Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just Chill!

It's kind of like this:

If you go downtown in Ottawa on July 1st to take in the entertainment on Parliament Hill and watch the fireworks until they are completely done and the crowds start to work their way home, do you get upset because you can't simply hop on the first bus that is heading out of the core? Or the third one? Or the tenth one?

Are you ticked off when you finally get on a bus but can't find a seat?

Of course not. You know what to expect. You know that everybody else has the same idea, is doing exactly what you're doing. To get upset would be stupid, right?

When you use public transit to get out of the downtown core on the biggest day in Canada, you just relax and go with the flow.

So when a much-anticipated brew pub opens in Ottawa, after it is touted in the media and, yes, even talked about in The Brown Knowser, why would you get upset when you show up, without a reservation (if you could get one—and you can't), only to find that the wait to get a table at dinnertime is two hours?

Just chill, folks. Just chill.

I know, I complained a little when I tried to get in to the Mill St. Brew Pub on opening night and was turned away. But I wasn't disappointed because the place was packed and I couldn't get a table: I was cheesed because the grand opening was an invitation-only affair, but wasn't advertised as being private. Sure, the pub was opened to the public after 8:00, but for me and my party, that was too late for dinner.

But all is forgiven. In the first two weeks of its opening, I've been to Mill St. four times (five, if you count the brief stop on opening night). I have been there for drinks, have written some blog posts from the bar, and been there for dinner.

Dinner, on a Saturday night. But I knew I couldn't make dinner reservations. I knew that they were booked solid for months, that the private room is booked into 2013. There is a certain number of tables that are reserved for walk-ins, but you must arrive prepared to wait.

As I said, I was there on a Saturday night. It was the first Saturday of Winterlude, and it had been a gorgeous day, the perfect kind of day where you'd want to top of the day at a great pub. My wife, her sister, and brother-in-law and I arrived shortly after 5:00, before the peak dinner hour, without reservations. We had a tight schedule—we were due to see comedian Nikki Payne perform at the Ottawa Little Theatre. We had only about two-and-a-half hours to get a table, be served, eat, and get out again.

Plenty of time, I thought.

We were told that it would be an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to be seated. But there was room near the bar and we could wait over a drink or two. And that was fine. We decided we'd chill, enjoy some great beer, and enjoy our company.

It's great to learn that Mill St. Brew Pub has had such a strong, successful start. In its first 12 days, it had already sold out of its Portage Ale once and had just run out of its other Ottawa-only ale, the Valley Irish Red, when we were there that evening.

Luckily, I had tried it a couple of days prior to our dinner. And so I'm working in a beer review: here goes.

Valley Irish Red
Mill St. Brew Pub (Ottawa)
4.8% alc/vol

This classic Irish-styled ale has its own Ottawa Valley character to it, with Lanark County maple syrup added. Deep amber-red in colour with a creamy white head, I detected very little off the nose. I blame that somewhat on the fact that I was a little stuffed up at the time, having come in from the cold. But as I thawed out, and as the beer opened in my glass, I detected faint smoke. And though I generally refuse to look at tasting notes before I provide my own, I looked at the menu notes, and they didn't provide any clues about the nose.

And so I moved on to the palate.

This red ale had distinct flavours of smokey oak and caramel, and in the finish I thought I also detected traces of cherry. The ale was quite creamy in the mouth, with a nice clean finish. It was a thoroughly enjoyable drink.

And now back to that Saturday night...

So, one hour and twenty minutes into our wait, no table had yet freed up. But again, we didn't panic nor did we freak out. The pub was hopping and we were enjoying ourselves, but we did have to eat before we went to our show. The floor staff was very helpful and allowed us to order appetizers from where we were stationed, at a standing shelf across from the main-floor bar. While my wife and in-laws ordered snacks, I went to check on our status. I was told that we were next in line, and true enough, we had a table less than five minutes later. It was just shy of 7:00 when we were seated.

We already knew what we wanted, so no sooner had we sat down when we gave our server our order. And within minutes of that order, our appetizers arrived. My wife and I shared the calamari, which has a nice herbed batter and comes with a tomato marinade dip and garlic aioli. Highly recommended.

Our main courses arrived about 15 minutes later. My wife and I shared the wild boar ragu. Now, I must say, we had last eaten wild boar ragu in Tuscany: once, in Siena, and again in Volterra. They were absolutely amazing, rich dishes, and my wife used those as the touchstones to what we were to compare all wild boar ragus.

The Mill St. dish was excellent. Homemade pasta noodles and rich boar. The tomato sauce was rich but not overpowering. The dish exceeded our expectations.

My sister-in-law gave me a taste of her dish, a butter chicken with Basmati rice: sinfully creamy, with tender chicken chunks. My brother-in-law had a hamburger, and all I can say is that it was massive. It looked delicious, and my brother-in-law gave his stamp of approval.

Mill St. Brew Pub has proven that not only does it deliver on its excellent craft beers, but also offers food of an equally high calibre. And our servers were on the ball, friendly, and welcoming. Overall, we had a wonderful experience from beginning to end, and we'd go back in a heartbeat.

But if you're going to arrive, without a reservation, don't get upset if you find there's a long wait, especially on a Saturday. Know what to expect, and chill. Relax and enjoy the entire Mill St. experience.

I have heard that lunch during the middle of the week is not as busy, and I know for a fact that early evenings on Tuesdays gives you a good chance at a short wait. And to that effect, I'm wondering if anyone would be interested in making Tuesday evenings a night for a tweetup? Interested? Leave a comment. If you follow me on Twitter, stay tuned: I'll be announcing something in the next few weeks.


  1. Definitely interested in a tweetup at Mill St. Would be a great location!

  2. My question would be: How come they don't allow patrons to eat at the bar as per many other establishments in the city? I would think that they would be losing revenue...*shoulder shrug*

  3. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. They do allow patrons to eat at the bar. We just didn't have enough room where we were standing. I should have made that clearer.

  4. A quick note. Mill Street did indeed advertise that opening night was by invitation only. Quite well actually. They made several Facebook and Twitter posts and given that a "win to get in" contest was run by The Bear it was announced there as well.

    1. Actually, I follow Mill St. on Twitter. There was no news in its feed about invitation only. I watched CBC's report on the opening, and there was no word.

      What's The Bear?

      Posting on Facebook (and I don't follow companies on FB) limits the message. So I wouldn't say that the message was advertised "quite well."