This past Family Day Long Weekend I coordinated a visit to our Nationals Capital with Ottawa Tourism. I arrived with my father just in time to showcase The Winterlude Festival. We had a jam packed culinary itinerary which had us visiting five of the cities top restaurants. When we weren’t oooing and ahhhing at fantastical ice sculptures or strolling through the National Gallery we were either snapping pictures of our food, napping with bloated stomachs or talking about our next meal. Food was the focus, as it should be.
We enjoyed brunch on Sunday at the stunning Courtyard Restaurant which is tucked away behind the ByWard Market. Since 1827, the building at 21 George Street has been a witness to history – and for much of its past, a home to hospitality. First constructed as a log tavern that quenched the thirsts of the workingmen whose labour gave birth to Bytowne (Ottawa’s original name), an eventual addition transformed the building into the modest McArthur House Hotel. By 1837, much of the original building was gone, and like many of the wooden shanties of the early city, it had been replaced by a structure made of locally quarried limestone.
Construction for a new wing began and the building would eventually be leased to the newly minted federal government to house a garrison of 150 men charged with the task of protecting Governor General Lord Monck. While the military deserted the building in 1871, it stayed long enough to leave its mark – the courtyard is the site of the last military hanging. From 1875 to 1880, the building was refurbished and operated as the “Clarendon House Hotel”. Following this venture, 21 George served as headquarters for the Geological Survey of Canada, and later, a branch of the Mines department, until the middle of the Second World War. During the 1911-1912 typhoid epidemic, 21 George temporarily housed a civil emergency center to aid Lowertown residents. After decades of sitting empty, the NCC began the renovations to transform 21 George into the Courtyard Restaurant. The restaurant first opened in July 1980 and has been serving loyal Ottawa locals and adventurous visitors ever since.
We were seated upstairs beside a large window. In the adjacent room an excited bride prepared for her wedding party to arrive. The building is so rich in local history it takes a few moment to look around and appreciate the ancient ambiance. Our first meal of the day was a true delight, with exemplary service and a brunch menu that journeys into the avant garde. The must have here is the French Toast. Just wow. We also enjoyed the deconstructed Huevos Rancheros, a perfect example of how variable textures and flavours in a dish can culminate to create one blissful moment. Brunch for many is a sacred weekly ritual. Courtyard Restaurant takes the traditional offerings we have become so comfortable with and showcases them in an interesting and exciting new way.
We enjoyed (* notes my favorites):
Orange and Grapefruit Juice
Vanilla Scone *
rhubarb berry jam
French Toast *
sweetened cream cheese stuffed brioche, maple, bacon, apple and sage compote, compressed fruit
Smoked Duck Reuben
smoked duck ‘pastrami’, kimchee, rye french toast, miso mustard, sunny side egg, house frites
Huevos Rancheros *
two poached eggs, guacamole, tortilla, refried beans, mole, dirty rice, fried parsnips