Food & DrinkNews

Dining out . . . at home

Paula Kelsall

At first, we just wanted to stay healthy. But when we had made our peace with staying home, or staying two metres away from everyone we knew, and when we had made ourselves some face masks and figured out how to get our groceries, we began to think about how nice it would be to eat something that had been prepared by someone else, once in a while. We remembered the local businesses that have prepared so many tasty meals for us over the years, and that still need to pay their bills.

We’re still not eating takeout too often. When we do, we order lots, so there’ll be leftovers. We take advantage of the new provincial rules to order beer and wine as well when we feel like it, to save ourselves a trip to the LCBO and to help the restaurants make a profit. And as much as possible, we pickup our own orders, so the restaurants aren’t splitting their profits with a delivery service.

We have discovered the joys of sharing a meal with friends, using a video chat app like FaceTime or Zoom. We’ve shared notes on meals from different restaurants, along with the news of the day, from the comfort of our respective dining rooms, and felt much less alone in the world. Now that the warm weather is here, maybe groups of five or fewer will be gathering with their takeout containers in backyards around the neighbourhood, for actual face-to-face conversation over restaurant meals. If this sounds good to you, here are some local kitchens to keep in mind —

Cadena Spanish Café, 323 Somerset St. E. We have loved their Spanish style shrimp, their sandwiches and their tortilla española for some time now, but the pasta with salsa española (tomatoes, arugula, chorizo, eggplant and anchovies) that I watched a friend eating on my computer screen a few weeks ago, looked so amazing that I know what I’ll be trying next time we drop in on Cadena.

Cumberland Pizza, 152 Nelson St. Our neighbourhood’s oldest pizzeria is missing its ebullient flower baskets this year, but it’s still open when you need a comforting wedge of chewy crust, gooey cheese, and the toppings of your choice, all lavished with oregano. Delight the teenagers in your house with leftovers for breakfast!

RamaKrishna, 417 Rideau St. It’s really fun to peruse the very extensive menu of this restaurant that’s replaced the Sitar, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Indian food makes great leftovers, so you can feel good about ordering an extra dish or two and trying lots of things. Vegetarians will appreciate the creative ways this place prepares the chewy cheese called paneer, and we all love the butter sauce that RamaKrishna lavishes on many good things besides chicken.

Shawarma Palace, 464 Rideau St. Rounding the corner from Chapel onto Rideau one night on my way to pick up a couple of platters, I encountered a neighbour carrying an insulated picnic bag, coming the other way. “Shawarma Palace, right?” he said with a knowing smile. It seems that many of us rely on the garlicky goodness of hummus and chicken shawarma to bring joy to a humdrum dinnertime.

Si Señor, 506 Rideau St. Here’s a restaurant that was an old hand at takeout even before the pandemic. Their burritos are a well-rounded meal – rice, beans, tomatoes, coriander, cheese and tender meat of your choice – in one delicious, if messy bundle. Served with a friendly smile and a choice of homemade salsas: the habañero is fresh and zesty.

Working Title Kitchen & Café, 330 Laurier Ave. E. was quick to offer an online order form, along with free delivery in our neighbourhood, when restaurants had to close. Their succulent short ribs, and the rich, creamy polenta that came with it, provided a memorably comforting meal during the early days of the pandemic. The café’s summer menu includes a large and beautiful potato salad with sun-dried tomato pesto that you’ll want to try with any of their main courses. And of course, a box of Working Title cookies is an unbeatable dessert investment.

Photo Paula Kelsall