We all know and love our favourite eateries. Wilf & Ada’s is kicking it up a notch.
MAR 28 14 – 12:01 AM — The roadside diner is undeniably a thing of beauty, a timeless quintessential icon of Americana that is as much a part of community social fabric as it is comfort piled high on a plate. There is no substitute.
Often outfitted with linoleum tiles underfoot, Formica table tops, stainless still trim, maybe bright-red Pleather stools and banquettes, the diner beckons folks to come inside, take a seat, and eat at reasonable prices.
Famous diners dot the landscape, notably the likes of Goody Goodie in St. Louis (originally born as an A & W during the depression); 66 Diner on what used to be Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Rosie’s Diner in Rockford, Michigan (where actress Nancy Walker made commercials for Bounty paper towels); and Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. There’s a gazillion others, of course, and not all of them have made yet it to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but Guy Fiere is working on it.
You want a Chai latte with lunch? Go someplace else.
And so we discover in downtown Ottawa the relaunched Wilf & Ada’s — a scratch diner, nestled in Centretown at 510 Bank St., just north of the Queensway, formerly operated as Ada’s by Wilf and Ada Laham before they retired in October after 20 years serving clubs, coffee, scrambled and sunny-side eggs, and bacon.
New owners Ion Aimers, 55, Jessie Duffy, 34, and Dominic Paul, 28, took possession in October, completely renovated the place through November and December, and relaunched Jan. 3 as a diner with a difference. That is, wherever possible Dominic in the kitchen makes his food from scratch (hence the name).
Here the marmalade begins life as seedless naval oranges, peanut butter starts with whole peanuts, the mayonnaise is emulsified oil and egg, the bacon arrives as fresh belly from Perth Pork Products before it is rubbed to dry-cure three days, then hot smoked two hours. Did someone say ice cream? From scratch, of course. English muffins? Ditto.
“I like the comfort aspect,” says Jessie, “the familiar feel where you can be a bit more relaxed with guests. We’re serving food that you know, the menu needs no explanation.”
Dominic’s culinary pedigree extends to time well spent at Fraser Café, Town, The Wellington Gastropub and Union Local 613, while partner Jessie who runs the front of the house is from Fraser Café and Supply and Demand.
Middle, left, founders Wilf and Ada Laham.
“We don’t bring in deli meats so we do our own hot-smoked pork loin, roast chicken, or portobello melt as a vegetarian option,” Dominic says.
“Our Dagwood sandwich uses real roast chicken — it’s a loaded club with chicken, bacon, hard-cooked Sriracha pickled egg, honey mustard, crispy fried onion, arugula, leaf lettuce, old St. Albert cheddar, and local greenhouse tomatoes.”
Dominic originally started making all his own bread, but soon discovered that pumping out maybe 80 loaves a week was a bit overwhelming for the small kitchen. He still makes 20 or 30 loaves a week for the signature French toast, but sandwich bread is by artisan baker Nat’s Bread Co., which operates in the basement at Beckta Dining & Wine on Nepean Street.
If you didn’t get the idea by now, no one leaves Wilf & Ada’s hungry.
The famous Dagwood sandwich platter.
Restaurant lovers will recall Ion Aimers as the energetic founder of The WORKS hamburger empire (which he sold to an Oakville-based company in late 2010). More recently, he’s set up a small chain of three gourmet pizza places under the name ZaZaZa Pizza with Pizazz. With numerous business awards to his credit, including Restaurateur of the Year, Ion is also a partner with chefs Ross and Simon Fraser at acclaimed Fraser Café on Springfield Avenue in New Edinburgh. He knew Jessie and Paul through his association with the café.
Already with over 1,300 “likes” on Facebook, and an Urbanspoon rating of 89 per cent with patrons, Wilf & Ada’s is a casual place that in almost three months has earned a reputation others would die for, outfitted with nifty light fixtures, polished wooden tables and seating for 30. And, oh, the food: Generous potions, attractively priced. It’s all on a chalkboard above the bar.
“It’s a great story,” Ion says, over a Dagwood one day with carrot/ginger soup.
“Wilf and Ada were always very friendly, the nicest people you could imagine. I sensed they may have been ready to retire so I said, hey, if you ever do then please let me know. So she tapped me on the shoulder last June or July, we had a pizza together, shook hands and the deal was made. The rest is history.
“I really want to maintain the historic diner concept and the friendly neighbourhood quality of Wilf & Ada’s, but raise the level of food quality where everything is made in-house,” Ion says.
“So we’ve taken it to the next level where soups are completely from scratch, and so is the bread, the peanut butter, the organic milk and eggs, our smoked bacon. And we cut our own potatoes for the fries. You simply won’t find a packaged product here.”
Wild & Ada’s — a scratch diner
510 Bank St.
Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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