Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brunch at The Prescott, Preston Street, Ottawa...

Marketing, in whatever form it takes, is very important for any business and especially so for a restaurant -  you need to send the messages regarding Who you are, What you provide, When you will supply 'it' and Where you are so people can find you. When it was suggested that we try The Prescott for brunch this week it wasn't immediately obvious from their web site that they did brunch until you see a small set of text that says, "join us for Sunday brunches". I guess my first bit of advice is add the brunch menu to the web site, maybe they'll get more than just the few tables coming in for some eggs.

The Prescott doesn't set one's expectations high, brunch-wise. It's an old hotel, bar, restaurant, tavern, event room and comedy club type of place - it's well known.

The brunch menu is laminated (!) and has 5 plates on it so at least it's easier to make the choice! The service is friendly and attentive and coffee and tea (included) is served and orders taken. We are an 8 today and found the place not to be very busy, therefore finding a table was a breeze.

All the dishes came with tomato and home fries so let's start there. I think I got almost a whole tomato and on the tomato 'taste-meter' was a 3/10 - but unless you are buying organic heirloom tomatoes, at this time of the year, no one should expect anymore than a 3. The home fries were from a bag of frozen and herbed home-fries and this started a bit of a debate about the difference in getting a real potato, cutting it up and frying those cut potatoes until golden brown as opposed to emptying a bag of frozen processed potato into same fryer. I guess I'm just old fashioned but I can't ever understand why restaurants use the frozen bag instead of the fresh. It should take no time for a competent chef/cook to chop potato and blanch-fry. The taste difference is worlds apart and the cost of the better option is lower on the purchasing side and a bit higher on the time to prep side, they probably equal out. Anyway - I was outvoted as a few of us liked the frozen, over herbed home-fries.
Scrambled and sausages.

Actually from my POV the home-fries was the only negative here and The Prescott actually impressed me quite a bit.

Eggs benedict
My eggs benedict came with a nice piece of ham, not off the bone, still a processed slice, but of reasonable quality and thickness, a decent muffin, some hollandaise (made from a packet mix) but the high-light was the quality, taste and cookedness of the egg. I'll give The Prescott one thing - they can damn well cook an egg! The poached eggs I had were perfectly cooked and the yolks tasted of......egg! 

The sunny-sides and the 'over-easy' eggs were just as well cooked and the scrambled eggs seemed to be ok too. The sausages here looked good, I didn't taste one but they seemed to be devoured with little complaint.

Sausage and eggs
All-in-all The Prescott exceeded expectations and should really 'up' their marketing to let people know about their brunch that they've been doing for 4 years - people will like it. It's not the most imaginative menu but it delivers a very competent plate of breakfast food and if they keep up the high level of egg cooking and maybe peel and chop a real potato instead of the bag of frozen homefries this place could be a busy place to go for brunch on a Sunday. Stoneface Dolly's across the road is always busy and always has a line-up outside the door (one of the reasons we don't go there) - so the market is there for The Prescott to steal.

The place isn't pricey but nor is it a bargain - it sits in the acceptable 'middle' of what a brunch should be - the eggs benedict was $9.99 but that included coffee or tea. Apologies for banging on about this but if the home-fries had been a real cut and fried potato this wouldn't have phased me, as it was the dish was about a $1 overpriced - splitting hairs, I know! 

We recommend The Prescott and it gets 8/10.

Until next week my little safe!

The Drude.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Aaaaah, Fontenelle - we missed you!

When a group embarks on an exploration of brunch it's so easy to get caught up in the $15 plates and $2.50 coffee that ends up with tax and tip costing almost $50 for two people. There is nothing wrong with the $15 brunch plate - as long as it 'delivers' - and there are some fine places in our city to try these brunches, a number we've been to and reviews can be found here on this blog. Fraser Cafe, Todrics, The Courtyard and The Back Lane Cafe to name just a few.

We try to strike a balance of the new, the familiar, the fine and the 'greasy' and this week it was time to revisit an old friend, The Fontenelle Diner on Montreal Road. We've been here before and you can read the original post here.

It's always difficult to write about a familiar regular place but when we all checked our memory it had been at least 6 months since we'd crowded around one of the long tables at the back of the 'Font' - but it seemed like we'd been there more recently.

Mugs of coffee were brought with the usual smile and we were asked if we wanted our 'usual'. Wait a minute! We haven't been here for months - and you remember what we eat - damn right she does and got it pretty much 95% correct.

