Tag Archives: wood fire oven

Tennessy Willems: an unlikely haven for pizza lovers in Ottawa

16 Sep

On its face, Tennessy Willems sounds as much like a pizza joint as Toronto’s House of Chan sounds like a great steakhouse. I must admit that I judged this book by its cover and, still fresh off the boat (from Toronto), I had not yet overcome my Toronto food > Ottawa food complex. I mean, what bureaucrat worth his staunch commitment to mediocrity would really want top quality pizza? I was ultimately proven wrong, and thankfully so, since I’ve just moved back to the city of ill-fitting suits and soul-crushing winters. Tennessy Willems will henceforth be my go-to spot for pizza in Ottawa.

Once I sat down at the bar, I was faced with a menu replete with temptations of the insert-name-of-animal confit kind. I exercised remarkable self-control and ordered the margherita. After all, the truest test of any restaurant is its most basic dish, and a pizzeria with a middling margherita is like a brewpub with boring beer – utterly useless. The crust was arguably the star of the show – chewy in the classic Neapolitan tradition – and the sauce was loaded with fresh flavour and just the right amount of sweetness and heat. The latter was in perfect harmony with the copious amounts of aromatic basil leaves. The cheese was perfectly melted, but seemed pedestrian compared to the bursting flavour of the rest of the ingredients.

I must confess that I cheated by adding bacon, but this was after much pressure from my friend who was raving about it. I was not disappointed. The bacon was like meat candy in my mouth – huge chunks of well-cooked, lean, sweet-salty glory. This was not your store-bought, paper-thin, tasteless protein.

No great restaurant experience is complete without solid service. By that, I mean a snarky server who possesses equal parts sarcasm and skill. Sitting at the bar is the best idea at Tennessy Willems, because the bartender – and likely manager/owner – is the poster child for my vision of the perfect server. His sardonic running commentary about life in general was matched only by his cool, collected demeanour in the face of a busy dining room and glassware that seemed to want nothing more than to crash to the ground. His ridiculously hipster-practical glasses with built-in lights added a measure of quirkiness to the whole package.

I will certainly return to Tennessy Willems when I’m in need of a reminder that Ottawa does manage to keep concealed some true culinary gems. Tennessy Willems takes pizza (and sarcasm) seriously, and executes both largely without compromise.

3.59 brown thumbs up. I would give some sort of score for the service, but I haven’t bothered to dream up a rating scale for good service. Deal with it.

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The YYZ Top Three(s) at The Delicious Food Show

30 Oct
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Delicious Food Show, 2013 (Exhibitor Floor)

YYZ attended The Delicious Food Show on Friday and Saturday and we’ve each rounded up our top three vendors/features/moments from the weekend:

Friday

Cherry When I told my Mom that Martha Stewart was going to be in Toronto for the Delicious Food Show, she nearly lost her mind. It reminded me of the time we saw Oprah in Chicago – I had no idea it was a huge deal for her until she was outside the Harpo studios jumping up and down. And, much like Oprah, Martha didn’t disappoint. Unlike the others, I managed to get Friday afternoon off work so I could have some quality time with the person with the most refined tastes and palette of those I know: my mother.

  1. Watching Martha Stewart work her baking and brand magic in front of an adoring crowd of hundred like it was NBD. She is so polished in her presentation and in her self-promotion that it was spellbinding experience.  And I would have done almost anything to try a slice of one of her cakes, or specifically, a bite of her Baked Alaskan. Oh, and my mom was not disappointed in MarthaTwo fun facts: (1) People still adore her (all of the questions from the crowd started with “Martha, I really love your show and I’m a big fan.”) (2) She has a 6  person security detail (!!!!!). Made her look very presidential.

    Even my mom said "^$%* that's good! Worth the drive to Acton, as they say!"

    Even my mom said “^$%* that’s good! Worth the drive to Acton, as they say!”

  2. Hotbunzz – Have tried them before, at both Toronto Underground Market and the ROM’s Friday Night Live, but this experience (we bought the Turkey Dinner and the Roasted Beat) really stood out as unique worth going out of the way for. It’s the only food in my top 3!
  3. Chef Mark McEwan – I’m more familiar with McEwan than I am with Martha – I eat at Frabbrica, my mom shops at McEwan’s and I know someone who worked for him at One. But, I don’t watch Top Chef Canada so I also didn’t know what to expect from him as a “TV Food Personality”. While Martha was a polished practised package, Chef McEwan was much more relaxed and willing to share cooking tips and frustrations. This is his city, after all! Watching him prep scallops and talk about PEI beef and fish, I was struck by how he was aware of his limits (no, he’s not opening his own cooking school) and his desire to stay in the kitchen.

Saturday:

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Say it with FRUIT!

Clementine It was rainy. It was cold. When we finally found the building and parking after a few wrong turns, I was ready to sample any and all foods the show had to offer. I was first time attendee BUT I didn’t give my stomach to the first booth that smiled at me. We sampled: artisanal crackers, roast beef paninis (from Pillers), and A LOT of cheese. We were having so much fun stuffing our faces (and being knocked over by sample-mad-swine) that we didn’t notice the hours pass by.

