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COFFEE BUZZ: New digs and a new chapter for Happy Goat Coffee Company

Henry Assad (L) and Pierre Richard (R) have partnered to meet the demand for Happy Goat coffee

Coffee connoisseur and a self-proclaimed perfectionist Pierre Richard built Happy Goat Coffee from the ground up (pun intended!!). He began roasting top-quality green coffee beans directly from small farms in very small, fiddly batches in his Mechanicsville garage a few years ago.

Coffee lovers flocked to the quirky address for some of the freshest, crisp and clean, utterly complex cups of coffee around. This is the kind of java that creates a cult following and gets people talking like drunken sommeliers — describing coffee’s floral aromas, hints of jasmine, and bittersweet dark chocolate notes.

Happy Goat devotees (including all three Ottawa Magazine food writers) are bucking the trend in home brewing towards single-serve pod coffee makers by embracing and celebrating the craft brewing experience. In large part, we can thank Richard, who has made our coffee addictions easy to feed; bags of freshly roasted beans are available in good food shops around town as well as offering online shopping with free home delivery and subscriptions.

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SHAWNA’S PICKS: Bread & Son’s Hamantaschen — fruit-filled triangular cookies for Purim — or anytime

Have you ever had a hamantaschen? Here's the one to try: marscapone dough with a boozy blueberry filling.

What? You’ve never had a hamantasch? Don’t worry. Until this week, I would’ve said to consider yourself lucky. Purim’s traditional triangular cookies are not what I’d call one of the Jewish culture’s culinary highlights. They often consist of thick, bland dough and a cloyingly sweet gummy fruit filling. It’s the kind of thing you eat purely out of a sense of childhood nostalgia.

Kids get to dress up in costumes for their annual Purim carnival (what one friend calls Jewish Halloween), all part of the retelling of the Peach story featuring a villain named Haman. Joan Nathan, the authority on Jewish food, says Hamantaschen most likely originated in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, just two or three centuries ago.

This year Purim ended on Sunday evening but, due to popular demand, baker Yoav D’vaja, the owner of Bread & Sons, will continue to make his tasty twist on hamantaschen at the bakery. Jewish or not, it seems everyone who tastes them comes back for more. One bite and I could understand why.

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TASTE TEST: Disenchanted, disillusioned, disappointed… by Hintonburger’s breakfast burger

The hard-boiled egg on the breakfast burger was a big disappointment.

Hintonburger, the neighbourhood joint with a loyal following, recently began serving breakfast on weekdays, starting at 6:30 a.m. I decided to check it out.

When I called to see what was on the menu, the guy on the other end of the phone said they offer a breakfast burger in addition to a breakfast sandwich (essentially a BLT with egg and cheese). He said he also had a couple of crepes left and if I wanted one of the breakfast sandwiches he’d have to start cooking some more eggs.

Huh? Is he joking?

Isn’t this the beloved place with the tagline: “fresh, local and handmade”? Surely, the eggs are made-to-order. And a crepe made at 6 a.m. wouldn’t be served at 10, would it? I told the guy I’d be by in about an hour.

When I arrived, I was the only customer in the place. I ordered the breakfast burger — which the menu describes as a 3 oz beef patty on a bun with egg, real Canadian cheese, local maple-smoked bacon, fresh lettuce, and tomato.

When I took the first bite, I discovered not fried egg, not poached egg, not scrambled, but a few slices of  hard-boiled egg. For me, a fresh handmade breakfast sandwich must be made with a freshly-cracked egg. Cold disks of egg are an insult. Then I noticed the bacon seemed flabby: was it re-warmed? The cheese beneath the burger was barely melted, which made me question the freshness of the patty. Why don’t I smell any food cooking on the grill? Was this made in the basement?

I had asked for a cup of coffee but was deterred by what seemed like reluctance on the employee’s part to brew up a fresh pot. I told him to forget it.

Sitting in a booth inside the empty former KFC, looking out the window at the blowing snow, I began to meditate on this term “fresh,” a word that is a used to describe almost everything we eat: the philosophy of every restaurant, every loaf of bread in its cellophane bag, every slippery slice of luncheon meat at the supermarket. Its meaning is lost. Or at least open to vast interpretation. It has become the container into which we place our desires.

At that point, the guy poked his head through the pick-up window and offered me a free cup of coffee. He held up the pot that had presumably been sitting there since the first wave of customers arrived hours earlier and declared: “it’s still hot!”

I took one sip and tossed the bitter brew — and the burger — in the trash.

Cost: Breakfast Burger, $7.50.

Breakfast hours: Monday to Friday 6:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Hintonburger, 1096 Wellington St., 613-724-4676.

 

 

 

RISING STAR: Is Natali Harea Ottawa’s next great bread baker?

The face of Nat's Bread Company is one that is rarely seen. Natali Harea works from midnight until noon, baking breads in the basement of gezellig.