The food here is good - it's no Fraser Cafe or Back Lane but it's tasty and prepared with skill - there's just no 'flair' and we neither expect nor need any flair - from this establishment we just want good coffee, eggs and bacon and some banter - and that's what we get. Pick your bacon up with fingers and dip it in egg and ketchup - no one cares!

My 'usual' here is the breakfast club with french fries instead of the home fries. I've said this before and I'll say it again - you can forget your local 'chip' wagon - the BEST FRIES IN OTTAWA ARE SERVED HERE! My club is good - a tasty tomato, some cheese, an egg and some bacon and ham - all for $8.45 and that includes never ending coffee! Bargain!

No one has anything out of the ordinary here - most go with some bacon and/or sausage and eggs - some opt for the 'Hungry Man' which has 2 variants - #1 and #2 - which, as you can imagine, has a bit of everything and toast - rye toast if you want it too!

One of the most enjoyable parts of dining at the 'Font' is getting up to leave and paying the bill. Our bill (which is also committed to memory) came to $16 which was 2 plates of food and several mugs of coffee including tax. I am always happy to tip when it's warranted and the $4 change from my $20 bill is eagerly left (25%!!) as a gratuity. The 'added value' that so many establishments try to produce to be able to warrant charging me for one plate (with coffee and tax), what I just paid for breakfast for two including everything, is seldom really worth it - there are a few exceptions. The 'value-add' at the 'Font' is the laid back ambience, the friendly staff, the amazing memory tricks, the consistency of the food, the AMAZING fries and the prices. There lies the paradox - the value-add at the 'Font' isn't charged for and that in and of itself is 'special'.

Go to the Fontenelle - don't expect too much and you'll be rewarded with a great plate of food.

Until next week, be safe.

...and for my Chinese friends - 恭喜发财 


Friday, January 20, 2012

Brunch tips for the weekend in Ottawa...

It occurred to me recently that I do a weekly review of places we (Ottawa Breakfast Club) brunch and maybe it's about time to do the odd 'tip' post based on and collated from these reviews - a service within a service, if you will.

Maybe you are searching for a place to go this weekend and rather than reading every blog post I could help out a little by providing a mini round-up of places you should go to. Of course there are always the Cora's and Denny's of this world and I'm not be-smudging them but they are just not the kind of places we like to go, we tend to lean less towards the chain establishments.

So how is the best way to set this out for you? I think probably we'll have a go at geographically and see how it goes.

Starting off in the DownTown core I would suggest trying the Scone-witch, it's a little small for my hulking frame but the food is very good, especially the off-the-bone ham they served last time we were there. I don't think there was ever a review written but the link will get you to their location. Update: There was a blogpost...  here.

In the Market area there are several places to go but I'd recommend either the Empire Grill or The Courtyard Restaurant. Strangely I've not posted about either of these places due, probably to the fact that I had a bit of an apathy attack last year and didn't post for a while - these places have fallen through that crack, well more like a crevasse! UPDATE: found the  post for the Empire Grill - link changed above. The Empire grill is mid-priced and always good among the usual plates they do a very nice breakfast salad and they sometimes have a breakfast pizza on the list which is good too. The Courtyard is a bit pricier but worth it - it's fine dining and you will probably have to make reservations. For a simple diner brunch there is always Zaks Diner.

Moving out West I'd certainly go for the Back Lane Cafe in Hintonburg - really can not recommend this place enough - you'll have to reserve a table it's not huge. There are three posts on the Back Lane Cafe - I link to just the one here.

Further out West and I'd go for Ralph and Sons in the Crystal Bay area or further out in Bells Corner's you'll find Zola's, both worthy of the drive.

In the South I can really only, so far, recommend Nate's Deli - a resurrection from the Nate's that used to be downtown and very good. Instead of breakfast why not try one of the celeb sandwiches - next time I go there I think that's what I'm doing.

Go East and there are several in the Vanier/Montreal Road area - always good is Todrics and of course our favourite place to date - Fraser Cafe on Springfield which apparently isn't in Vanier at all but as it's north of Beechwood it's in New Edinburgh - wherever it is it's good - need reservations too.

This isn't an exhaustive list by any means - just some pointers off the top of my bald head. Enjoy your eggs!

This Sunday we return to an old favourite for a traditional diner brunch - location secret! Don't want to be signing autographs  - interferes with the egg fest! ;-)

Have a great weekend.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fraser Cafe is brunch awesomeness.....

