Opinion
11 min

Spring harvest

Farmers’ markets, eateries and artisans showcase the best local food Ottawa has to offer

Ottawa food lover Leslie Robertson is all set for spring cooking. Credit: Ben Welland

Spring has arrived. As the city thaws out and the warm weather slowly returns, so do we emerge, butterfly-like, from our winter cocoon of blankets and Netflix. As we shake the dew off our wings and wipe the Cheetos dust from our fingers, we’re struck by a new thought: “Oh man. I am really hungry.”

Luckily, spring in Ottawa is a time of plenty. One of the most exciting seasons of the year for foodies, it is when farmers’ markets, restaurants and bakeries kick into full gear, preparing to dazzle us with colours and flavours we haven’t experienced since before the long winter months took hold. If you’re looking for more ways to eat locally this season, whether that means cooking yourself or sampling the wares of some of the city’s best restaurants and artisans, the city has a vast variety of options to keep fresh, wholesome food on your table and a smile on your face. So put down the processed snacks and get ready to feast on the best local food the region has to offer.

Ottawa Farmers’ Market
Brewer Park, Old Ottawa South; open Sun, May 4–Sun, Nov 16
Byron Park, Westboro; open Sat, May 17–Sat, Oct 25
Centrum Plaza, Orléans; open Fri, May 16–Fri, Oct 10
ottawafarmersmarket.ca

In operation since 2006, the Ottawa Farmers’ Market has three locations serving the city’s south, west and east ends. The vendors represent a huge variety of wares, with everything from garden plants and produce to meat, honey, cheese, baked goods and crafts. The market keeps stringent guidelines in place to ensure that everything they sell is as local as possible. “[Vendors] have to be making or growing what they are selling,” says Andy Terauds, president of the organization.

The goods that are available change from week to week throughout the season, but in the first weeks of May, vendors will have bedding plants for sale, as well as vegetables like carrots, potatoes and beets that have overwintered and greenhouse products like spinach, lettuce and microgreens. The first field crop to appear is typically asparagus, and local meat is available throughout the season. The Ottawa Farmers’ Market juries craft goods like soap, wool and pottery to make sure they are as local as possible and to ensure quality. “We aren’t going to have less than the best available,” Terauds says, who thinks one of the best things about the market is the human component. “A farmers’ market is a very friendly, open place. You go there and everybody’s got a smile.”

Art-Is-In Bakery
250 City Centre Ave, Unit 112
artisinbakery.com

The middle of a block of industrial warehouses is pretty much the last place you’d expect to find a bakery, never mind one inspired by the boulangeries of Paris. Run by husband-and-wife team Kevin and Stephanie Mathieson, Art-Is-In combines a wholesale bakery with a dining area where customers can order everything from fresh-made sandwiches and soups to decadent pastries and desserts. But their real specialty is bread. The loaves — which include buttermilk-multiseed and honey-and-oat sourdough and “dynamite” baguettes in rosemary-garlic, 12-grain-fennel and cheddar-chive-jalapeno — can be found at the café and in various locations throughout the city, including Farm Boy stores and farmers’ markets.

“We have about 30 different types of bread on our regular menu,” Stephanie Mathieson says. “We add to that list depending on the season, so sometimes we add wild yeast, rye bread . . . those breads rotate throughout the year.” During the spring and summer months, the bakery is able to rely more on local farms and suppliers, including produce from Rochon Garden. “It’s locally made because we make everything from scratch,” she says. “Nothing comes out of a box here. Nothing.” In May, the bakery will begin its farmers’ market circuit, with products appearing at seven markets every week in addition to the regular café. There you can find mainly breads and pastries, and starting this year their sandwiches will be available at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market Brewer Park location.

Kanata Farmers’ Market
420 Hazeldean Rd parking
lot, Kanata; open Sat, May 3–Sat, Oct 25
kanatafarmersmarket.ca
jardinrochongarden.ca

Founded in 2010 by Kristian Rochon and his father, Gerry, the Kanata Farmers’ Market allows Kanata residents to access fresh local food close to home. “We wanted to make sure it wasn’t limited to those who live in the downtown core near the Byward or Parkdale markets,” Rochon says. “We pride ourselves on attracting producers that have very high-quality produce, so when somebody comes and shops at the market, they’re sure to find products that are of the utmost quality.” The Rochons are also the owners of Jardin Rochon Garden, a family farm they have operated since 1958. They provide fresh local produce to a number of farmers’ markets and also have a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box program; $34.99 a week will get you enough fresh veggies to feed a family of two to four, delivered to your door.

The market has attracted a number of high-quality local producers, including Art-Is-In Bakery and Bearbrook Game Meats. You can also find fresh produce from a variety of producers, including Rochon Garden; cider, pies, muffins and jellies from Hall’s Apple Market; honey and beeswax products from Heavenly Honey; and Happy Goat coffee. When the market opens in May, the first things you can expect to find are spring mix and greenhouse veggies, meat products and cheeses, baked goods, jams and jellies, and fresh eggs. “It’s a full gamut of all types of products that people enjoy, especially on a local perspective,” Rochon says. “And in terms of flavour, it’s unsurpassed. You can really taste the difference.”