You know you’re talking to a serious baker when their sourdough starter has a name. “Stan” is what baker Natali Harea calls her container of culture that flavours and leavens her dark, super-tangy sourdough loaves.

You might say that Stan is part of the reason that customers are swooning over the bread baskets at a some of the foodiest restaurants, including gezellig, play, and Navarra.

She came up with the name Stan while chatting with her friend and fellow chef, Katie Brown at Beckta Dining & Wine (Harea worked at Beckta for a year and a half before dedicating herself exclusively to bread baking). She had finally tossed out an old sourdough starter that Harea says never properly matured (“I hated it and it died”), but says her new starter has been wonderful and tremendously forgiving. “I don’t even have to feed it and it’s just incredibly reliable.”

The two chefs decided a man like that would be called Stan.

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BE MY VALENTINE: When you think romance, think…Diefenbunker?

Celebrate love 75 feet underground with a delicious nuclear dinner and a love story bridging the 1960s and 1990s.

The folks at the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War history museum, are offering a unique way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Grab your honey and head to Carp for dinner and a movie in the comfort of the Diefenbunker cafeteria!

Katie Balmer, Diefenbunker’s visitor services coordinator, says the atmosphere will be relatively casual, adding “We’re not immune to romance simply because we are a bunker!”

Balmer says tables will be set for 6 (so that those who are arriving as groups can sit together and to allow for a bit of socializing) and decorated to suit the Valentine’s Day theme.

“It certainly isn’t your typical candle-lit romantic evening, but something altogether unique and fun.”

The 3-course dinner will be provided by The Swan at Carp. Guest will be offered appetizers; a choice of chicken roulade, classic pot roast, or a vegetarian pasta; and then a chocolate truffle dessert.

While the cafeteria can accommodate up to 200 people, Balmer says they will be accepting reservations for up to 70 people to keep the atmosphere intimate and ensure everyone can see the movie — A Blast From the Past, starring Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone. It’s a romantic comedy about a naive man who comes out into the world after being in a nuclear fallout shelter for 35 years.

Balmer says the romantic revelers can look forward to some other quirky aspects (as if dinner and a movie in a bunker isn’t quirky enough), such as a photo booth from Flashpoint Photography, and DJ service.

Sounds like a blast!

When: Thursday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple.
 (Diefenbunker members receive a 10% discount)

To reserve, call or email: 613-839-0007; k.balmer@diefenbunker.cawww.diefenbunker.ca

 

IN THE NEWS: Ode to St. Albert’s Cheese after the fire

Great news! The cheese curds will be back.

As I placed a handful of those smooth rubbery nubs—St. Albert’s cheese curds—into my daughter’s lunch box this morning, I realized how ubiquitous that label with the elongated cartoon cow has become in my life.

I confess I have been feeling rather smug since discovering that the blocks of St. Albert’s medium cheddar, a staple in my fridge, is sold at my local drug store for at least a dollar cheaper than I’ve seen it anywhere else. Not much of a bargain-hunter normally, it always gives me a thrill.

But yesterday the gut-wrenching news came about a fire that gutted the St. Albert Cheese Factory in the village of St. Albert southeast of Ottawa. A gasp of grief could be heard across the region and beyond. Its squeaky curds have become synonymous with poutine, and a short-hand for quality for the purveyors who advertise the cheese by name.

I am not the only one who was relieved to hear the reports that the factory will indeed be rebuilt. The factory’s former general manager has even guaranteed that the annual Festival de La Curd held in August — now in its 20th year — will take place as scheduled.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off the drug store to stock up.

Read the full report in the Ottawa Citizen

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SOUP’S ON! Black Cat Bistro test drives its new “Black Cat Luncheonette” Friday take-away lunch — starts today

A luncheonette pop-up at Black Cat Bistro on Fridays. Lunch is a bowl of hot soup and fresh foccaccia: it's what everyone's craving.

Chef Patricia Larkin says she came up with the idea of offering a fun, relaxed take-out lunch from the kitchen of Preston Street’s chic Black Cat Bistro. It starts today at noon. She’ll be selling containers of her braised chicken, vegetable, and rice soup with a hunk of freshly-baked focaccia while quantities last. A batch of chocolate chip cookies will be coming out of the oven in time for lunch as well.

Larkin, who is in charge of the Bistro’s fine dining menu, says she was itching to try something new. “It’s a way to keep me excited,” she says. But it was Richard Urquhart, Black Cat’s owner, who had his heart set on the name “luncheonette.”

Larkin says he’s been talking about it for years — he likes the association with old-fashioned diners where patrons park themselves on stools at the counter. Of course BCB isn’t exactly casual, nor is it known as a place to grab a quick bite, so the new Friday brown bag lunch aims to adopt that spirit.

