed McKean on the latest developments just days after the restaurant’s soft opening.


How long will you stay open this season?
For sure until the locks close, which is Thanksgiving weekend. We’ll be doing a full Thanksgiving dinner, which is an old tradition at The Opinicon. We might stay open a week or two longer than that, but it really depends on the weather.

Before: Old carpets and nicotine-stained wallpaper made for a not-so-appetizing vibe.

Before: Old carpets and nicotine-stained wallpaper made for a not-so-appetizing vibe.

You used to visit the restaurant at the “old” Opinicon. What was it like?
Way, way back, it was known for its good food and catered to a clientele of American fishermen and hunters. So there were big portions and lots of meat and potatoes. And that’s what carried on. My memories of this place are of lots of roasts and a set menu that rotated weekly so you knew that on a Tuesday, say, it was Chicken Kiev night or whatever, and Wednesday was a turkey dinner.

And that worked for a long time?
Yes, because a few decades ago The Opinicon was almost completely booked up for the whole summer with people who were staying long-term at the hotel or cabins. They didn’t really encourage “transients,” as they called the walk-in clientele. Now people don’t stay for a month at a time like they used to. It’s generally a week or two.

Today: Snapped just before the restaurant opened for business, this photograph gives a good sense of the new lighter, brighter Opinicon restaurant.

Today: Snapped just before the restaurant opened for business, this photograph gives a good sense of the new lighter, brighter Opinicon restaurant.

How big is the restaurant?
It’s big! Right now, it seats 115. We plan to expand, but we’re doing approvals in chunks so we’ll soon get the outdoor veranda space open, which will add another 40 spaces. The resort can host 90 people when it’s full, so the dining room has to be big enough to host paying guests and people who stop by just for brunch or lunch or dinner.

What did the restaurant look like before the renovation?
Just a couple of months ago, it felt really dated and dark. It had the nastiest carpet that had been put in in the 1980s and the wallpaper was an over-the-top floral print that was yellowed from the years when guests were allowed to smoke.

And now?
The transformation has been massive. It’s beautiful and fresh, with new hardwood floors, white wainscoting, and super-lovely warm light green on the walls. Honestly, it looks like something out of Dirty Dancing. It looks like it was meant to be danced in. When people who knew the “old” dining room walk in, they can’t believe it!

Chef Angela Baldwin took a quick shot of the charcuterie platter, which highlights Seed to Sausage meats and local cheeses.

Chef Angela Baldwin took a quick shot of the charcuterie platter, which highlights Seed to Sausage meats and local cheeses.

Tell me about the menu.
We’ve modified it to be more like a real restaurant. It no longer just caters to people staying at the resort. It’s much more welcoming to people stopping by from surrounding cottages to have lunch or enjoy a dinner before heading back for the evening.

Basically, we’ve tried to take simple and good, and kick it up a notch or two — actually two and a half! There are a wider variety of foods that cater to more varied tastes. So you can still order a perfectly done steak or prime rib, but you can also get a quinoa salad or a kale salad or a Caesar salad or a great charcuterie plate. There are vegetarian and vegan options. It’s all local meats and cheeses. It’s 2015 now!

How did you find the chef?
Her name is Angela Baldwin and she’s from the area, which is great. She grew up living and breathing the culture and knows the people. She sowed her culinary oats in all kinds of places, including Saskatchewan for a number of years, where she followed her boyfriend. But when she returned to Ontario, we had the job opening at just the right time. We really lucked out. She’s fantastic and she knows her stuff. And she specializes in desserts!


A view of the veranda, which will soon be open to guests who want to dine outdoors.

Do you also have plans to host large groups?
Definitely. For instance, last Saturday the restaurant was packed with 90 members of the same family for a 50th wedding anniversary. The vibe was great. A day before that, we had a full house of 115 for the Cataraqui Trail fundraising dinner. And on the first night we got our occupancy permit (June 5), we hosted a high-school prom!

Has it been as much work as you thought?
We got the keys at the end of January and I don’t think we’ve slept since! We wanted to get started right away, but the winter was so deeply cold and awful that we couldn’t even paint inside. Once we saw what furniture could be salvaged — not much — we spent much of the winter figuring out a plan of attack for when it warmed up so we could be really organized. There are 25 buildings on 6 acres so it is a huge and ongoing job.

