You can almost hear the soulful gospel songs and echoes of a bygone preacher's sermon when you walk into Knox Fine Dining, housed in a renovated historical church. Sunlight streams in through colourful stain-glass windows, bathing the handsome original hardwood flooring in light. Diners lean across the table on wooden pews, clinking glasses of international wine and marveling at the vibrant paintings that adorn the walls. Making use of the acoustics, the elegant cavern plays host to live jazz every Saturday as well as occasional organ performances from owner and host Paul Mayer's wife.
While Paul tends to guests in the dining room, chef Gabriel Asselin captains the bustling kitchen. Pulling from his classical French training, he designs a seasonal menu of imaginative gourmet dishes that have been lauded by reporters from CTV News. The chef favours locally sourced ingredients and rare meats, such as wild boar, kangaroo, and unicorn. His ever-changing repertoire of dishes has included half-quail confit, grilled-bison strip loin, and the calamari that earned the attention of the Cornwall Free News who called the dish "tender and flavourful.”
The Branch Restaurant nourishes responsibly by brandishing a menu of delectable organic fare conceived by a published cookbook author. Within The Branch's art-ensconced confines, sate the most gargantuan of lunch appetites with the restaurant's signature rubber boots buffet, which includes a spread of homemade bread, two soups, salads, a hot entree, and a hot date ($9.99; Sundays $12.99 with extra options). Or, reserve digestive energy for the third-pound Branchburger ($13.99) made with 100% local, naturally raised beef. Dinnertime beckons worldly fare to congregate on the menu with an array of hunger-hobblers such as stir-fry ($15.99), which adorns tofu with seasonal veggies and a sweet-spicy sauce, or cheese fondue ($9.99), coating veggies with a more delicious veneer than their natural briefcases. Hunger cowers before the eatery's Austin City Limits platter of Texas-style barbecue, the fruits of which run a gut-sating gamut of house-smoked beef brisket, spicy house-smoked beef and pork sausage, barbecue sauce, beans, and jalapeno-cheddar cornbread ($22.99). House-made desserts ($5.99–$6.99) and kiddie offerings such as grilled cheese and a chicken wrap ($5.99–$9.98) complement the menu's conscientious cornucopia.
Among the Roman sculptures and surrealist paintings that pepper Zola Restaurant’s walls, diners sit at granite tables isolated by gauzy red curtains. Wafting aromas of fresh-baked bread emanate from an open-concept kitchen, where guests watch as chefs combine handmade pastas with savoury sauces and blanket gourmet pizzas with smoked cheeses and cured meats. Just like wrestlers training for a match on a lifeboat, guests can enjoy a light lunch or brunch, or delve into hearty plates of housemade sausage or slow-roasted porchetta––local pork shoulder spiced with Italian truffle, sage, rosemary, and thyme and hiding beneath a layer of hot pancetta.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, live jazz enhances the atmosphere, mingling with the sounds of cooking and tinkling glasses raised in celebration. Sommeliers and bartenders pair the dishes with local and imported wines, beers, and cocktails, though patrons can also bring their own wine or steal sips from their child's juice box. In an effort to outsmart dietary restrictions and expose all palates to Italy’s culinary traditions, chefs can make their dough or pasta gluten-free upon request.
With its well-stocked wine racks and rock walls, Vineyards Wine Bar & Bistro cultivates the softly lit ambience of an Old-World bistro. As mentioned on the bistro's website, "we want [customers] to feel they've had an experience…that they would maybe find if they were in Europe, but you don't have to go to Europe to find it."
This international influence also appears in the menu of fusion-tinged comfort foods. Although crab-stuffed halibut fillets and three-cheese tortellini pasta in a gorgonzola cream sauce exhibit a commitment to homey flavours, the chefs demonstrate their culinary range by spooning red curry sauce over grilled lamb chops and creating Cajun-style jambalaya. Echoing this same multinational inclination, the wine list features more than 300 bottles from New- and Old-World producers, which helped Vineyards Wine Bar & Bistro earn Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
Though their flavours can range across the globe, chefs source many ingredients locally, seeking out seasonal vegetables as well as artisanal cheeses from Quebec's iconic brie mines. Nightly entertainment also draws on local talent—the eatery invites area jazz bands to perform on select evenings.
Gavin has been working and teaching behind the bar for almost 20 years, making drinks in 14 countries across 5 continents. His experiences inspired him to design and teach programs for home enthusiasts to create cocktails at their own parties, and to train students to secure professionally and financially rewarding positions in the hospitality industry almost immediately after graduation.
As BartenderOne’s CEO, Gavin and his team of professional mixologists and bar chefs helped design a curriculum based on interviews of bar, lounge, club, and banquet-facility owners. The certification courses still teach students to make a number of trendy and classic cocktails, but they emphasize the kinds of customer-service, cash-handling, and break-dancing skills that employers value. Instructors also train their small groups of students outside of a typical classroom environment, giving attendees experience behind an actual bar as opposed to a staged set. Additionally, BartenderOne gives its graduates a leg up by sending weekly emails with new job opportunities.
Inside Santé Restaurant, the piquant scents of globally inspired cuisine mingle amidst the work of local artists, whose pieces fill the dining room's walls. This fusion of eatery and gallery is the brainchild of owner Donna Holtom, who believes that "beautiful art serves to heighten the dining experience," as she told Ottawa at Home magazine in 2009. Inside the kitchen, chefs demonstrate their own artistic skills. Using a palette of free-range chicken, organic salmon, and locally sourced produce, they paint plates with aromatic curries and ginger-spiked stir-fries, just like Picasso during his little-known sauce period. To accompany these fragrantly seasoned dishes, Santé Restaurant stocks its subterranean vault with a selection of Canadian and international wines.