Thursday, April 17, 2014

Don't Bank on this Gabriel to Deliver

Gabriel Pizza on UrbanspoonI was looking forward to having a nice slice of pizza today after, for whatever reason, not having pizza for a while.  In Ottawa, I have become accustomed to Gabriel's Pizza and never had a bad experience after visiting or having their pizza delivered.  When eating Gabriel's Pizza the product has always been hot and great tasting.

That was until today.

I arrived downtown Ottawa today at 11:30 A.M. in hopes of beating the end of week lunch rush from the nearby office buildings.  I entered the Gabriel Pizza location at Bank & Somerset (277 Bank Street, Ottawa) to find a more of diner type set up with a bunch of tables with about three customers enjoying their breakfast with an assortment of newspapers and other reading material available.  One waitress was attending them and greeted me as I entered.

I visited the counter to find the heated display case for three pizzas totally empty and turned off.  I inquired with the waitress if I was too early to pick up slice.

The waitress replied that there was no slices ready and none would be made today.

I thanked her and dejectedly left to find other food.

A downtown pizza location in a major city surrounded by offices on a the last day of the work week is bad for business. Most office workers, after enduring the weekly work week, love to go out for bite with coworkers on a the last day of the work week.  Whether it be a regular week with a Friday or a shortened work week on a Thursday, pizza slices should be in demand.  In this regard, Gabriel's fails to deliver.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Roast 'N Me Some Coffee at Roast 'N Brew

Roast 'N Brew Coffee Co. on UrbanspoonMonday I found myself downtown waiting for the Ottawa Public Library to open for 10 A.M. to do a little research.  With a need of a small morning snack, I ventured out along Laurier Avenue west and found a Roast 'N Brew Coffee (234 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa).

I entered to find a modern looking coffee shop within a downtown office building. Behind the counter were a pair of workers waiting for my order as a I reviewed the choice of six different types of muffins before placing my order.

The Order. 1 Banana Muffin and 1 Medium Blend Black Coffee.

The first employee rang up my order and took my cash while the second prepared my muffin and coffee.

After paying I sat down at one of the tables at the front window overlooking Laurier Avenue.

The coffee was a decent medium roast that I find to be better tasting than a Starbucks.  Roast 'N Brew's coffee I find to have a more gourmet taste that has a hint of chocolate if anything.

The muffin was delicious with hints of banana coming through the nice moist texture of the muffin.

Overall, this Roast 'N Brew location is a good spot to find a gourmet tasting coffee with a fresh tasting baked accomplice.  Service is fast and friendly with a clean modern coffee shop feel.  Adding fresh looking desserts, which are also available, this coffee shop can double as a delicious dessert place as well. Not much to not like at this Roast 'N Brew.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Aurora United Church: Look to the Future


I've been struggling over the weekend trying to think of what can be said in support of Aurora United Church following the fire on Friday, April 11th.  

My biggest memory of the church is probably what is most likely to occur,  the powerful support and warmth of not only the people of the church but of Aurora. Aurora United Church is filled with warmth of not only the building, but especially the people who are willing to help out in times of need as well as celebrate with you in good times.   Within the congregation itself there is lots of expertise and "person power" big and small that will show itself over the coming days, weeks and months.  I don't see that changing in the future either.  


Over a hundred years ago, this church rallied from a fire.  Back in the 1870s a fire destroyed the 2nd building on the corner of Yonge & Tyler Streets which probably lead to a similar sadness felt today. Back then, a dream was hatched to build a larger 3rd building with Henry Langley's guidance as architect. This new building would become the central nucleus of today's church with various additions to it from the 1900s, 1970s and 1980s to form the building that we know and love today.  This building became the central home to a major community hub of activity with various people moving through including Scouts, Guides, Rummage Sales, baptisms, weddings, and many more. Even a certain Mike "Smarty Pants" Pearson probably spent much time in that building learning his Roman Numerals while his Dad, Edwin, carefully crafted his sermons for Sundays. Like this group in 1870s, the congregation will rise again and ensure a building respecting the past and looking forward to the future will be built so others like Mike "Lester" Pearson can have a place to enjoy life's events. 


The strength of the congregation I can already tell is building to get things started on the rebuild.  This strength presented itself a couple of years ago at my Mother's funeral.  Back then, my wife Yvonne, remarked after the 1st visitation after leaving Southlake Hospital,  that a lot of people knew my mother.  I chuckled and said, "You ain't seen nothing yet."  Of course Aurora United Church and the surrounding community did show it's caring over the next couple of days as not only the two visitations but the funeral itself was packed with people lending their support to the Suddard family.  I have seen this type of caring before with families at other funerals in the church.  This strength and caring will carry this congregation through this time period of instability and help move forward.


