Westboro Village isn’t short on sports pubs. A few doors east of the five-month-old Churchills is the Corner Bar and Grill. A couple blocks west is the Clocktower Brewpub (a fourth in the Ottawa chain, poised to open in the Westboro Station development.) Directly across the street is Churchills’ big sister restaurant, Milagro Grill, and further east, Whispers Pub.
While Churchills doesn’t call itself a sports bar, the flat screen TVs with the football games on every one suggests otherwise. That said, it’s a good-looking sports bar, in a brooding sort of way. Dark wood panelling, black iron, brick and brass dominate. But what really grabs your attention are the lights – mostly from the Architectural Antique Lighting store that used to occupy this space, and looking like they might have come from a church, or Masonic lodge. Indeed, the Minster theme is strong at Churchills – in the art (blown-up colour-charged photographs of old church doors) in the hard pew along the west wall.
Even the bar, which is encouragingly long, has an altar-like quality – only with a massive flat screen where the stained glass window should be.
(It looks better than it smells. Every visit I’ve been assaulted with the reek of whatever washing/rinsing agent they use in their dishwasher beneath the bar. Doesn’t whet the appetite.)
My appetite has been somewhat whetted by a few things at Churchills – a satisfying cauliflower soup nicely perked with goat cheese, a decent enough beef sandwich on boring focaccia, a rich mac and cheese, an Asian beef salad that wasn’t bad, once I’d worked around the canned mandarin oranges and salty-soy dressing, and an OK plate of fish and chips. But there’s been too many dishes attempting to be gastropubby and falling wildly short. I had hoped Churchills might be Westboro’s replication of the excellent Wellington Street Gastropub. No luck.
Starters are mostly designed to encourage a bar tab – breaded/ battered/deep-fried salt conveyors “smothered” in cheese, bacon, gravy and so on. I took some for the team, ordering the items that sounded a bit different. What goes as “Mediterranean dumplings” are greasy wontons stuffed with goat cheese, chorizo and sun-dried tomato pesto (apparently) served with a spiced peach sauce: greasy, salty, odd little things. Fish cakes were wacky rubbery, though we liked well enough the side salad. Panko-crusted, deep-fried jalapeno peppers stuffed with mozzarella were sort of fun – spicy, crunchy, gloppy, salty-smooth in strangely satisfying ways. But I think I’d stick with the fries next time. They taste fresh, and though they’re a bit on the soggy side, I don’t mind them like that.
Mains failed to impress. Salty mashed potatoes and salty gravy came with a dull rib-eye steak. The so-called double pork chop was thin, tough and juiceless. The salmon filet rubbed with tandoori spices and served with an acerbic mango chutney was seriously dehydrated.
Brackish too was the lamb shepherd’s pie and I found the burger dry, the bun stale. One night the featured pickerel was a nice piece of fish, nicely cooked, but the company was odd – a polenta cake with a potent curry flavour that didn’t marry. Vegetables were a so-whatish stir-fry of peppers, onion and broccoli.
They apparently make their own bread, so I’m not sure why I get a piece of burnt white Texas toast with my otherwise good soup. They make their own ice creams too, and some are luscious – the chocolate Mexican-style, a rich and creamy vanilla – but the fruity ones (mango, jackfruit) have been less successful. A toffee pudding was floury, its caramel sauce icky sweet, as though from a jar.
The wine list is short and pretty dull at Churchills, although all are offered by the glass. The beers on tap curiously include no local content, despite some excellent craft beer in Churchills’ back yard. When we ask why this is, we’re told they don’t want to compete with the beer offered at other pubs in the neighbourhood. (They don’t seem similarly troubled by the nachos or wings they all proffer.)
I don’t know. I expect there’s a market for Churchills. One more comfortable place to watch the game in this neighbourhood. But I like my pubs to start with a kitchen and a brew list, not a bar and five flat screens.