Samuel Adams & Rock Lobster

Samuel Adams & Rock Lobster

  1. Cheese – This wasn’t just a booth … it was a super-booth presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada featuring award-winning cheeses from local artisans. We met an ultra friendly cheese-maker from Holland who immigrated to Canada and just set up his operation! Their Mountainoak cheese comes in black truffle and red pepper flavours. We also tasted a smoked cheddar the 2013 Grand Champion, Ricotta made by Quality Cheese Inc., Ontario (Vaughan, ON).
  2. Lobster Boil – Rock Lobster shared a booth with Samuel Adams beer (a perfect combination) and offered: lobster rolls, lobster tacos, and a classic lobster boil (with shrimp) for only $5. That’s right, RL had a big ol’ pot and was boiling lobster tails to order. The simply cooked shell fish served with lemon and hot sauce was so very sweet.
  3. Kombucha – I am detoxing. So while my colleagues were sampling adult beverages, I had teas and club soda. I have been itching to try fermented tea, which offers a healthy dose of probiotics to your diet in the form of a refreshing digestif. Rise Kombucha makes flavourful thirst quenching teas. Their favourite was ginger. We agree.

HoM (Nathan) The key to events like this is pacing yourself.  You want to sample everything, but that’s impossible.  Rather than trying everything, you must be selective.  Don’t be a hero.  Check your ego at the door.  Additional out-of-place sports cliche.  I think we did a pretty good job, but alas there were still a few things we regretfully were unable to get to.  Missing out on sampling from a giant paella pan (Patria) may cause me to lose some sleep tonight.  Such is life.

Patria paella.  You will haunt my dreams.

Patria paella. You will haunt my dreams.

  1. Home wood-fired pizza ovens!!!! – It has been a dream of mine to have my own wood-fired oven.  I have visions of myself making pizza, naan, tandoori chicken, and all sorts of delicious dishes like a Canadian Jamie Oliver.  Outdoor Pizza Ovens (Barrie) now offers a compact model made by Finnish company Uuni.  As someone of Italian and Finnish ancestry, I feel that it is my birthright to own this oven.
  2. Lavender gimlet – I am re-toxing.  I like gin-based cocktails.  I love lavender.  This cocktail by London Dry Gin may have been made specially for me.  I liked it so much that I picked the bartender’s brain for the recipe so that I can make it again: 1 part gin, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part lavender earl grey syrup.  He unfortunately did not know how to make the syrup so I am going to have to figure that one out myself.  Stay tuned…
  3. Kanga meat pies – As loathe as I am to admit that I liked something Australian, these pies  were pretty damn good.  The pastry was flaky, the filling saucy and savoury.  I am told that they are a popular post-bar snack down under, but these deserve to be eaten when you have all of your faculties and not when your tastebuds have been dulled by copious amounts of spiritous liquors.

Alice Like Clementine mentioned, it was cold and rainy.  I arrived looking like that wet cat depicted in posters from the 90’s plastered in Stephanie and Michelle Tanner’s bedroom with the words ‘Bad Hair Day’ scrawled across.  On top of that, I confess to you dear readers that I was hungover from a charity boxing match the night before. But getting to spend a lovely day with Clementine and Nathan cured me of my ailments and in general, I had a great time.

  1. The Dairy Farmers of Canada’s cheese station – Talk about a mobius line – never ending with no real beginning.  I probably sampled my weight in great local cheeses and bought my weight in more cheese so that I can sit on my couch and relive that moment.
  2.  The President’s Choice Black Label Collection – I love The President’s Choice line of products and how great is the Black Label, making what are considered to be ‘high-end’ and imported products to be more accessible and affordable?  Really great.  They had a station where for $5 they served you a lamb pizza on naan bread with a side salad and you got to take home a full sized bottle of their Lambrusco Grape condiment (retail $6.99).  I can’t wait to see what dressing I whip up with this.
  3. Samuel Adams Brewery – As Clementine mentioned, they shared a booth with Rock Lobster and I was happy to try their Latitude 48 not once, but thrice (what hangover?). It is their 2013 IPA release named after the 48th latitude that runs through the ‘hop belt’ of the northern hemisphere and it used a blend of hops from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.  It was a refreshing well balanced ‘lighter’ IPA that would’ve been a good contrast to a margherita pizza (perhaps from Nathan’s new wood stove?) or accompaniment to a white bean and turkey chili.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Mama Cherry has granted her blessing for a union between Cherry & Chuck Hughes because: “Il est un Quebecois!”.
  2. New cinnamon bread from Manoucher. Cherry warmed it up and had it for breakfast the next morning and it was just as satisfying as a cinnamon bun!
  3. The Apple Crumble Company (Port Hope, ON) – Baked goods using fresh local ingredients, no additives or preservatives, and darn friendly owners to boot!

Disappointments:

  1. Jamon Iberico – We had heard that this cured ham from Spain was expensive and difficult to get your hands on. This may have raised our expectations a tad. We were underwhelmed.

    Jamon Iberico ... meh

    Jamon Iberico … meh