You were quoted as saying that when you bought The Opinicon Resort in January, it was with your heart. Now it’s all about the practicalities of turning it into a viable business again. Are you having fun?
Most days I’m loving it. I make decisions quickly, but when you’re dealing with permits and trades they don’t always have the same sense of urgency. So I’ve had to roll with other people’s timelines a bit.

We’re doing renovations on a three-year plan. This year it’s open for everyone who misses the place — who has a connection and can see all the effort we’ve put in. We’ll do more improvements and renovations over the winter so that next year we’ll be ready to market to new visitors. I want people who don’t know The Opinicon to be blown away.

One-sentence description of the past six months?
I feel like I’ve been drinking information through a fire hose!

DesBrisay Dines



Ola Cocina’s plat campesino with pulled pork and a parking ticket. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Now, well into its second year, Ola Cocina has constructed a ‘tortilla tent’ so neither snow nor rain nor beating sun might slow down the business of al fresco pressing and grilling.


Ola Cocina — Donna Chevrier’s little corner taqueria in Vanier. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Donna Chevrier’s little corner taqueria in Vanier continues to plate up two handed flavour bombs: tacos, enchiladas, tortas, tamales, cheese stuffed house pickled jalapeños, plus All Day Mexican Breakfast. Inside or outside. Rain or shine.

Particularly tasty was lunch last week, including Al Pastor tacos, the marinated pork cooked on a trompo, coloured red with achiote, soft, piquant, and tangy with pineapple. Quite a different animal than the pulled pork, with its creamier, richer taco mates and the gentle kick of the house jalapeño crema.


Ola Cocina’s tacos. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Duck confit and tandoori chicken tacos are a bit irreverent, but turn out to be winners. The duck comes with house pickled golden beets, dobs of goat cheese, and a cranberry coffee maple sauce that adds a sweet balance to the sour beets and bitter arugula.

The Alambre Plato is a heaped plate of steak — marinated meat, spiced up, grilled to medium rare with peppers and onions, bacon, mushrooms and house queso. It comes with rice, beans and guacamole. Tortillas arrive on the side, along with salsa verde.

On another visit — Ola Cocina’s Plato Campesino (rojo rice, black beans, mango salsa, pico de gallo, sour cream, pulled pork, jalapeno crema, pickled jalapenos, and a side of chips) is a well-balanced jumble of flavour and texture. I take it to go and eat it in the car, in the rain. It softens the blow of the Beechwood parking ticket.

Tacos, $4 each, mains, $12-$17
Closed Monday
62 Barrette Street, 613-746-6222


CHEAP EATS EXTRA! Fantasy Food Trucks

See more Fantasy Food Trucks in the Summer 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine

By JANE A. CORBETT, art director at Ottawa Magazine

Illustrator Kyle Brownrigg sent along three sketches for his fantasy food trucks. I chose the Beeraoke one for him to finalize for the issue itself, but the other two were such fun that I thought I’d share them with our readers, too, online.  Below Brownrigg’s Iced Cream Pugs and Sorcery Soups, you’ll find a sketch from Dave Merritt’s son, Sam. He calls it the Pizza Launcher. Dave has a background as an animation artist; last year he drew the chalk backgrounds for the shopping feature in the Interiors issue that garnered us a National Magazine Award nomination.


by Kyle Brownrigg

Illustrator’s comments: I’ve recently had an unhealthy obsession with pug dogs and ice cream. It would be adorably hilarious if they ran a food truck.

Art director’s comments: I particularly like all the little details in this one. The ears on the front of the truck, the pug taking a snooze on top of a cone, and the little pug prints leading up to the order window. I could see the truck and awning being done in ice-cream pastel colours, with the little pugs in the colours of mocha fudge or maple walnut ice-cream. I happen to personally know a  little pug named Baylea who loves ice cream and would be a frequent visitor to this truck.

