The Manx Pub, Ottawa

Welcome back and hope you’re enjoying my series on Ontario Beers and where to drink them when you find yourself in the nations capital. Today, I would like to pay homage to one of my most favorite pubs (in part because of their many, many taps). As the title line suggests, I am referring to The Manx Pub, located at the cozy intersection of Elgin Street and Frank, right next to that venerable institution, the Elgin Street Diner!

I was first introduced to this pub back in the early 2000’s. I was told in advance that it was good, that it was popular, and I immediately saw why. As soon as you walk in to this basement-level pub, you are hit with a warm, cozy feeling that is augmented by the decor. In addition, they also have artwork and photographs on the walls, showcasing the work of independent artists. I tell ya, it’s like a cross between an updated Tudor-era pub and a Bohemian artists wet dream!

But what I liked especially was the friendly atmosphere and the many taps they boasted. Not only that, but if you were a regular in the old days, they’d let you bring in a mug of your own, hang it behind the bar, and you serve you out of it whenever you came in. Mine was an Alexander Keith’s porcelain mug, and it hung there for a little over two years (since renovating, they had to discontinue this trend, but hopefully they’ll pick it up again soon).

In 2004, when I moved into an apartment just up the road, I made the Manx my go-to place for dinner and drinks. Many an evening I would spend their with friends, my writing note-book, or just a stack of papers that needed marking. Since moving to BC, I make it a point to go back there anytime I’m in town. My wife and friends became easy converts to the place, seduced by the atmosphere, food, and great beer!

The Great Beer:
Of their taps, the following names have typically enjoyed a home there.
McAuslan Brewery: the St. Amboise Pale Ale and Oatmeal Stout have had a home at the Manx for as long as I can remember. Good thing too!
Churchkey Brewery: Another popular customer at the Manx, particularly their Northumberland Ale. However, others seem to be making it into the lineup all the time.
Scotch-Irish Brewery: An old favorite that I keep returning to, and one the Manx has been known to rotate in every now and then.
Niagara Brewery: I can recall many occasions when Niagara was on tap, particularly the Gritstone or the Olde Jack.
Creemore Springs: the lager is available year-round and the Urbock is brought out during the winter season. Every winter, I’m sure to get on that!

The Food:
In addition to all that, I’ve found that they make the best burger in town! Competition on that front has been intense since our most recent visit, especially since the burger joint known as Hindengburger set up shop! Nevertheless, my feelings on this issue stand!

One can always find their daily burger creation listed on the specials board. Everyday there’s something new and creative, but the core principle always revolves around a burger with a hand-made patty of thick beef, a toasted kaiser, and the usual fresh fixings. Not to mention the potato-wedge fries with garlic aioli, which is frankly to die for! The most recent special (which we enjoyed during our visit) featured a Kim Chi twist (Korean pickled/spiced cabbage). I can also remember one incarnation from years back that involved Brie cheese. Others involved shaved beets, cucumber, white cheddar, back bacon… the list goes on!

Aside from that, their special board always includes a Naan pizza (always different), soup, pasta and a main dish which are often vegetarian, but which will sometimes feature steak, ribs, or duck. Portabello mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, and different types of cheese will usually make it into the mix as well. And their regular menu is definitely worth checking out as well. Since it keeps changing and I tend to visit only once every few years, I cannot attest to the contents with any real accuracy. But always the ingredients are fresh, the combinations creative, and the result well worth the price. Word around the campfire is that they do a fantastic brunch too!

The Atmosphere:
When one walks into the bar, one is immediately struck by the old-world feel of the place. Whether it is the dark wood tables, beams, and bar, the warm lighting, or the stucco walls, one can help but think they are in a Victorian or even Tudor-era pub (updated for the current century obviously). In addition to that, adding to the creature comfort factor, are the plush red velvet booths and couches and copper-skinned tables. Where else but on Elgin street could someone find such a place, I often wonder. Ecclectic and artistic, traditional yet trendy-modern. With friendly staff, great beer and good eats to accompany, its little wonder why the place is always packed.

