Unique restaurants, specialty food shops turn Vanier into a destination for foodies

Beechwood Avenue, Montreal Road and McArthur Avenue each offer unique flavours

Where in Ottawa can chefs find a full-sized octopus, the perfect cut of locally sourced meat, authentic Mexican food and dozens of other dishes and ingredients from around the world?

The answer is simple – come to Vanier.

“I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.” – Filipe Correia, Mario’s Food Centre

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“Whether it’s Norwegian Cod, Portuguese sausage, pastries, olive oil – I try to have everything that someone might be looking for,” Filipe Correia says about his store, Mario’s Food Centre, located at 381 McArthur Ave. 

Mario’s Food Centre opened its doors in 1964. While many things along McArthur may have changed over the years, Correia says one thing remains the same: The selection of food carried in his store. 

The shop sells Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish food and attracts customers from across Ottawa and as far away as Montreal, Correia says. Once, he even received a call from a woman overseas who was about to fly into Ottawa and wanted to stop by the shop for groceries. 

“She wanted to make sure I had what she was looking for,” he says. “People come from all over and I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.”

Mario’s Food Centre isn’t the only unique stop along McArthur – the street is peppered with businesses offering delicious options. 

One is a personal favourite of Correia’s – YKO BBQ Chicken, located a few doors down from his own store. Correia admits he eats there more than a few times a week. 

McArthur Avenue is a bit of an international food quarter of Vanier, he says. 

From Indian cuisine, Greek food, pizza, ice cream, Middle Eastern products and the All Africa Market – a trip down McArthur Avenue gives visitors a chance to taste food and ingredients from around the world.

“We all complement each other,” Correia says. 

 

MONTREAL ROAD AND BEECHWOOD AVENUE

However delectable the wares offered by McArthur Avenue’s merchants might be, Correia notes that there are many other mouthwatering temptations in other corners of Vanier. 

Mainstay dishes on Montreal Road include pho, pizza, shawarma, smoked meat and authentic Mexican food.

But the experiences are not limited to simply tasting the neighbourhood’s delicious food. There is also an opportunity to learn how to make it yourself. 

Macaroon shop Quelque Chose Pâtisserie hosts French macaroon classes at its flagship shop at 274 Montreal Rd., offering aspiring bakers the chance to learn from the pros.

Meanwhile, Andrew Muckleston – the proprietor of Beechwood Avenue butcher Muckleston and Brockwell – says he offers classes at his shop to help people learn more about what they are eating, where it comes from and hopefully gain a new respect for butchery. 

The hands-on experience helps individuals learn about the cuts and how the meat can be used.  

“It’s a great experience for all skill levels,” Muckleston says.

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Muckleston’s shop sources its meat from small-scale, local producers. Understanding the origins of his products helps him easily answer his customers’ questions.

“People want to know more about what they’re eating and where it came from,” he says. “That the food you are eating is top quality, ethically sourced, local, hormone and antibiotic free – something that you really can’t put a price tag on.”

 

People of Vanier: SconeWitch owner Heather Matthews

SconeWitch owner Heather Matthews, who never eats a scone that is more than 10 minutes removed from the oven, recalls the mission she set for herself early on in life.

“Why did I pick scones? That’s an easy one. Ever since the ’70s, when muffins became the thing,
everywhere you went you got a greasy muffin – and there is nothing wrong with a muffin – but
I thought, ‘Why doesn’t someone do scones?’
At the time I had other businesses, and sometimes we would make scones, and every time they
would be gone. They would sell out. So I said, ‘If I ever start a business, it will just be scones.
Because, really, everybody loves scones. It was then I decided it was my mission to bring scones
to this world. Now we make over 2,000 a day by hand … but I wasn’t sure if I had really made it,
if I was successful until one day a Scottish gentleman came in and wanted to speak with me. He
came up to me and said (in a Scottish accent) ‘My mom makes the best scones.’ (Heather
pauses for dramatic effect) ‘But yours are better!’ Well, I knew I had made it then.”

Family-fun planned for annual fall festival

BeechFest – a new year, a new name for Beechwood’s annual fall festival

Beechwood Avenue’s annual fall festival is getting a bit of a revamp this year. 

The street festival plans to switch out its old name, East Feast, for a new one – BeechFest. 

The name tweak highlights a change in programming. 

What was once a food-heavy festival – hence it’s feast-filled name – the festival will be adopting more of a family feel and offering more family-friendly activities and times. 

The festival will take place along Beechwood Avenue on Sept. 7, 2019 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King said the change is largely based on the varied interests of the communities which call Beechwood Avenue their main street. 

“The name change represents the continued renewal of the event and responsiveness of the community to the fact that the event programming goes way beyond the excellent culinary scene on Beechwood, to also represent arts and culture and sport,” King said. 

The event is organized by the Quartier Vanier BIA, of which King is the newest member of the BIA’s board, having been recently elected in the Rideau-Rockcliffe byelection on this past spring. 

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An active community member before taking his seat on council, the new councillor said he has loved attending the festival over the years and is looking forward to it once again this year, but this time as a contributor.  

“’I’ve attended BeechFest in the past and found it to be quite an exciting event.  It is arguably one of the largest outdoor festivals in our area, with 3,000 people in attendance, that allows residents and visitors from outside the city check out local businesses, chefs, breweries, wineries, children’s organizations and community groups,” he said. 

Councillor Mathieu Fleury adds: “As a supporter of the event since its inception, I really feel that it’s a family friendly event that is very must-see for our neighbourhood.  The event celebrates the end of the summer with food, music, activities and performances. What a great way to come together and celebrate?”

Executive director of the BIA, Nathalie Carrier said the changes this year are all aimed at making the event bigger and better. 

“What we realized is this is a family gathering and so we want to make sure the family focus is not lost,” she said. 

And given that Vanier is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Carrier said it is important to make this year memorable. 

So far, programming for the festival includes:

  • More children’s programming
  • More food and more varieties of it!
  • Celebration of Vanier’s 50th anniversary
  • More merchant participation
  • More people and more fun!

The event, created in 2016, closes off Beechwood Avenue from Marier Avenue to St. Charles Street to vehicular traffic, turning the area into a pedestrian space. In the past, local restaurants and shops along Beechwood Avenue participated by selling food, promoting their business, performing on the main stage or offering activities. 

King said he feels street festivals, like Beechfest, are important because they allow residents to express community pride and demonstrate what makes their neighbourhood’s special.

Carrier said it is this sentiment that the BIA hopes to gain interest from more community partners to participate or sponsor an activity at the event. 

“One of the great benefits of the festival is the strong relationships it fosters in the community,” King said. “Beechfest forges bonds among service organizations, municipal government, and neighborhood groups and creates better connections with elected officials, volunteers and interested residents.”

BIA members, organizations or individuals who are looking to participate or support BeechFest can contact Carrier at ncarrier@vanierbia.com.