The church is surrounded by the very supportive community of Aurora and it's neighbours in Newmarket, Richmond Hill, King, Stouffville and others.  The fire departments of all 9 municipalities had a hand in ensuring the situation on Friday was being cared for and Aurora was being protected.  Sure King, Richmond Hill, East Gwillimbury, Aurora and Newmarket were on hand at the scene, but Georgina, Vaughan were covering the local fire halls to ensure the safety of the surrounding community.  This community support continues as the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, Aurora Mayor Geoff Dawe, MPP FrankKlees, the school boards and others have come forward to help as they know Aurora United has helped a lot in the past and needs assistance now. I hope the congregation will feel this support again and I know the town's people will be there tomorrow like they have historically through times of fire, flood and great sorrow.


The community also includes the surrounding churches. As Aurora United Church members witnessed personally in Aurora on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there is lots of people and organizations reaching out to help.  The "Trinitys" have obviously put out a helping hand with Trinity Anglican welcoming Aurora United to worship with them this past weekend.  Trinity United has opened their doors for Good Friday service. These churches, plus other friends of faith will extend their hands to help out as I’m sure Aurora United has in the past.


Finally, the most obvious two pieces of the puzzle I'm glad Aurora United has in rebuilding, Rev'ds Andy & Lorraine Comar!  Aurora United Church is quite lucky to have two experienced church ministers who have been around a while, know each other inside and out.  These two are going to have a key part in rebuilding and being part of the team that can point to the new church building as a success after the setbacks of last week. Years later hopefully, over a glass of communion wine, you two and the congregation will be able to toast each other at overcoming this year’s setback and look forward to a bright future. 


A way forward may not be clear right now, but as my Mom used to say, take things one step at a time and things will eventually work out.  I believe the steps will be gradually be revealed and step by step the plan will slowly come together.  During these coming days, months and years, I hope the warmth of the congregation and support of the community will be felt  not only by you, but everyone at Aurora United and the town of Aurora.  I believe Aurora United Church “ain’t seen nothing yet” from this congregation and tomorrow will be better for this church and it's people.  It’s  time to harness the outpouring of support, start the process of taking stock of what can be honoured from the church’s history and move forward to tomorrow and new possibilities.  I’m personally looking forward a few years down the road to Aurora United Church worshipping in its 4th building again at the corner of Yonge & Tyler like the congregation has since 1818.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Loud Place at Big Rig

Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery on UrbanspoonThursday evening I was out with business friends at Big Rig Brewery & Kitchen (2750 Iris Street, Ottawa) which is near the Ikea just off Pinecrest Road.

I arrived at 7 P.M. to find the restaurant's parking lot full of cars and, inside, full of people.  There were three tables reserved with two for our party and 1 for another.  The rest of the bar and restaurant area quickly filled up as the 1st period of the Ottawa Senators vs New Jersey Devils NHL game started.

Even with only 4 people at our table and none at the other two tables further down it was hard to hear a conversation.  This is despite us sitting across the table and next to each other.  Acoustics of this restaurant is terrible and could be rectified with some sound paneling that would absorb some of the sound. Adding the live play by play emanating from the televisions showing the hockey game only made things worse.  Thus, until this issue is fixed, if you wish to have a conversation over beer and food you may want to skip the busy periods.

I sat down with the menu already there.  With reservations, Big Rig places menus at each spot so people arriving can grab their spot, peruse the menu and order with waitress who checks in often.

Our waitress, Ashley, was awesome.  She kept track of everyone's order separately and was willing to refill drinks or take food orders at any time.  At check out my bill was exactly as I had ordered with no mistakes. This was despite the fact there were 12 of us at the restaurant that evening all with separate bills.

Ashley took each order separately carefully writing it down and went around the table.  She eventually got to me and I place my order.

The Order: 1 Big Rig Classic Burger with Swiss Cheese and Sweet Potato Fries with a Big Rig Gold beer.

The food came within 20 minutes of ordering on a consistent basis.   Ashley dropped off my order.

Big Rig Classic Burger with Sweet Potato Fries
The only problem?  Where's the ketchup?  Sure I have a nice mayonnaisey dip for the fries, but how about a little old fashioned ketchup? Not sure why this was not brought to the table.  I asked Ashley and she quickly brought a cup of ketchup, the same size as the mayonnaise, of ketchup to the table.  I guess a squirt bottle isn't good enough for Big Rig and a more upscale ketchup was needed.

