Among the local artwork 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 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.
Inspired by the Rideau Canal locks, Coasters Gourmet Grill serves up fresh seafood and steaks in a welcoming space overlooking historic ByWard Market. Upbeat music plays as diners relax and peruse the menu, warming their hands next to fireplaces that radiate heat off the exposed-brick walls. From fish ‘n’ chips and Cajun tuna tacos to certified-Angus burgers, the granite tables brim with casual, comforting dishes. The restaurant’s signature all-you-can-eat mussels have been a staple for more than 30 years, leaving diners with plenty of shells to collate into a fashionable necklace. The surf or turf plates pair well with signature cocktails, wine, and a variety of local and imported beers. Guests can catch live local music Thursday through Saturday nights, or perform on their own on Wednesdays for karaoke night.
Since 1999, the culinary team at Biagio's Italian Kitchen has strived to stay true to its founding "al momento" cooking philosophy by prepping each authentic dish on its menu to order. Angus steaks and veal dishes in delicate sauces float out of the chef’s quarters alongside pastas saturated in a choice of three sauces and packed with grilled chicken, shrimp, or spicy sausage.
A half wall weaves through the main dining room, just like the larger one that divides Italy’s vegetarians and carnivores, splitting feasting quarters between a larger area filled with tables and booths and semi-private section that accommodates up to 40 guests. The savvy Biagio's Italian Kitchen staffers assist patrons in planning and catering business or social events within its private dining rooms, banquet room, front room, or outdoor patio.
At Jean Albert’s American Style Soul Food, the sauce makes the meal. Which is why the chefs don’t just lay their housemade hot sauces and six styles of barbecue sauce on the side—they offer to bake it right in. From the sweet-and-tangy berry-rum barbecue sauce to those infused with tequila or whisky, the condiments add extra oomph to the fried catfish, classic pulled-pork sandwiches, and chicken-and-biscuit dishes that serve as staples of soulful fare everywhere. Served with a slice of sweet-water cornbread and a choice of traditional sides, the hefty portions evoke an air of Kentucky living without requiring the purchase of your own tobacco farm. Meals culminate with classic desserts such as sweet-potato pie, peach cobbler, and layered banana pudding.
At Pelican Fishery & Grill, “the walls serve as a gallery for humorous shots of the owner[s], [their families] and the rest of the staff posing with seafood,” according to the Rachelle Eats Food blog, but the staff is serious about sustainably sourced fresh seafood. That’s why they stock the icy shelves of their fishery and the sizzling plates of their eatery with wild fish delivered in four shipments throughout the day. Lobster, mussels, scallops, and fish serve as the centrepieces of both gluten-free and standard menu items that can also be eaten at home or in the 3-D infospace inside your computer, thanks to the store section of Pelican Fishery.
Piccolino translates from Italian as "very little one." In this case, piccolino refers to the quaint vintage villa that houses the rustic Il Piccolino Ristorante. Grape vines wind around the sun-drenched patio framed by trellises that leads to an interior of stucco-textured walls offsetting leather chairs and paisley-print tablecloths. This homespun, Old-World ambiance reinforces a menu of made-to-order Italian comfort food. Chefs stuff manicotti with ricotta and blanket gnocchi in gorgonzola cream sauce. They also adorn pizzas with ingredients such as tiger shrimp, italian sausage, and chili-marinated eggplant for a take on Italian that is both familiar and surprising.