In my weekly job as recorder of the brunch, blogger critic, whatever this is called, it may surprise you that I do not enjoy reporting bad places or writing any negative comments whatsoever; I still do it, as reporting the exact experience is all part of the service - I just feel bad when I have to do it.

This week I will be entirely loving this blog post and not feeling bad in any way shape or form as we brunched at our newest favourite place in the world (well, Ottawa) - Fraser Cafe on Springfield in Vanier.

Tomato, eggplant and basil soup.
Reservations were made earlier in the week and if you are more than a couple this is a required strategy as this place is busy and a table for 8 would be impossible to get otherwise. We were given a 10.30 table as a group of 10 had previously booked for 12.30 (noon is our preferred brunching time these days) and we were told that we had the table for the 2 hours - plenty of time to do what we need to do.

Fraser Cafe is owned by two brothers who both have a distinguished CV in the restaurant scene and they now run this place which is small yet cozy, trendy and vibrant. The kitchen is mostly open so you can sit close to the kitchen and see your food being made if that is what you like to do. Our table was against a window and the kitchen was mainly blocked by a wall but we all had a good look around and liked what we saw. 

I really like an open kitchen not because I like a 'show' but because it demonstrates that the cook staff have nothing to hide and they are confident that what they do and how they do it is good and safe and clean.
The open kitchen.
The menu changes here and there are specials too - another good sign of fresh ingredients and ongoing imagination in the process of offering different dishes rather than the laminated menu that never changes of so many places. Laminated or shiny expensively printed menu = stay away unless it's a 'greasy spoon' - then it's ok, you sort of know what you've decided to eat and at a 'spoon' that's regular eggs and bacon.

Fraser Cafe is anything but 'regular eggs and bacon' - it's really really good. So let's begin.

Croque monsieur.
Coffee was excellent - charged at $2.25 but unending and dutifully and expertly topped up by Laura, our very competent and lovely waitress. I think we only had to request one refill all morning which is pretty good going for 90 minutes of constant coffee guzzling. I usually have about 3 mugs of coffee at brunch, today i think I had 5! So, top marks for the basics of coffee and the replenishment thereof.

the 'benny'
We all ordered. Someone ordered a soup which is, although apparently very tasty, against new rules of brunch - no starters no desserts! ;-)) Once the soup was eaten or drunk or slurped the food came and all the dishes looked great. Vibrant colours and fresh looking food on a plate that has been well plated and sauced with skill, care and love is always something that brings a smile to my face!! Simple things eh?

The scramble.
First thing you notice apart from the great looking plates is that the portions are good too. So often, as we've 'discussed' before, a place charges $14 for something that really is worth about $8. These dishes are of a very decent size.

Normally I would order something familiar off a menu of a new place just as I would always order a chicken madras at a new Indian restaurant to 'gauge' the food; with a brunch menu it's usually a 'benny' and this was my choice until the specials were announced and then it was 'no contest' - croque monsieur is one of my favourite brunch dishes and as it was a special it 'trumped' the benny. It came with a green salad with rocket (arugular) and what tasted like a butter-milk dressing with a nice chutney and the best home-fries I've had in a very long time; the fries also has a nice 'bravas' style sauce. The actual croque had 3 cheeses including goat's cheese - I have to say it was all very good indeed. The goat's cheese had a nice way of cutting through the more oily cheddar and the other cheese, the name of which escapes me. Good quality ham too. Superb!

Huevos rancheros
The benny which I would have had was excellent too - the sauce was, "out of this world" - if that's not praise enough....

The sausage, with bite taken!
As we went around the table there were no complaints and only expressions of eating great tasting food. The scramble plate came with a sausage patty which I had the chance to taste and it was a magnificent example of a sausage - good density, lots of inion and a nicely balanced cumin and fennel flavour - delicious. 

I can't honestly think of anything that would have made this 90 minute brunch any better; maybe a vomitorium out back (Roman style) so I could have ordered a second breakfast of eggs benedict? Of course, this would contravine another brunch club rule - 'No second breakfast'!

So is Fraser Cafe recommended? You betcha bottom dollar it is - just remember to make reservations!

I am happy to give Fraser Cafe 10/10 and it's not often, if ever, I've given a place full marks. Well done to the Fraser brothers and their staff - outstanding. 

We are off back to the Fontenelle next week for a well earned $5 'spoon' breakfast!

Until next week, my little 'brunchers', be safe!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Hintonburg Public House; premiere 2012.