This latter aspect is something that can be a bit uncomfortable about the place. It’s size and popularity lend themselves to a packed a tight mentality. What one person finds cozy, another might find claustrophobic. Live music is often featured, but again, space is not at a premium which means noise levels can get a bit oppressive too. In addition, the food can be pricey as well. Still, once you get your seat and have your meal, you’ll feel that your time and money were well spent!

My thanks to the Manx staff for having us back again this trip! To my fellow Beer Snobs, I say to you that if you find yourself in Ottawa and are looking for good taps and a quality establishment, get yourself a table at this here place. Come early or call ahead, as the place tends to fill up quickly during the dinner and drinking hours! Cheers and keep on tilting!

Mill Street Brewpub, Ottawa

Several months back, a good friend of mine wrote to me here in BC and told me that I should come to Ottawa to check out the recent expansions in the beer market. Of particular interest to him was the Mill Street Brewpub, a new branch of the Toronto-based microbrewery that had opened up in Ottawa. After a quick check, I confirmed that this was in fact the brewery that made one of my favorite Ontario beers (the Tank House Pale Ale) and decided I would drop in next chance I got. And, as promised, when Carla and I visited Ottawa recently, we were sure to drop in.

Quite the experience, let me tell you. Having just come from Hull Quebec to attend Winterlude’s Winter Beer and Ice Wine event, we were already full of good cheer. And after a walk across the Portage Bridge to get back to Ottawa, we were also quite cold and in need of some warmth. So you can imagine how good we felt when we walked into the brewpub, located just up the road from the bridge, and saw hundreds of people looking pleased and even more sample glasses in wooden trays being carried around.

Things began as expected, we were told we’d have to wait… for forty-five minutes. We initially expressed some disappointment, until the hostess told us that that was down from the three hours others had to contend with earlier. “Okay!” we said, took a pager, and grabbed a seat at the bar. Some nice people were just vacating their seats, and in the process, we got to see the multi-hued array of beers they had ordered, and a plate of pulled-pork nachos. Our anticipation grew! Ten minutes later, our pager began to vibrate and they seated us in the section overlooking the Ottawa River. The night got progressively better from there…

The Atmosphere:
Before I get to the lovely dinner and samples we enjoyed, I would like to note the surroundings, as it brought back some curious memories. Located in a former grist mill at LeBreton Flats that overlooks the Ottawa River, and within walking distance from the Canadian War Museum, this 140 year old stone building has served as a restaurant for some years. In fact, I can recall eating there once as a boy, though I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called back then. Nevertheless, the good people at the Mill St. operation chose well when buying up this building. Combining heritage and modern comforts, the restaurant is just all-around festive and cozy! In addition to its stone walls, wooden tables and floors, one gets an eyeful of the brewing apparatus the moment they walk in (sealed behind plate glass of course). I was immediately reminded of the Pike Place brewpub in Seattle, another fine operation!

The Beer!:
Okay, down to business! I should note that though demand was high, my heroic server (who’s name I can’t remember, though I do seem to remember dark hair, a quick smile and a Van Dyke beard) was able to score me the final wooden sample tray and some glasses. They were plastic, but at this point, that didn’t matter. Thank to his efforts, I was able to try a full array of the their taps. Kudos to you, dear sir. May your barley be plentiful and your hops bitter and fragrant!

Tank House Ale: This pale ale is one beer I was on good terms with even before I set foot in the restaurant. Having sampled it years ago while visiting my good friends (Hi Chi! Hi Christina!) in Toronto, it was also the beer I drank on my last visit with both of them before packing up and moving to the West Coast. And my reasons for liking it remain. Hoppy, refreshing and with a citrusy nose, the Tank House has a nice dry start and a lingering finish that calls to mind all that is great about a pale ale. Though I have been known to love many a pale ale, this one ranks among my favorites, comparable only to St. Amboise and (more recently) Hoyne’s Down Easy. 5/5