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FUN WITH LENTILS! Chefs from Absinthe, Atelier, Murray Street, and The Wellington Gastropub compete in Fundelentil tour

THE CRUSADE: Food Day Canada champion Anita Stewart teams up with Canadian Lentils to launch a country-wide campaign to laud the humble lentil — versatile, protein-packed, and a huge crop for Saskatchewan farmers. She calls it “the homegrown ingredient of this century.” Phew! Heady stuff.

THE BATTLE: 24 chefs throw down the gauntlet, each whipping up a signature lentil dish that stays on the menu for the full month of June. Ottawa has four competitors. They made the dish! They made a video of them making their dish! They need your vote to win!


Patrick Garland, Absinthe: Moroccan lentil hararira with a bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with dried fruits and pistachios



Marc Lepine, Atelier: Red lentil fritter with duck, carrots, and beluga lentils


Steve Mitton, Murray Street: Lentil vegetarian shepherd’s pie


Chris Deraiche, The Wellington Gastropub: Stuffed and roasted saddle of rabbit, lentils braised with Beau’s Lugtread, pickled carrot, and mustard sauce



Atelier. Almost goes without saying. Chef Marc Lepine’s carrot rollercoaster frames a perfect lentil fritter and a little pool of lentils in their natural state, cooked in a mirepoix. The duck’s just a bonus. The combination of flavours? Sublime.

Atelier pairs lentils with a carrot roller coaster

Atelier pairs lentils with a carrot roller coaster

Murray Street. No surprise that variations of Chef Steve Mitton’s veg-herder’s pie are on permanent rotation on the menu. The lentil version sees them combined with ground mushrooms and quinoa for a truly brilliant texture.

Murray Street channels Grandma's kitchen

Murray Street channels Grandma’s kitchen

The Wellington Gastropbub. Sure, it’s all about the lentils, but Chef Chris Deraiche has also used the opportunity to get locals to try the under-appreciated rabbit (he sold over 100 portions in the first 15 days of June), perching it atop a small hill of lentils braised with beer. In the process, he creates a classic gastropub dish that manages to be simultaneously high-brow and unsnobby.

The Wellington Gastropub shines the spotlight on rabbit

The Wellington Gastropub shines the spotlight on rabbit

Absinthe. Lentils are flavour sponges, soaking up the seasonings around them. Chef Patrick Garland takes full advantage, designing a divine Moroccan lentil hararira redolent with ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric.

Absinthe goes spicy with a Moroccan themed dish

Absinthe goes spicy with a Moroccan themed dish


But don’t take our word for it. Go try them for yourself and vote for your favourite!

**The Fundelentils tour is promoted by Canadian Lentils, a division of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, a farmer-funded organization that works to advance the pulse industry in Saskatchewan. 





CITY BITES INSIDER: Marc Lepine dishes on his ambitious expansion of Atelier — and a new restaurant being planned for fall


Meet Marc Lepine. Renowned for his clever 12-course menus, the Atelier chef shot to national fame in 2012 when he won gold at the Canadian Culinary Championships, beating out top chefs from across the country for the crown. Since then, reservations at the tiny 22-seat Atelier have been hard to come by. That will change later this summer when Ottawa’s king of molecular gastronomy launches the newly-renovated Atelier, which has doubled in size. Also on Lepine’s current agenda — participation in a nationwide lentil competition and a second restaurant slated to open this fall.


A stylin’ Marc Lepine recently appeared in a series of Harry Rosen ads that promoted Canada’s top “masters of the grill” — and some of the store’s clothing lines. Matt Barnes for Harry Rosen

How long have you been planning the expansion of Atelier?
A long time! I originally chose the building [in 2008] because there was the option of expansion, so it was in the back of my mind from the start. But we’ve been hands-on planning for just over two years. The time was right to finally start.

What’s the timeline for the bigger, better Atelier?
We’ve got roughly a month or six weeks of finishing to do, so we’re hoping to open the expanded section in mid-August.

Tell me about the renovation.
We’ve done work on all three levels of the building. There’s a new dining area upstairs, which doubles our capacity to 45. We’re also expanding the kitchen, which is almost tripling in size. That’s great for me — and everyone around me.

Were you trying to achieve a certain look?
To be honest, I’m useless when it comes to that kind of thing. The focus of Atelier is obviously the food, so the design is refined. The colours are black and white to allow the food to “pop” in the room.