Lunch
121 Bank St
102–99 Metcalfe St
240 Sparks St
Portage III, Gatineau Mobile truck on Albert Street between Kent and Lyon
Central kitchen at 60-A Lebreton St
thinklunch.ca

If you work during the day and have limited time for lunch, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen into the fast-food trap. But there is a way to eat local on the go. Inspired by the UK sandwich chain Pret a Manger, Lunch opened in 2008 and now has five locations in Ottawa and Gatineau, as well as a mobile food truck. The chain offers fresh soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts made daily from scratch. The shop specialty is the humble sandwich, the favourite lunch of owner Tim Van Dyke.

Lunch’s roster of local suppliers is impressive: its bread comes from Moulin de Provence in the Byward Market, and at any given time the menu might feature sausages from Seed to Sausage, Mrs McGarrigle’s mustard, microgreens from Butterfly Sky Farms, Harvey and Vern’s soda and Isobel’s cupcakes and cookies. “We use [local suppliers] as much as we can just to promote the community we’re in and largely because of the amazing quality of product,” Van Dyke says. Adding a food truck has allowed the team to get creative with new products and take them to locations and events all over the city. Starting in April, look for the truck on Albert between Kent and Lyon, as well as at the Kanata Research Park. As we head into the warmer months, Lunch will feature more salads, as well as coleslaw and cold soup, and there’s also a house focaccia bread in the works.

Bearbrook Game Meats
5396 Dunning Rd,
south of Russell Road
bearbrookgamemeats.com

Eating local isn’t just about roots and shoots. Located in Navan and specializing in exotic meats, Bearbrook Farms has plenty of options for the confirmed carnivore. The farm raises buffalo, wild boar, elk, deer, peacocks, chickens, turkeys and ducks on 150 acres of land. All the animals are free range, grazing on grass and clover in the summer months and feeding on hay in the winter. They’re also kept chemical- and antibiotic-free. The meat is processed on-site and immediately flash-frozen and vacuum-sealed to preserve freshness. The farm also imports more exotic meats, including camel, kangaroo and python. “Any of the meat that’s available in the world, we sell it here,” says farm manager Walter Henn.

Bearbrook also produces a wide range of meat products, from pies and fresh sausages to pepperettes and salamis, which are available year-round. No binders, fillers, phosphates or MSG are used. Products are available at farmers’ markets throughout the city, including the Kanata Farmers’ Market and all three Ottawa Farmers’ Market locations. You can also find them at markets in Cumberland and Carp, or you can order online. Either way, you can be sure you’re getting high-quality free-range meat.

Strawberry Blonde Bakery
114 B Grange Ave (behind the Ottawa Bagelshop)
strawberryblondebakery.com

Ottawa is a particularly sweet spot for homemade goodies, if you’ll pardon the pun, and a growing niche market means that now even those with allergies, food sensitivities and specific diets can partake. The latest face on the vegan and gluten-free-baking scene is Strawberry Blonde bakery, run by Jacquie Okum and Claire Tomchishen. The pair, both with backgrounds in pastry arts, met while working at Rainbow Foods health-food store and decided to open a bakery together. “When I ate [Claire’s] Queen Elizabeth cake, I was like, I can’t have this girl be my competition!” Okum says. All their goodies are vegan, gluten-free and nut-free. “We just wanted to be able to produce something that everyone can eat,” Tomchishen says.

Strawberry Blonde creates an impressive array of baking, including cakes, cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, pies and delicious vegan pizza rolls. All their gluten-free flours come from Jamestown Mills in Aylmer, and they use Camino cocoa and chocolate as much as possible. In the spring and summer, the bakery uses plenty of fresh local fruit, whipping up fruit pies in flavours like apple, bumbleberry, blueberry and raspberry. Savoury hand pies will be making a comeback in the warmer months, and they plan to start offering take-home meals as well. In addition to their Hintonburg location, you can find Strawberry Blonde goodies at Rainbow Foods, the Herb and Spice on Bank Street, the Billings Bridge Natural Food Pantry and Daily Grind Art Café on Somerset.

El Camino
380 Elgin St
eatelcamino.com/wordpress

If your main criteria for the things you put in your mouth is that they be absolutely delicious, El Camino has got you covered. Their specialty is fresh tacos, simply prepared and exploding with flavour. “We’ve always said we want to own restaurants where we want to eat the food,” says chef Jordan Holley, who, along with owner Matt Carmichael, is the brains behind the operation. The tacos come in beef, lamb, crispy fish, pork, tuna tartare and the unusual but melt-in-your-mouth-delicious ox-tongue taco, garnished simply with avocado, fresh herbs and a squeeze of lime. They also have an impressive list of non-taco offerings, including green papaya salad; crispy prawn betel leaf; salt and pepper squid; and a raw bar that features sashimi, crudos and tartare. Like the food, the prices are excellent: the most expensive thing on the menu is $15, and the tacos go for $4 each.

