Food & Drink

Will you have coffee with that?

Prettiest cappuccino in town? Jackson at the Ottawa Art Gallery is not fully operational yet, but its coffee is served in lovely cups and comfortable surroundings. Photo Paula Kelsall

New reasons to check out Ottawa’s arts establishments

Paula Kelsall

It’s a curious thing that there is not a great deal of art to see when you walk into the new Ottawa Art Gallery. Apparently this has to do with the lack of climate control on the ground levels of the building. With light flooding in from all directions and doors opening directly to the north and south sides, the Gallery staff has to consider carefully which pieces from their collection are suitable to furnish the entrance spaces. At the moment, Stefan St.-Laurent’s 3-foot high sculpture of Queen Elizabeth, regally dressed in brocade gown and fur stole, is looking a bit lonely as she offers a pained apology for the Acadian expulsion, and you will have to ascend to the second, third and fourth floors if you want to see the full range of the Gallery’s collection.

Tea, a power ball and a view. Equator at the NAC offers a great perspective on the nation’s capital, along with hot beverages and worthwhile treats. Photo Paula Kelsall

What the Gallery does have at ground level is a fine little gift shop (near the Waller Street entrance), with many tempting offerings from local craftspeople, along with books, cards, games and art supplies; and, lower down at the Daly Street entrance, a lovely cafe space called Jackson.

Jackson has big ambitions. Its website tells us that soon it will be offering “high vibration foods, embracing balance with beauty wellness wisdom & love”. For the moment, however, its kitchen is not fully operational, and instead it serves cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, rather undistinguished looking muffins, cookies, croissants, and coffee. There is also a glamorous looking bar, where it’s easy to imagine enjoying a post-work drink en route to a lively evening.

The seating possibilities at Jackson are varied and tempting, ranging from banquettes to sleek mid-century style chairs to comfy couches, and the “small” cappuccino comes in a large and artisanal-looking cup worthy of its surroundings. Altogether, Jackson is a lovely place to restore one’s energy with a caffeine infusion after descending from the galleries above. And, given the Gallery’s innovative programming, including free child care on Wednesdays afternoons and sketching evenings on Thursdays, there are plenty of reasons to come by to check it out.

A little bit further west, in the new glass addition to the NAC which is apparently called the Kipnes Lantern, Equator Coffee has set up shop right off of Elgin St. Equator is one of our region’s veteran artisanal coffee roasters, with headquarters in Almonte, and it’s lovely to see them in a space in the heart of Ottawa. And what a space!  The counter-in-the-window seating that’s typical of today’s coffee merchants faces directly out onto Elgin Street, offering one of the city’s loveliest views out to the War Memorial, the Chambers building, Parliament Hill in the distance and all the bustle of tourist and political passersby. Surely this is the place to settle in and write your novel of political history or civil service intrigue.

The street level of the NAC contains many other seating possibilities, from small tables with chairs to the grand staircase overlooking the new stage area by the canal, and there are coffee drinkers with their laptops sprinkled throughout what is (for now) a quiet and accommodating public space right in the heart of the city.

Equator offers a good selection of fresh and attractive treats to go with its beverages. Power balls, small nuggets of peanut butter mixed with dates, chocolate and goji berries, offer a few tender bites of sweetness, and there are plenty of squares and cookies on offer if you have a bigger gap to fill. Equator also advertises a few sandwiches, and it would be great to see a few more lunch possibilities on their menu.

It’s exciting to see these new cafes in the NAC and the OAG. The aroma of coffee and the friendly murmur of expresso machines and conversation add life to both institutions and give visitors extra reasons to drop in. Jackson and Equator are both open every day of the week, and we’re lucky to have them in the neighbourhood.