Was it fun working with the designers [Urbanomic Interiors]?
I just told them to do their thing! I didn’t have too many specifications beyond the budget. It’s like cooking — if you give someone creative free rein, they’re going to come up with something pretty special. I didn’t want to attach too many rules.

How will the expansion change business?
Really, it just lets us have more guests. But we may do some more group bookings. Maybe I’ll offer a shorter-style menu for a group looking to come in.

I’ve heard rumours that you’re still planning to open a second restaurant. Any truth to that?
Yes. It’s planned for later in the fall.

Anything more you can tell me?
It’s going to be weird and different! I don’t want to talk about it ahead of time — it would take a really long time to explain and I’d like people to try it out and then let them describe it.

Speaking of “different,” you’re one of four Ottawa chefs participating in the Canada-wide FUNdeLENTIL competition this month. How do you get to be on a lentil tour?
Yes, for the month of June I’m cooking with lentils every night [the other restaurants are Murray Street Kitchen, Absinthe, and The Wellington Gastropub]. Anita Stewart from Food Day Canada visited the four restaurants and presented us with this challenge to use Canadian lentils in a dish throughout June.

Did you work regularly with lentils before?
We have featured them lots of times in the past. For this dish we pair two kinds of lentils [red and beluga] with carrots and duck, among other things. It will be on the tasting menu for the month of June so people can try it and vote on their favourite recipe online.

Last question. I saw you recently in a Harry Rosen ad. Tell me about that.
It was a newspaper ad in The Globe and Mail. It ran for a day in May and also in the Harry Rosen catalogue.

How did that come about?
Harry Rosen did this style/chef series of portraits [called Masters of the Grill]. I knew the other four chefs so we had a good time. Ned Bell [Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver], Antonio Park [Park Restaurant in Montreal], Duncan Ly [Raw Bar in Calgary], and Carl Heinrich [Richmond Station in Toronto]. Harry Rosen flew everyone in to Toronto for the night and then the shoot took 2 or 3 hours.

Are you comfortable with the “celebrity thing”?
I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity! But it’s great to get recognition in Ottawa. The city gets forgotten sometimes, I think.


DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: The Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern



The Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Yes, indeed, there were grumblings.

In late 2012 when news broke that The Whalesbone Oyster House group had bought the 1934 Elmdale Tavern, the bah humbugs about further gentrification of the Hintonburg neighbourhood and the muzzling of live music were loud and clear.

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Lunch at Mellos — still the same, but with better food



Mellos’ Singapore Noodles with tofu — presented like the queen had ordered it. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

The last time I plopped down on a brown vinyl bench at Mellos it was for a Matthew Carmichael pop-up dinner. Before that, it was for bacon and eggs with some son-or-other’s soccer team — the full breakfast works, fabulously greasy, with a bottomless cup of thin black coffee, served with clucky no-nonsense charm by long time waitress (and manager) Leisa Bell (RIP).


Mellos. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

That was ages ago — back when Mellos didn’t serve things like the thing I had for lunch: Singapore Noodles, with tofu, presented like the queen had ordered it. All arranged just so.

Wide rice noodles — still with bite — carrots, daikon, bok choy, cilantro in a coconut-galangal-lime leaf-lemongrass broth with some chilli spirit, logs of fried tofu laid on top with a wedge of lime for some extra zing.

Very nice. I read my book while I slurped and gave silent thanks for the eclectic face of the modern diner, still gnarly, still nostalgic, still serving all sorts, meeting all kinds of needs, but now with better food.


Mellos. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Mellos has always been and continues to be found at 290 Dalhousie Street. It’s open every day from 8am till 9pm, 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights. It has no website. 613-241-1909

CITY BITES INSIDER: Big Rig Brewery’s Lon Ladell set to wow Toronto connoisseurs at Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival 2015


Meet Lon Ladell. He may just be the busiest brewmaster in town, overseeing the opening of Big Rig Brewery’s new restaurant in Gloucester and a second brewing facility in Kanata. But, more importantly, the beer! Always the beer. Ladell recently signed up for the annual “Collaboration Nation” competition at Toronto’s massive Session Craft Beer Festival (June 13). Big Rig has paired up with Exclaim! Magazine to create a signature brew that will compete against a dozen others from top Ontario brewers. The stakes are huge, with the winning collaboration scoring a coveted spot on LCBO shelves. Ottawa Magazine caught up with Ladell a few days before he headed to the festival.