“It’s a fun place to start,” says Larkin, alluding to the fact that the Black Cat Luncheonette could grow into something bigger. But for now it’s a dead simple endeavor. She’ll put up a big pot of wholesome homemade delicious soup, bake some focaccia and some chocolate chip cookies. If no one shows up, it’ll be a delicious staff meal tonight, she says with a laugh.

Cost: Soup & focaccia $6; Cookie $1; Soft Drinks $1.50.

Hours: Fridays only, noon till 1 p.m.

Black Cat Luncheonette, 428 Preston St., 613-569-9998.

CITY BITES LIVE! Join food editor Shawna Wagman for a unique “sugaring off” themed dinner with chefs from Montreal’s FoodLab

Chef Michelle Marek cutting the cake at FoodLab's first anniversary celebration. Photo credit: Mayssam Samaha, willtravelforfood.com

The Montreal food world has been buzzing since the launch, a year ago, of FoodLab —the experimental playground for food inside Montreal’s SAT (Society for Arts and Technology, a gathering place for digital geeks).

In some ways it is so much more than a restaurant and in some ways it’s not really a restaurant at all. It has been alternately described as a kind of intersection between food and performance; a network of exchange between rurality and urbanity; and a platform for the production, exploration, and sharing of ideas surrounding gastronomy.

What everyone seems to agree upon is that it is the place to go for insanely delicious food in a funky and relaxed environment.

 

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INTRODUCING: The Zydeco Smokehouse, Little Italy’s friendly new take-out sandwich shop

Greg Delair (right) came out of semi-retirement to share his love of meat from the smoker mopped with his own secret BBQ sauce.

Greg Delair likes to think of his new take-out sandwich counter as a food truck without the wheels. Open since December, The Zydeco Smokehouse is simple, crowd-pleasing food, made to order and served up fast, with an emphasis on Southern-inspired barbecue meats that have been left to linger for hours in the smoker.

His slow-cooked fast food is all made from scratch, he says. “The only thing that comes from a package is the potato chips.” He slices up the cabbage for his sweet and crunchy (blessedly mayo-free) coleslaw fresh every morning, saying, “Day-old coleslaw just doesn’t work for me.”

The sandwiches — pulled pork, pulled chicken breast, and Andouille sausage are staples on the winter menu — featuring hickory, maple and apple wood chips, respectively. There’s no deep-fryer, so rather than fries, sandwiches can be ordered with a side of Delair’s smoked Mac & Cheese or his chipotle and molasses baked beans with smoked pork belly. He makes his own version of “poutine” by topping those beans with house smoked bacon, pulled pork, and cheese curds.

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INTRODUCING: The Bootleg Porchetta Company rolls into town

For Mike Nicastro, who heads up the kitchen at Il Negozio Nicastro, the multi-day process of rolling, rubbing, brining, and cooking a giant crispy-skinned porchetta — a traditional Roman roast of pork belly, loin, and shoulder stuffed with aromatic herbs and garlic — is a labour of love.

Until recently, his porchetta was showcased hot from the oven on Friday evenings at Caffe Ventuno, but the Nicastro family recently closed the restaurant to allow for a major expansion of the take-out food shop and traditional coffee bar (more on that story coming to City Bites soon). The succulent porchetta remains a staple at the deli counter at both Il Negozio Nicastro locations (1355 Wellington West and in the Glebe at 792 Bank St).

For the last 3 years Luigi Meliambro — the peppy personality behind Cheezy Luigi’s pizzeria in Chelsea — has been urging his buddy Mike Nicastro to start up a side-business selling his terrific porchetta. At first they envisioned a food truck, but were quickly discouraged by the red tape involved. Instead, they have decided to launch the venture without an address, using their respective kitchens for porchetta production and the moniker “bootleg” to allude to the quirky, fly-by-night, catch-us-if-you-can spirit.

Their idea is to offer three styles of porchetta (ranging from a full suckling pig, to a 30-40 lb roast to a smaller version for home use), sold either cooked or uncooked. They can supply delis or restaurants with porchetta as a wholesale product as well as a showpiece for catering and events (in the same way customers order up platters of oysters from the Whalesbone). The pair of cooks are also imagining serving up juicy porchetta sandwiches at various festivals around town, the same way it’s done all over Italy.

“Mike’s the porchetta man,” says Luigi. “I’m going to learn.”  Chef Nicastro recently returned from a trip to Rome where he went on a porchetta-tasting mission. “You have to get the spices right,” he says “ And the way you cook it makes all the difference.” Mike says he’s also planning to produce porchetta condiments — sweet and sour pickled onion, pickled fennel and homemade mostarda.

Luigi is focused on the marketing side of things. He recently served porchetta to the crowds attending the annual pizza eating contest at Oz Kafe and plans to approach local beer festivals. He says: “This could be the next pulled pork.”

For more information, follow them on twitter or send an email to: bpc.ottawa@gmail.com

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