The burger, after the ketchup was added, was delectable. A nicely cooked beef baddie with average lettuce, tomato, pickle and other toppings.  

The sweet potato fries were nicely coloured on the outside yet soft and chewy on the inside.  They could have been slightly warmer though, but with that much food preparation going on for a party of 12, some food temperature issues are to be expected.

The Big Rig Gold beer was a smooth golden looking beer similar in colour to a Molson Canadian gold.  Nice smooth taste going down with no aftertaste.  A good smooth drinking beer.

Overall, Big Rig has a great concept of a locally owned brew pub.  Service is good but the prices are slightly higher than normal pubs.  A $14 and change for a burger and fries without an upgrade?  Seems a little high to me.  Add to this it is hard to hear the person next to you speak and it only makes things worse.  But I will score them on excellent service and well prepared food and drink.  Hopefully the pricing and sound issue will be rectified soon. An excellent addition to the Ottawa dining scene with a few issues still to be ironed out.

Monday, April 07, 2014

A Starbucks of Preston Street

Starbucks on UrbanspoonWas in Little Italy today for a seminar at Invest Ottawa but was early, so I looked for some place to fuel up.

I stopped by the Starbucks (349 Preston Street, Ottawa) which is a hope skip and a jump from Invest Ottawa on Aberdeen Street.  

I walked in the main office complex door because I enjoy the revolving door system similar to a 5 year old trying it for the first time and ventured over to the store.

A short line up of three customers ahead of me with two cash registers busy ringing people through.  Added bonus to this service was an additional Barista who gathers the orders and brings it to next available cash.  The whole system worked like clockwork right down to the warm "Good Morning and how can make your day?" million dollar welcome.

The Order: 1 Tall Black Blonde Roast Coffee.

A quick pour of the coffee and a $1.95 later, I was over to the condiment station to find a lid.

The only complaint, was the two stations to add your lid to your cup were not labelled.  I tried down where customers pick up their lattes and Americanos but obviously got the "Grande" lid.  I tried at the other station, as other customers were clearing, and repeated the same thing.  3rd try was a charm and I was out the door.  So a friendly label might be in order for this to reduce wastage and idiot customer frustration.

The coffee was  a perfect blend without too strong or to weak. A nice blend served up by a cheerful barista.

Overall, this Starbucks is in a convenient location to the 6 floor office building also within walking distance of the nearby Invest Ottawa.  With friendly service and corporate approved tasting coffee, this location is definitely the Starbucks of Preston Street.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A First Time at the Palace of Shawarma

Shawarma Palace on UrbanspoonI have a foodie confession to make, today was my first time having the Middle Eastern dish of Shawarma.

With that out of the way, I had to do some research before going on the "trying this new dish to me adventure."  What is Shawarma? And of course, where in Ottawa has the best Shawarma?  and wha

The first part was the easiest, as Wikipedia gave a good description found here.

The Globe & Mail's Queen's Park Columnist Adam Radwanski in July 2013 asked on Twitter about where Ottawa's best Shawarma was located.  Shawarma Palace (464 Rideau Street, Ottawa) came back from the Ottawa Citizen's City Hall Reporter David Reevely and many others.   Over on Urbanspoon, the same thing, a 92% rating.   Seemed like a pretty safe bet.

I ventured out to Shawarma Palace for lunch and arrived at 12:30 P.M. to find the restaurant moderately busy.  There was no line but several customers enjoying their plates of Shawarma.

I walked up to the long counter with various vegetable containers spread out like at a Subway sandwich shop accompanied by three spits of meat slowly turning in the background.  I placed my order with the smiling gentleman behind the counter.

The Order: 1 Beef Shawarma and 1 can of Coke.

He inquired if I would like a sandwich or a meal?

um....I stood there a second dumbfounded.  "Sandwich," I replied hoping this would turn out how I wanted.   I wanted it in a wrap style similar to a pita at Pita Pit.   Sandwich seemed to fit what I wanted.

Out came pita looking bread and the next question came:  "Would you like everything on it?"

"Yes please!" came my enthusiastic reply, not knowing what "everything" meant but was game for the adventure.   After three toppings added, I noticed the container of hot peppers. Would he? Thank goodness he skipped the peppers.  A little taziki here and there, shavings of the beef and a quick wrap and I was good to go.

I walked along Rideau Street to return to downtown.  While walking, I opened up the Shawarma "sandwich" and got a good taste.

