I approached this former gristmill with remembered dread. If you’re interested in my views of the last tenant’s performance you can revisit the report here.
The Mill Restaurant was put out of its (and our) misery in 2007, and its much coveted space has remained vacant up until seven weeks ago, when the much anticipated, much hyped new occupant opened its doors.
The long-running Mill Restaurant was a murky, gloomy sort of place. The new Mill St. Brewpub isn’t a bit of that. It rocks with the racket of hordes of people having a good time. Dozens queue at the door on a Wednesday night, hungry for one of the 300-plus seats. Dozens more pass time at the bar. But the bar is jammed, and the couple behind us are told the wait would likely be forty minutes to an hour. They seem OK with that: (“Where else are we going to go?” he asks his date – “we’re parked, we’re here, and there’s nothing else within easy walking distance.” He speaks the truth.)
There’s certainly stuff to see for the captive audience. What the Mill Street people have done to this 1842 stone building perched on the Chaudiere Falls is nothing short of remarkable. Full marks for preserving the old so graciously and introducing the bright shiny-new so effectively. Cheers too for the old photos and artefacts that honour Ottawa’s brewing heritage, for the buffed copper kettle and stainless brewing equipment that greet you as you enter (tours are offered) and for the perky servers. The staff uniforms (men fully in black, women in tartan kilts and knee-highs) seem a bit discordant, and the Celtic theme isn’t exactly carried through given the electronic rock soundtrack. But this is what’s worn in Toronto apparently (the Ottawa Brewpub is a branch plant of the Hogtown original) so naturally, this is the fling here too.
Most of the beer on offer (in the restaurant, the bar, the upper rooms, and for sale in a small storefront) is trucked in from Toronto. But four beers, including a seasonal brew, are made right here. At least for now. Beer ‘flights’ are offered and that seemed the way to go.
As a brew that could take me through the evening, I chose the Original Organic. But I liked too the Coffee Porter, The Irish Red, and the Tankhouse Ale. The Vanilla Porter tasted medicinal, and there were others I found too sweet. But here you find variety, many different styles, offered in pours that allow you to take each for a spin before making a commitment, and all served up by kids – at least the two I’ve sampled – who were able to speak with some intelligence about their relative merits.
The kids speak with enthusiasm too about the merits of the food – prepared by F.A.B Concepts Inc., which owns and operates a slew of pubs and restaurants in Ontario, including the Mill St. Brewpub in Toronto – but it’s an enthusiasm that’s largely misplaced.
Very little of what I’ve tried over two visits with lots of Other Mouths (no shortage of friends keen to check this place out!) has risen above mediocre. Though we began well enough: on the whole, appetizers worked better than mains. A pile of caramelized garlic cloves and beer braised cippolini onions were thoughtful mates for a commendable liver pate and jar of fat-roofed rillettes. The terrine, however, was only tepidly flavoured. We liked very much the carnitas of pulled pork, with their burst of cilantro flavour and cumined sour cream. And the mussels were in fine form in a beer doused broth with lardons, leeks and fennel. Less impressive, the ‘drunken crab and spinach dip’ served so hot the contents were curdling, and the crab within largely undetectable.
As for the toppings on the flatbread – sundried tomato, arugula, goat cheese, beer braised onions, olives and
artichokes – nothing wrong with any of that. But it all tumbled off the too thin, almost cracker like and uncuttable crust as though just piled on top of a pre-cooked shell. Not job interview food. Same trouble with the beet salad – good elements (though boring spinach that needed to be picked through a bit more carefully) but nothing hung together. And the ho-hum raspberry-beer dressing ought to be tossed with the spinach, not simply glopped on top.
Ice creams are made in house, with beer in the custard, and some – particularly the chocolate-mocha – were luscious. We were less impressed with the other sweet endings we sampled.
The Mill St. Brewpub is still new and has a lot of good things going for it. There’s no lack of people clamouring to get in. So by all means, go. Go for the setting, the beer, the convivial atmosphere… it’s light years more fun than it’s predecessor. Just don’t go with high expectations for the food. You’ll have a better time.