To begin with, Mill Street (originally out of Toronto) makes what is currently my favourite Canadian beer: Tankhouse Ale. It's a punch-in-the-mouth of flavour and hops that finishes remarkably smoothly. It's by no means a cheap beer, going at about 13 bucks for a six-pack, but life's too short for crappy beer. As the months and years have gone by, Mill Street beers have been appearing more and more frequently at some of my favourite establishments, including Smoque Shack, and festivals, with Mill Street supplying all the beer for Ottawa Bluesfest.
It was at Bluesfest that the signs began to appear: "Mill Street Brewpub - Coming Fall 2011". The excitement started to grow and grow as we found out that the location was to be the former Old Mill, a fairly high end steakhouse in the 80s that had let itself slip over the years and had been closed for a while. The Old Mill building is exactly that: an old grist mill from the 19th century overlooking the Ottawa River, allowing for a beautiful location for a restaurant, if a bit isolated from the main drag of the Byward Market and Elgin Street.
Fall came and went and the anticipation grew. Unfortunately the opening had to wait until January 24th, which is understandable considering the sheer size of the building and the logistics of opening such a large establishment. But the magical day finally came on the 24th and, while we didn't get to show up for opening night, we managed to be there on their second night.
It was absolute bedlam: We arrived at around 5 o'clock and it was already a 30-minute wait for a table for 4. I wasn't really surprised or bothered though. We sidled up to the bar and had some beers to keep us occupied while waiting for our table. In good time, we were brought upstairs to one of the four dining areas.
Now, here are some of the non-food/drink details about the place. First off was the decor. Well, it was a lot flashier than I expected; a weird mix of comforting wood and decoration with a lot of stainless steel as trim. To this day, after about a dozen visits to the place, I still feel like it's a bit to 'classy' looking for a brew pub. Oh well, that's something I have no problem getting over, especially because the views and the building itself are spectacular.
Next up is the service. Well, like most new restaurants, the service had some ups and downs. The front of the house needs work; the hostesses seemed a bit overwhelmed when busy, something that hasn't really changed since it opened. There have been some inconsistencies in the table and bar service, but for the most part it's been pretty good, especially in the case of the waiter we had on our first visit and he's been around a few times since. His name is Dane and I salute him, he was awesome. So, if any of the powers that be from Mill Street read this, treat Dane well! He's a definite asset to your business.
OK, so let's get to the meat of the matter: BEER AND FOOD!!!
Well, one of the things that caught my attention right off the bat was the beer menu. It's freakin' huge! There are something like 20+ beers on tap, including varieties that are exclusive to Ottawa, seasonal beers and the standards (Tankhouse, Organic, Coffee Porter, Belgian Wit and so on). A particularly brilliant offering for those who aren't sure what they want is the Beer Flight, which gives you a choice of 4 small glasses of different beers for $7.50. A VERY good deal!
Now, on to the food. The four of us at the table split a charcuterie plate that had some tremendous elements to it, but unfortunately, what they were exactly was kept a mystery to the wait staff! Whoops... Mind you, because it was only their second day in business, it was common that not all the wait staff had tried everything on the menu. Still it would have been nice to know exactly what we were eating. There was a dry salami that was excellent and ash-rind goat cheese that was the bee's knees.
Next, I had the Brewmaster's Mussels, steamed in Wit beer with smoked pork belly and leeks and all other kinds of goodness. The mussels themselves were pretty normal mussels, but the pork belly made the dish that much better and the bread on the side was baked using a Pilsner beer and was some of the best bread I've had in a long time.
|Mussels with Pork Belly?!? OK!!|
After the mussels, I got the Caribbean Baby Back Ribs. These were quite tasty and well smoked, albeit not the most tender. The flavour was really good, reminiscent of a milder Jerk sauce, but the portion seemed a bit small for 12 bucks - that's 3 bucks a rib. Still better than Ribfest I guess... The Jicama Slaw on the side was a really nice touch, much earthier than a regular slaw but still tangy.
While I was enjoying my Mussels and Ribs, Kari was partaking of the Stout and Onion Soup (Mill St.'s take on a classic French Onion soup). That one got kudos all around (see look of pure joy captured below). Her next course was the Duck Flatbread, which , while tasty, was a bit stingy on the duck.
What stood out most, other than the great service and surprisingly good food (pub fare is hard to make remarkable), was a seasonal brew called Vanilla Porter. This is like cake in a glass, but not too sweet. It's smooth, creamy, delicious and complex, while still being refreshing and quaffable. It's become Kari's absolute favourite, and one of mine as well. Unfortunately, it's no longer being offered. I guess we'll have to wait till September... le sigh...
So, all in all, Mill Street still has some kinks to iron out and there are hits and misses throughout the menu. I've been back a few times for regular menu fare and brunch fare and some things are better than others. If you are doing brunch and are feeling particularly decadent, get the Chicken and Waffles. Pretty epic...
|Happiness = French Onion Soup and 4 glasses of beer|
But before I leave you, there are a couple more points in the Mill Street Brewpub's favour that I think are really great touches. First, they have the "Master of Beer Appreciation" card, which is essentially a 'frequent drinker miles' card of sorts. Every time you get on of the multiple kinds of beers on the menu, you get a slot filled on the card. The more slots you fill, the cooler the shwag you can earn, including meals, tours of the brewery, and at the pinnacle, your name engraved on a special keg.
The second (and far more important) thing Mill Street does is a monthly special dinner. The first and second of these were the Brewmaster's Dinner, a five-course meal with special beer and food pairings. The first was held in mid-March and the second in mid-April. We've been to both and I will be blogging about them individually in Part 2&3 of this Toast to Hometown Eateries. Coming up in May is the "Street Fight" involving both wine and beer pairings with special food offerings. I look forward to being at that one too!
So, in the end, I'd say Mill Street Brewpub is the real deal with a lot of care going into both the beer and food menus and lots of space for patrons (although you'll still be waiting 30 minutes + for a table on a Friday night). Now that they've got their patio open, I expect it to get that much crazier. Of course, the fact that it takes 10 minutes from my couch to their front door doesn't hurt either!
Next time, I bring you a recounting of the first Brewmaster's Dinner.
(Dammit, now I really want a Vanilla Porter...)