Our first new year's outing as the Ottawa Breakfast Club finds us at the big table at the back of the recently opened (November 2011) Hintonburg Public House at 1020 Wellington St. West. Some illness kept a couple away but we were a happy six this fine mild winter's Sunday. 

Some of us have been here for dinner pre-christmas so we had some idea of what the place was/is about when it comes to the menu and brunch is not too far removed from the lunch menu with a couple dishes added and some offering an egg as an addition. The additional egg is $2. Now I don't want to go into the whole 'gross profit' debacle - I completely (coming from a catering background) understand that you don't just have to buy the ingredient; you have to cook it, serve it and deal with the mess it makes and pay someone/people to take car of that process all the while thinking about paying the rent and heating and lighting the place. A $2 egg still makes me 'gulp' though!

While we are on the subject of pricing. It's a tricky one for restaurants, as they often think they are adding value via their presentation or their flair or some other USP that they think they have. The problem is that often the customer doesn't see that added value and therefore sees a menu item as over-priced rather than something 'appropriately' priced. Mostly this miss-match is due either to a lack of communication regarding what the added value is or a failure to deliver the added value, whether communicated or not.
Our mason jar chandelier 
The HPH is a trendy affair, using a lot of recycled materials for it's decor - miss-matched tables, chairs and tableware with a lot of interesting lighting using mason jars and the like. It's 'green'. It's 'eco-friendly'. It's rustic. It's actually quite nice too and provides a nice warm ambience to the place. However, warm was not what my feet were after 90 minutes in contact with a concrete floor that was sub zero. 

They have a large 'kitchen-table' at the back that would comfortably seat 8 and maybe 10 and this was the scene for brunch this morning.

Coffee is a flat charge of $2.50 and it's 'never-ending' - good job as my cup was always filled half way which proved for a brunch where I was always looking for a refill; also, the cream and milk are served in jugs - which is great, as opposed to those little plastic capsules, but only if they are filled as, and when, required - brunch is always about the conversation, the stories and the laughter so it's never conducive when we all have to keep asking for coffee and dairy.

The menu changes here quite a lot. We checked online and it had changed from that quite a bit - it grew, for one thing, and there were new items not online, so take what you see on the website as a flavour of the menu not verbatim.

Apart from the 'scramble' plate ($10) most of the brunch items are around the $14/$15 mark and for brunch that's getting to the high end of the price range. My duck hash with a poached egg, toast and jam was $14. The lamb sandwich was $15.
Duck hash with a side of fries w/curry mayo

I have to say that my duck hash was good. The duck was tasty if a little bit light in the mix of potato hash and green onion but I enjoyed it. The poached egg was medium, I wasn't asked how I wanted it cooked so that's ok. I usually expect my poached egg to be soft and have some 'run' to the yoke. I knew portions were never huge here so I also ordered a side of fries with curry mayo ($6). Now this happened before - the fries you get always seem to be the fries one would get at the end of a batch. A lot of small crispy bits and if you like crispy bits - this is the side for you. I don't. The curry mayo was ok.

I tried the lamb sandwich which is the dish I ordered when I was here for dinner last year - this 2012 version tasted better, actually tasted of lamb.

My dish said it came with jam and toast. It didn't. I asked for it. I then got a piece of bread that had not even seen a toaster nor any heat. I asked if the toaster was broken and in hindsight that was probably taken the wrong way but in any case I asked for some toast for my jam and I then got 2 pieces of bread burnt at one end and still un-toasted at the other end. It looked like it had been placed on a griddle pan rather than toasted from a toaster or a grill. Seriously, if you are going to put toast on the menu please be able to actually toast some bread with a measure of competency.

The jam was awful. It was so tarte that I couldn't even determine what fruit it was meant to be made from. It was akin to the terrible home-made cranberry sauce I had from a well known hotel at Christmas.

We hadn't had brunch for a few weeks and we had a lot of catching up to do - thank the lord as if it was just the food it wouldn't have been a happy 90 minutes at all.

I really want to like this place, I certainly support the premise of the place. I just can't be super complementary about the actual food. If you compare, and if you are a local no doubt you already have, this place to the BackLane Cafe who charges about the same for their plates then the HPH is way behind on taste, presentation and portion size. The BackLane is a fine-dining brunch. The HPH is not.

Next week it looks like we'll be trying out the Fraser Cafe in Vanier - another fine dining brunch. Let's hope it is.