The wrap was delicious pita bread that was not too dry but not soggy either.  The wrap was wrapping paper to the delicious composition inside of taziki, beef and loads of fresh tasting vegetables.  The best part was nothing went to waste as the pita was not overstuffed or too gooey.  Just perfection in each bite along with no topping spillage.  

Overall, the Shawarma Palace was a great experience.  At $6.00 and change for a large wrap filled with delicious goodness and a can of pop it is also economical.  The only downfall is the decent walk from downtown along Rideau Street.  This area is an up and coming area but still shows, around the edges, it seedy side with run down buildings and the odd interesting character. But the Shawarma Palace shines as a beaken of hope for not only the area but for good food.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

York Region's Failure to Communicate Unsafe Dining Conditions


If you were to see the above 8 1/2" x 11" notice fully completed, dated and signed by  the Region of York's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Karim Kurji, in a restaurant window in York Region would you believe it is duly inspected and nothing was found?   In most cases you would be right, but in one significant case, as Christopher Watts posted, you would be wrong.

Chris found that Aurora restaurant, Aw Shucks!, had a shiny new Region of York inspection notice proudly displayed in the front window with a March 20th date of inspection.  Yet, in a press release the Region of York outlines list of at 7 issues the Region's Health Inspector found at Aw Shucks that day and noted the restauraunt " fail[ed] to keep facility sanitary".  The press release was picked up and reported on by Metroland's Aurora Banner which also mentioned several other restaurants as well.

So why the discrepancy? I took to Twitter to ask the Region of York for answer:
The Region responded with:

That of course didn't sit well with me.  Aw Shucks, according to the Region's own health inspection reports, was a repeat offender with numerous lists of issues dating back sometime:

March 20, 2014 - 7 issues.

October 23, 2013 - 3 issues

June 3, 2013 - 0 issues

May 31, 2013 - 4 issues

December 11, 2012 - 1 issue

December 3, 2012 - 3 issues

April 13, 2012 - 3 issues

April 11, 2012 - 11 issues.

And yet during this entire time, not a word from the Region of York or news in the news media that health inspections were finding issues throughout these inspections.  Even the Region of York was handing out the Green "Pass" notices similar to the one pictured above.

I asked another question to the Region's Twitter Account:

And received the following response:
Obviously the Region wanted to bury this embarrassing situation by having me call the 1-800 listed and speak to a media relations person who would give the traditional corporate marketing flap the Region Communications Department has approved to hand out.

I called them on the "one infraction" they claimed in their tweet:
A list of 7 issues were listed!  I'm still trying to figure out how this is reduced to "1 infraction".

After I made the point that hopefully a new Regional Council to be elected in the fall of 2014 might want to rectify this embarrassing situation, Christopher Watts on Twitter joined in  to further clarify the issue with the Region:
and...
The Region responded....
Christopher and I pointed out in the following tweets that any prospective customer walking by a restaurant was highly unlikely to visit Yorksafe.ca to see the health report.  In fact, Yorksafe.ca is currently an inactive domain name and the Region's health inspections can be found at Yorksafe.com.  

Most customers would assume that a duly posted sign showing "Pass" with the Region of York's Medical Officer of Health's signature certifying the restaurant had been duly inspected and found to have passed inspection would be safe to eat at.

Christopher and I pointed out Toronto, Durham Region, Hamilton, and other jurisdictions use more than a pass or fail notice system to show results of restaurant health inspections.  The Region failed to respond.

Since then it is quite interesting that original Region of York's Official Press Release has dissapeared from their website entirely.  As well the York's search function from it's main page doesn't show any results when the words "Ah Shucks" is entered.  One has to dig into the Restaurant inspection section to find the results.  Even then, the Region's York Safe search function has a searchable map that does not load properly after search terms are entered when using the world's most popular web browser, Google Chrome.

The Region of York seems to be only interested in burying negative restaurant inspections deep in the unsearchable bowels of their website and not let the public know, unless absolutely necessary, of any health code violations found by their own salaried health inspector.   In fact, the Region Communications Department will even go as far as removing the original press release after a couple of days online in order to ensure any health infractions are kept quiet.   With the Region's Communications Department, only good news can be espoused while the bad news needs to be quickly buried or, ieven better, removed from the website.  You can sure bet if Regional Council had not have passed the by-law requiring health reports be posted online, the Region's Communications team would have said "Ah Shucks!" and pulled down any inspection that resulted in an infraction faster than that March 24th press release.

To that, diners, residents, taxpayers and voters should say to York Region Council: "Ah Yucks! its time to fix this or say sayonara in the 2014 municipal election!"

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