Thursday, 3 October 2013

Food Crawl {A 50th Birthday Surprise}

Surprises, particularly birthday surprises are wonderful. I like to be caught off guard with special gifts, but planning the unexpected is really where I get my kicks! Birthdays, holidays, Tuesdays; I really enjoy celebrating the big and small life events with surprises.

On September 27th, 2013 my mom turned 50! Half a century old, is not just a little feat! For months, my dad and I had been scheming to plan something special for her. We concocted a gift that would encompass all of her favorite things: adventure, new experiences, food and drinks. We decided on a food crawl!

Essentially, I was tasked my by dad to choose 3-5 restaurants that I thought she would like and we would go to each and order a drink and a couple plates to share. And since it was a 50th birthday present, money in this case, would be no object! I was in my glory!

The restaurants were chosen, my parents were in Ottawa, the weather was perfect. We were ready to go. I even prepared an Ottawa Foodie Passport for my mom - a small booklet, where she could record the restaurants visited and what was ordered - which she loved!

My wonderful mum with her Ottawa Foodie Passport, sitting at the bar
at Town enjoying her drink, in front of the iconic octopus painting. I hope I look this amazing at 50!

We ended up going to 4 restaurants, but not necessarily the ones I had originally chosen. The problem (although not really a problem) was that it was a gorgeous Friday night and we didn't make reservations since we wanted to leisurely go from location to location.

Here are the restaurants that we did go to, and what we ordered:


Our first stop was Town. The restaurant was bustling, but still inviting with a warm atmosphere and a buzz of Friday night conversations between couples and friends. I was greeted at the door with a smile and was informed that they were completely booked up for the evening, but there was room at the bar to sit. We jumped on the opportunity!

As a first stop on what would be a rather gluttonous evening, we decided on something lighter. We each ordered a drink:

  • Vanilla porter
  • Helmut
  • Grapefruit fizz

The drinks were lovingly crafted right in front of us and when we asked any questions, the bar tender was happy to give some insight!

For food we ordered the 3 cheese plate and had:

  • Grey Owl from Quebec
  • Highland Blue from Ontario
  • Taleggio from Italy 

Being cheese lovers, all 3 were excellent cheeses and the accoutrements served with the cheeses including apple chutney, local honey, bread crisps and spiced nuts were outstanding. The favorite cheese of the three, however, by far, was the High Blue - creamy, velvety, tart.

Oz Cafe

We arrived at Oz Cafe, off to the side of Elgin St, down the stairs, and were saw what looked to be a full restaurant. Luckily, it was such a beautiful night, the patio was open and available to sit at. The cheese plate was fabulous at Town, but by this time with some walking and a drink under our belts we were developing an appetite. We decided on ordering something more substantial to share. Since the food at Oz Cafe has a Asian inspiration to it, we decided to drink a Sapporo - light, crisp and satisfying. For food we ordered:

  • Smoked trout sashimi
  • Edamame
  • Corn on the cob

When we ordered the food, the waiter told us that it might be a little bit of a wait because the kitchen was so busy. But we ordered and were served within about 20 minutes, so no complaints there! The smoked trout was light, delicate and had the perfect hint of jalapeno kick. The edamame were the best I have ever had; buttery, salty and totally addictive. Finally, the corn. For my family, corn on the cob holds a special place in our hearts as being a summer barbecue essential, fresh picked from my grandparents garden. The corn at Oz Cafe is something extraordinary. As my dad put it, "It tastes like steak!". The char grilled taste and salty, spicy peanut crumble on top, made it the favorite dish of the whole evening!

Johnny Farina's

This is the part in the evening that took a bit of a turn. We had planned to pop across the street from Oz Cafe over to El Camino for some tacos and tequila (my mom's favorite). Unfortunately, on our arrival, and because of the nature of our food crawl not allowing us to make reservations, we were confronted with a one and half hour wait. We have heard such amazing reviews, we were disappointed, but it will be a place to try another time! Thinking ahead, we called to the next restaurant and made a reservation. It was still another hour away, so we strolled down Elgin St. and popped into Johnny Farina's for a drink and an appetizer.

Johnny's (as my former co-workers loving called it) is a decent restaurant, with good food, great service (in my experience) and even a lunch counter (to get good food on the go)! It is a place where I used to have lunch about once per week and holds a special place in my busy former life.

We ordered a few beers and a dry gin martini (with an olive) for my mom. We also ordered the calamari to snack on while we enjoyed our drinks and caught some baseball highlights on television. Cannot say enough about their calamari. Super delicious and huge portion for the price! Definitely the perfect accompaniment for a tall, cold glass of Kichessippi beer!

 Union 613

Our last stop of the evening was Union 613. Admittedly, I had only been once before, to their basement speakeasy and was just dying to try their southern inspired food. The restaurant for 11:00 pm was at a low rumbled of people laughing and talking over their delicious smelling food and drinks. The dark and dim atmosphere is so inviting. We all especially loved the lighting in the restaurant. I have to get some of those recycle bottle chandeliers!

We were seated at one of the common tables in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. My dad sat on the end and was fascinated the whole time, peaking into the plating station, watching all of the food go from kitchen to tables. We discussed our food and drink options at length while gorging ourselves on the briny, boiled peanuts served (which, by the way, are just beyond addictive). The service from start to finish was impeccable! To drink we ordered:

  • Bourbon lemonade
  • Apple pie
  • 2 bourbons to taste (after dinner)

The lemonade was really great and super refreshing, but the apple pie drink was, in my opinion, one of the best drinks I have tasted. There isn't much to it, and there isn't much to say except that it tastes like apple pie, but it is heaven served in a little mason jar! My parents, after dinner, also tasted two bourbons recommended by our very knowledgeable waiter. Both were enjoyed!

For food we decided to order three things off their late night menu:

  • Yard bird
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Shrimp and grits

We cannot say enough about how great the food was. The fried green tomatoes were perfect; fresh, salty, cheesy and spicy. The fried chicken was so moist and satisfying. And the shrimp and grits was just perfection. The grits actually tastes like mac and cheese, which is pretty darn yummy in my books!

After Union 613 our bellies were so full, we almost couldn't move. The food crawl birthday present was a resounding success!


This is a great idea to do with a bunch of friends and allows you to try a bunch of different dishes at a number of restaurants without breaking the bank! Sharing is key here and it makes the evening even more fun! I am already planning my next food crawl adventure!

Happy 50th birthday to my mom! I hope you have 50+ years more of adventures!

-Tina (Turnip)

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