Portage Ale: This beer was an interesting diversion from the hoppy Tank House, and whose name I found irresistible since a good chunk of my childhood was spent camping and portaging! A lighter cream ale that is at once crisp, light in hue and in terms of hops, its subtle flavor and clean finish were a good accompaniment to my hot wings (more on that later!). Using pale malts and a combination of hops, this beer is reminiscent of lager, a definite go-to for those looking for a pleasant and easy-drinking experience. 3.75/5

Valley Irish: No beer lineup is complete without an Irish Ale, I always say! Done in the traditional Irish-style, this beer combines a creamy, tawny taste with a clean finish that calls to mind such British classics as Boddingtons and Kilkenny, though I honestly preferred this one to either of those. In addition to being better tasting, in my humble opinion, it is also made in honor of the Ottawa valley and honors its proud heritage! 3.75/5

Cobblestone Stout: Next up was their stout, which any beer snob will tell you is an indispensable part of any sample lineup! The Cobblestone is not to be confused with their Coffee Porter however, another fine beer that I’ve had on several other occasions. And in both cases, I was quite pleased. Much like the porter, this beer is smooth, highly tawny on the palate and boasts rich coffee notes which linger long after you sip it down (Do not gulp! You cannot appreciate it if you gulp!). 4/5

Helles Bock: And last, but certainly not least, was their bock lager (word of advice: Always save a bock for last, as its the most likely to compliment dessert-fare). Translated from German, Helles refers to the pale color of the lager, which I would describe as a light amber hue. In addition, the bock has a strong malty taste flavor that boasts traces of citrus which is balanced out by a discernible hop finish. Dry, smooth, but not too sweet, this beer is a good accompaniment to either the main course or desserts. 3.75/5

The Food:
As a final note, I would like to mention what we had to eat, as it would seem unfair to mention everything else and not include the food. Though we could hardly sample everything on the menu, Carla and I were pretty impressed by what we saw. As I mentioned earlier, this brewpub boasts some pulled-pork items which are sure to tantalize the glutton in all of us. And the restaurant also comes highly recommended for their Wild Boar Ragu, which I will definitely be trying next time we’re in the area! However, they’re also pretty good at pub fare and comfort food, as my wife and I quickly learned. Here’s what we had:

Wings: As is customary for me, I went with the wings for my first visit. No good pub can pass the bar if they can’t make a good wing, I always say. So it pleases to me to say that Mill St. is in fact a damn good pub! Their hot wings were nice and meaty but not overly breaded, which is a pitfall for many pubs who try to pass off emaciated wings by smothering them in batter. The hot sauce was also a surprise, being multi-layered in addition to real spicey, which is a step up from places that’ll give you Frank’s Red Hot and nothing more. Good job, Mill St! You passed the wing’s test! 4/5

Spinach Salad: Another favorite of mine, the perfect accompaniment to any plate of wings. And ’round here, they do it up fancy! In addition to goat’s cheese, candied walnuts and dried cranberries, their salad boasts red and heirloom beats; which though I never been a big fan of, I certainly appreciated. The artistic appeal alone was well worth the price of admission, but the health benefits pay for themselves! The dressing was also nice and light, composed of their own Frambozen beer and a balsamic vinaigrette. Num! 4/5

Chicken Pot Pie: Here’s where the comfort comes in! Flaky, delightful pastry, chicken, peas and mashed potatoes make up this lovely meal, which is then covered in a light chicken gravy. At once tender, juicy, and even a little smoky-flavored, Carla was a happy girl with this as her dinner. It was accompanied by some creamy Yukon Gold spuds that just expanded on the comfort factor. Though it was Carla’s dish, I was delighted to pick at it! 5/5

I guess it goes without saying that this was a highly enjoyable experience, and one which we intend to repeat. I strongly recommend that anyone who is fortunate enough to live in the Ottawa area year-round (as opposed to those of us who have to fly in!) get out to this place and try the fare and beer ASAP. I also recommend that they call ahead and reserve since the place is already popular and sure to be packed on any given weekend. Also, if you got time, check out the links below for the restaurant and their original Toronto location. Their beer to easily found at just about LCBO in the province 😉