Most of the produce El Camino uses comes from Juniper Farm in Wakefield and Rideau Pines Farm in North Gower, though things like avocados and limes have to be imported. Both Holley and Carmichael make a point of meeting producers in person and fostering close relationships with them. El Camino’s takeout window is open from noon to 2:30pm Tuesday to Friday, and the seating area and window are open nightly from 5:30pm. They don’t take reservations, so your best bet is to be there early to avoid the lineup. You may have some competition from Enzo, the resident Burmese mountain dog who Holley says is their best customer. Holley and Carmichael have two new restaurants in the works, and for spring they’re planning to offer their most adventurous taco yet: lamb testicle.

Slice & Co
399 Elgin St
sliceottawa.com

If the lineup at El Camino seems too intimidating, consider heading across the street and giving Slice & Co a try. Started by chef Warren Sutherland, whose other enterprises include Junxion and the SmoQue Shack, the restaurant offers up house-made pizzas that will put your local fast-food joint to shame. “Slice & Co was based upon the fact that the majority, if not all, pizzerias in the city presented only one style of pizza,” Sutherland says. The restaurant serves up Italian hand-tossed, New York pan, California thin and Chicago deep-dish pies. They also focus on high-end local ingredients. “It’s fine-dining pizza, so to speak,” Sutherland says.

Slice & Co uses only Canadian meats, including Ontario beef, pork and chicken, and Seed to Sausage salami. Even the cheese is local, with mozzarella from Dolce Lucano in Woodbridge. They use Rideau Pines Farm produce in the spring and summer months, their impressive cocktail menu includes a blueberry mojito that features the farm’s blueberries, and the restaurant even grows its own herbs and mint. “Pretty much anything that I can get locally once it’s in season, I will get,” Sutherland says. With plenty of options for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike and a spacious patio for relaxing in the warmer months, it’s hard to go wrong.

Local goodness: These recipes allow local ingredients to shine

Asparagus salad with maple-mustard dressing
Courtesy of Ottawa Farmers’ Market
    
     32 spears asparagus
     2 tbsp Dijon mustard
     ¾ cup white wine vinegar
     4 tbsp maple syrup
     1½ cups olive oil
     Salt & pepper to taste
     2  heads Boston lettuce
     For garnish, 1 tomato, seeded and diced

Heat a touch of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the asparagus and sauté until tender-crisp. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine mustard, vinegar and maple syrup. Slowly add the olive oil and whisk to homogenize the mixture. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Arrange the lettuce in the middle of the plate and top with four asparagus spears. Drizzle on some dressing and garnish with the tomatoes.
Serves 8

Wild boar with mushrooms and apples
Courtesy of Bearbrook Game Meats
    
     3 lbs wild boar meat cut into pieces
     2 cups chicken stock
     1 cup white wine
     1 cup water
     1 small onion, sliced
     4 tbsp soy sauce
     2 tbsp sugar
     12 large mushrooms (Portobello), sliced
     5 apples, sliced
     1 tbsp cream
     2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1/3 cup water

Place meat, stock, wine, water, onion, soy sauce and sugar in a large pan. Bring liquid to a boil, then cover and simmer for 90 minutes on low heat.
Remove meat and cool completely, then trim it to the same size as the apple slices. Heat mushrooms in the sauce, then carefully add the meat slices topped with the apple slices. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add cream but do not boil. Carefully remove meat, apples and mushrooms to a serving plate. Bring sauce almost to a boil and thicken with cornstarch. Pour over meat and serve.

Claire & Jacquie’s gluten-free vegan apple-crumble pie
Courtesy of Strawberry Blonde Bakery

Pie dough:
     2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
     ½ cup tapioca starch
     ½ tsp salt
     2 sticks ice-cold Earth Balance buttery sticks (use the sticks, not the spread!), cubed
     ½ cup ice-cold water
     ½ tsp apple cider vinegar

Apple filling:
     6 cups peeled local Granny Smith apples, sliced ¼-inch thick
     ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
     2 ½ tbsp arrowroot flour
     2/3 cup dark brown sugar
     1 tbsp vanilla extract
     2 tsp lemon juice
     ¼ tsp salt

Crumble topping:
     1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
     ½ cup gluten-free oats
     1/3 cup brown sugar
     ¼ tsp salt
     ¼ tsp cinnamon
     1/3 cup Earth Balance (spread or sticks), chilled and cubed

Combine flour, starch and salt. Cut in the Earth Balance with a chilled pastry cutter until broken into pea-sized chunks. Combine water and vinegar, then pour into the dry flour mix. Mix until a soft dough is formed.
Let dough chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before rolling it into a 10-inch circle.
Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, then flute the edges of the dough.
Poke the crust all over with a fork, and pre-bake at 350F for 5 to 10 minutes.
Combine filling ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the topping by pulsing the ingredients a couple of times in a food processor.
Fill pie crust with filling and cover with the strudel topping. Brush pie shell with soy milk and bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 350F.