Sens House targets NHL niche in ByWard Market — check out the great eats

Sens House targets NHL niche in ByWard Market — check out the great eats

More than ever, a successful restaurant has to know its audience — then go for it. Sens House plans to score big

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JUL 25 14 – 10:50 AM — As I’ve said before, a successful restaurateur these days must identify his audience with precision in the highly competitive (if not congested) ByWard Market, then go for it with gusto.

And I’m betting the combination of glitz, big-screen TV, frosty beer, open-air second-floor patio with unique retractable roof, and reasonable food prices may well prove a winning formula in the partnership between Ottawa Senators Hockey Club and Ottawa Venues. Ottawa’s latest sports bar with pizzazz was unveiled last night at a VIP reception for some 250 guests, the latest adventure designed to make Sens House Sports Bar & Grill on York Street a big hit with NHL fans.

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As designed, this is a high-stakes investment to compete with Real Sports Bar & Grill by Toronto-based rival Maple Leaf Entertainment located only a block away on George Street.

Sens House officially opens to the public Monday. Let the games begin

IMG_5328Proudly billed as a sports bar and grill “built for Sens fans” as a home away from home, Sens House is a welcoming alternative for those who cannot make it on game day to the Canadian Tire Centre and who dearly want to support the home team at an official Sens venue.

Much has been reported about the state-of-the-art retractable roof, the 16- by 9-foot NDX-W20 FLEX screen featuring the highest degree of brightness and clarity available, and the 1,500-square-foot patio with heated floors that will keep fans comfy even sitting outdoors year-round. I first blogged about the new venue, as well as companion Lowertown Brewery on the main floor, in this post on June 18.

Of course I went for the food last night, which amounted to a selection of mini versions of dishes from the main menu. Items are attractively priced featuring a selection of staples like nachos, chicken wings, ribs and burgers you’d expect at a sports bar — plus a few tasty surprises.

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Left, bites of ponzu salmon at last night’s VIP reception. Bottom right, drinks as you sit at the Sens House bar are nestled in a copper-lined trough filled with ice to keep them, well, ice-cold. A nice touch, that.

What strikes me is the size of the generous portions attractively if not aggressively priced to compete with myriad other bars in the Market district. And, look for interesting variations you may not expect at a sports bar like the ramen noodle bowl with miso broth, shrimp, spring onion, bamboo shoots, egg, mushrooms and bean sprouts at $15.99, or open-ended egg rolls of pork, bean sprouts, carrot topped with plum sauce at $7.99.

Ottawa Venues is a holding company operating more than 25 years in the Market area with partners Steve Monuk, Jay Frederick, Todd Brown and Dave Crawford. The company is better know by its unofficial name, York Entertainment, and owns about a dozen bars and restaurants including Steak Modern Sushi, Cornerstone Bar & Grill, Fat Tuesdays, Pub 101, Great Canadian Cabin, The Drink, Live Lounge, Whiskey Bar, and the nightclub Liquor Store Party Room (formerly known as On Tap).

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Venues also has a business relationship with Clocktower Brew Pub on Clarence Street and in Westboro, while Clocktower is partner at the new Lowertown Brewery with its own menu located on the main floor, below Sens House.

Chef Johnny Leung, a partner at Steak Modern Sushi, is culinary director of all Ottawa Venues operations. Running the kitchen at second-level Sens House is chef Jon Benoit, a Toronto native who for 10 years has worked at other Ottawa Venues operations. Joining him in charge of the Lowertown Brewery kitchen downstairs is chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, who you may remember as former chef at the popular vegan ZenKitchen in Ottawa’s Chinatown neighbourhood.

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L-R chefs Jon Benoit, Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, Johnny Leung.

Leung is especially proud of his finger-friendly egg rolls at the sport bar. “People in a sports bar during a game usually have things like burgers, wings and finger food,” Leung says.

“But eggs rolls, which are popular with fans at the Canadian Tire Centre, give people at Sens House the same experience as if they were attending the main arena complex.”

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Also popular is the chicken parm grilled cheese sandwich (photo, above) at $15.99 with sautéed sweet peppers and onions, mozzarella, provolone and house-made marinara (tomato) sauce, and side salad (or fries). You’ll definitely not leave hungry.

“This is a come-as-you-are, fun and feel-good place where the food is made from scratch.”

They’re not reinventing wheels in the kitchen, here. It’s just good value for good food — a place you can come to drink in the game atmosphere without taking a mortgage to pay for it.

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Top left, the classic double cheeseburger with two 1/4-pound hand-pressed Angus beef patties and lettuce, tomato, pickle, “Sens sauce” and cheese. Top right, ponzu salmon samples passed at the VIP reception Thursday. Bottom, chicken wings available with sauce or dry, with seasonings as you prefer spicy (or not), and cool dipping sauce.

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Top, red, black and yellow balloons are released at the opening reception as the retractable roof is pulled back.

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Top, chef Jon Benoit in his habitat; bottom left, chef with his beloved classic double cheeseburger. (Hint: To better get your mouth around it, give the burger a gentle squeeze with your palm to slightly flatten — then dig in). Left, chef Johnny Leung prepares his open-ended egg rolls with plum sauce.

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