Lon Ladell, brewmaster for Ottawa’s Big Rig Brewery

Why are you so pumped to be collaborating with Exclaim! Magazine?
It means we get to work with people who have a different — and a bigger — reach than the craft breweries. They get to do something cool and interesting, and we get to learn some things from them and open up our beer to new people.

Why Exclaim! Magazine?
We knew we wanted to do Collaboration Nation at the Session Craft Beer Festival, so we started bouncing around ideas of who to work with. Exclaim! came up because music is a huge part of our culture at Big Rig. We’ve always got music cranked when we’re producing. We wanted to work with someone in that scene — someone who works with a diverse range of artists.

How did it come together?
The guys at Exclaim! were into it right away. We chatted with [Exclaim! publisher] Ian Danzig and came up with a loose concept. Then he and a couple of other guys — John Price and Roberto Granados-Ocan — came down from Toronto for the day to Big Rig. We brainstormed the recipe in the morning, then we got right into it — picking the grain, crushing it, and starting the brewing process.

Did the name influence the beer?
Totally! It’s called Exclaim!—An Imperial Beer. With a name like that, it had to be a really big IPA.

What’s it taste like?
It’s a blonde IPA and we added a specialized hop called Nelson Sauvin, which has a really grapy flavor note to it. That was our base. Then we played around with adding cold-steeped coffee from Engine House Coffee.

You added coffee?
It gives it a roasty character. In the end, it’s a really unique beer, but still accessible.

What happens if you win the collaboration competition?
I’m hoping I get a big, shiny medal! But seriously, the beer would get a listing at the LCBO, which would be amazing. It’s a very big prize. As more craft brewers enter the market, it’s harder and harder to get shelf space.

big rig 1

Who are you up against?
I haven’t really studied up on the competition, to be honest. I’m just looking forward to trying all these beers! We do know the only other Ottawa-area brewer in the competition is Beau’s [collaborating with hip hop artist k-os], but the rest of the breweries are Toronto-based.

 How much are you taking?
We’re taking 25 50-L tanks. There’s a big launch party on Thursday, June 11 with Exclaim! Magazine and then everyone at the Session Toronto Craft Beer Festival will be able to sample it on Saturday, June 13 at Yonge-Dundas Square.

So is this an opening foray into the Toronto market?
For sure we want to sell more beer in Toronto! This is an opportunity to say ‘Hey, check us out.’ We recently opened up our new production facility [in Kanata] so we’ve got capacity. We’ve obviously got a strong profile in the 613, so now we’re putting our minds to more promotional events beyond Ottawa to really get our name out there.

beer can isolated on a white background; Shutterstock ID 110513867

Are you comfortable doing the promotional side?
I am. I love the “back of the house side,” which is the brewing, but I also have fun planning the events and looking at ways to make the business grow. I’m a Gemini so I can balance both sides!

You have two regular beers at the LCBO. What’s the latest?
Release the Hounds Black IPA was released in the second week of March. We put it in the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards and it won the gold medal, which is pretty cool considering the quality of craft beer across Canada.

What’s on the agenda right now?
What’s not on the agenda! More beer soon! We just opened our second restaurant in the east end. We’re happily expanding. We already had the brewery on Iris Street and now we’ve opened a second facility [on Schneider Road in Kanata]. This lets us do the larger volumes at the new brewery and use the Iris Street brewery as a “test kitchen,” where we can play and create new, exciting beers.

People might not know they can stop by the Big Rig Brewery facility.
Definitely they can! We’re open 11am to 6pm on weekdays [and noon to 6pm on Saturday] and we have soup and sandwiches brought in from the restaurant on Iris. People can stop in, have some lunch, buy a glass of beer, maybe watch us can. We have new beers on tap all the time. And tours — you can sign up ahead for tours.