Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ottawa, Oozing with Good Taste

There’s a culinary movement happening in Ottawa and it’s not where you’d expect. Inventive artisan food business are springing up the likes of Pascals All-Natural Ice Cream that I found at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market; Stone Soup Foodworks is a food truck you’ll find on the street serving up amazing soups; making celebrities out of farmers is the Michael’s Dolce line of jams – there’s even a Peach & Cardamom Jam made with Torrie Warners (Beamsville) fresh peaches; The Piggy Market specializes in delicious charcuterie and meats using every part of the pig and; The Red Apron.

Two ladies Jennifer Heagle and Jo-Ann Laverty had a lot in common when they sat next to each other on the bleechers to watch their sons play sports - food! Both passionate foodies, these ladies now run a unique food business called The Red Apron ( on Gladstone Ave in Ottawa.

It all started out by wanting to help friends and family with fresh, wholesome meals so they could spend the time communing around the dinner table at the end of a busy day.

In the 5-short years they have moved 3 times, each time growing into larger facilities. Now, they're in an open, state of the art kitchen facility with a retail storefront that fills with irresistible savory aromas that make their customers swoon. So welcomed is their concept of home cooked, comfort food meals that their sales have tripled in their new location.

The menus are seasonal and their ingredients are made from local and organic ingredients. They buy beef from Fitsroy Farm, Berkshire pork from Perth Pork Products, chicken from the Eastern Townships of Quebec, trout from a neighborhood trout farm and fresh organic produce from 5 different local suppliers like the Vegetable Patch. They're urban gardeners that manage 12 gardens in the city. One third of the harvest goes to the homeowner for letting them use their land and the rest is sold to eager customers – another unique food business.

As much as the girls love to play in the kitchen with new recipes and different flavour combinations, their customers often insist on their favourites. The Mid Week Dinner club is the full meal delivery program that runs from Tuesdays to Thursdays and they definitely hear from their customers if Braised Beef Shepherds Pie with 2 Year Old Raw Milk Quebec Cheddar is not delivered on Tuesday or if Thursdays meal is anything but Pulled Berkshire Pork with Organic Macaroni & Cheese. Over all 20 different dishes are made each week and sold either through their Mid Week Dinner Club, the Savvy Single Service or through the retail store.

"It's just as easy to make a dinner for 20 as it is for 2, just scale it up" says Jo-Ann who in a single day actually feeds 500 people – that’s more than any chef in a fancy restaurant.

So who buys upscale comfort foods that ooze with flavour? It seems almost everyone from empty nesters to career professionals, single people, pregnant women and superwomen who try to do it all, people who are convalescing and the elderly. I know if The Red Apron were closer to my home, I’d be right there enhancing my week day meals not only because it saves my cooking time in the kitchen but it would take me weeks to source all those amazing local ingredients. It seems that Ottawa is brimming with good taste these days.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My $92 Breakfast

It started out as any other casual summer weekend away. Jon and I were in cottage country, we love Muskoka. I love to shop in the upscale shops in Port Carling, stroll the quaint and beautiful little village of Bala, Huntsville is home of the Deerhurst Resort (my favourite) and Bracebridge is a great food town.

On the main street of Bracebridge is a small, very unique eatery called Marty's. The 'cottage-style' eclectic decor immediately welcomes and pampers. I say pampers because one look at the pastry counter and you know you're somewhere decadently special. Giant pies made of light butter rich pastry, super deep and loaded with glistening, luscious fruit. The lattice strips are, like the pie, super thick. I've never seen pies so seductive and exciting they make you want to do an immediate face plant.

Below the pies is a shelf loaded with over sized butter tarts. Inside the buttery soft pastry is a light brown filling that doesn't at all look sicky-sweet, but curiously sexy. I looked at the few tables with customers seated sipping on mugs of coffee and most had small plates of pastry with an oozing light brown filling puddling around the pastry like gravy dripping around mashed potatoes - they were all indulging on butter tarts.

It's easy to read this place - the owner is obviously obsessed with making great food, over-the-top better. So, who is Marty?

Marty Curtis ( is described by chef Micheal Smith as the "Michelangelo of butter tarts". He Won the Toronto Star best butter tart competition and people began flocking to his cafe - butter tart fanatics from around the world keep coming to Marty’s.

So there we were, hungry for breakfast and the breakfast place two doors away had a line up out the door. So our choice was to drive to the outskirts of Bracebridge or indulge at Marty's - we choose the latter.

Towering over his small workspace was Marty. I’m guessing - 6 foot 8 inches tall; a big, intimidating man in love with his pastry. Marty says, “if you’re making pastry for butter tarts, go big! If you’re making pastry for pies, go big ass!” It made sense with what we were seeing and the intimidating part – well, it was fleeting.

Marty’s doesn't serve breakfast but the chicken wraps were calling to us. We sat down and Marty brought over our wraps with a side salad. It was wonderful! Ordinary, sensible food made extraordinary with superb quality ingredients. Succulent chicken, fresh, ripe juicy tomatoes fresh from the field, cool crisp cucumbers and a savory flavor created with a feather light sauce.

We sipped on our cafe au latte and leafed through Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap Books, ISBN 978-1-55285-9-292, $29.95). Then our desserts arrived. One beautiful butter tart and one slice of giant cherry pie. The butter tart was super light and buttery with a lusciousness that luxuriated across the palate in an angelic sort of way, yet it was sinfully delicious!

A short while later we went to the counter to pay and I lingered to read the notes written to Marty by celebrities on photographs hanging on the walls. There were Marty’s special ultra deep pie plates for sale along with stacks and stacks of Marty’s cookbooks.

That's when I heard trouble. "I'll give you a receipt so you can write this off", said Marty to Jon. Who says that when you're paying for breakfast I thought? How much of a write-off did I just eat?

Jon and I left the restaurant without saying a word, but half way across the street I couldn't stand it any longer and I asked the question I really didn't want to hear the answer to - $92!!!

Ok, so I bought Marty's cookbook; deduct that. Now I know what you're asking - was it worth it? Well, the place is certainly excitingly unique and authentic, the food, while sensible, is extraordinarily delicious and unbelievably sexy, hmmmm.

The best breakfast I’ve ever had in my life was in Miami. Jon and I were staying at the amazing Viceroy Hotel and the restaurant was run by none other than Michael Psilakis – one of the worlds top chefs. Our breakfast was amazingly delicious and exciting. It was a bargain price of $55 for the 2 of us. It’s one of those meals we all have to have before we die and the fact it was breakfast just blows me away.

Yes, Marty's will be one of those delicious memories filed away with the handful of other over-the-top food experiences. I’ll recommend it to everyone, but with a warning that you don't do what we did and order with complete abandon. The best plan is a coffee and butter tart and it will be less than $10.