Thursday, 28 May 2009

YRe's BBQ Chicken ~ Ottawa

(Yre's has finally CLOSED - but rumored to be opening in a new location)

ED. NOTE: as you man know, back in April my camera broke. While it prevented me from taking new photos, another problem erupted: I couldn't access the photos I had taken. My old camera didn't recognize any photos on the memory card, nor did a digital picture frame. Last week (or was it the week before) I finally reunited my fixed camera with its memory card and Huzzah! the pictures were still there. The following is a review that I had done over 1 month ago early on that day.

I was off on what I call one of my adventure days. Say a Friday or a Saturday when I'm on my own, going Urban Exploring, taking in a movie, and of course, food. Having botched much of the morning, I decided my day would start with lunch (and by start the day, I mean after 1pm). And my choice was going to be a chicken shack called YRes BBQ out in the East end of the downtown part of the city.

I had heard great things about the wood charcoal cooked chicken, but also read some warnings. It's a dive, the food takes a LONG time to get once ordered, and very possibly closed down due to condo or some other development. Those sources were from 2006, and several years after these articles came out in this past year, I had tried to go to Yre's, but it was always closed. I feared I had missed out. Then one day in March of 2009 I was driving by and noticed an "OPEN" sign in the window. Flash forward to my April Adventure Day, I was hopping on a bus and headed for Yre's.

I got off the bus across the street from Yre's and it was what I had been told: a hole in the wall. The flashier sign I had seen in the above articles was gone, and if I didn't know about this place I would normally have walked on by. But the sign in the window said "open" and I was ready to get down to business.

Inside was, well, shabby. It hasn't been painted in years, or even given a real scrub. Straight ahead was a small counter/window with no identifiable menu. In what used to be Pino's Barber Shop on the left are a few old tables and chairs from mixed sets acting as a dining room. To the right was a counter with stools, and an older man - Yre's himself would be my guess - going over some book work. There was an awkward moment because I didn't know what was going on. He didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak much French. "I've heard you have good chicken" I say, not very sure how to proceed. He walked over to the counter and gave me their menu to look over.

The above is actually their business card, but that is the whole menu. Simple and straight to the point: chicken, plantain, couscous, rice. I was hungry, but not in the mood for anything but chicken, so I went with a 1/2 chicken. For myself. He asked me if I wanted it spicy or not and I said very spicy, naturally. He then informed me that they weren't technically open until 2pm (it was like 5 mins to 2) and that the food wouldn't be ready until 3pm. Wowzers. I had heard that it took a long time, but I figured that if they were just opening I could get one of the first finished chickens, but they don't start cooking until 2pm. That's when I noticed that the book work he was doing was all the orders that had already been taken.

I had an hour to kill, but bus service in this area a) does not have a posted schedual b) unreliable to go somewhere and come back. I decided to head to Strathcona Park to take in some faux ruins and the river. Being one of the first beautiful days of the year, I sat and read a book at a picnic table (I know, what an Adventure Day) and then walked back at 3pm. Two blocks away my nose was incensed by the wafting smell of charcoal bbq. Lunch must almost be ready!

Going inside, the place was packed with families and couples all waiting for their chicken. Yre was joined by two other staff at this point. Even though it was an hour later my chicken still wasn't ready, but I didn't have long to wait. Although there was a space or two to sit, I knew I was going to do a review of the chicken and in such close quarters it was going to be awkward snapping a few shots all by myself. I paid for my food and headed by to another nearby park, MacDonald Park, where I scored a picnic table.

The park was busy with families kicking around a soccer ball, joggers and dog walkers. While this park isn't overly exciting to look at, I love it for two reasons. 1) It's called MacDonald Park after Sir John A MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, because he used to live in a home at one end of the park. 2) because this used to be the Sandy Hill Cemetery, and in the 1800's the city wanting more green space, buried the cemetery. Families could pay to have their deceased loved ones removed, but most couldn't. So while Jr is running for that soccer ball today, he's really playing over the dead. The gazebo in the picture above (actually above above) is said to be haunted.

My chicken came in a grocery store chicken paper/tinfoil bag. I quickly unwrapped it and took in the smell of spices and roasted chicken. I was in heaven. But looking inside, I was a little surprised at how small the chicken actually was.

I ripped open the bag to make a makeshift plate. I was glad I had a small package of tissues because I didn't get any napkins while I was at the restaurant, and this was going to be messy.

The chicken was basically fall off the bone. The wing in the above shot easily tore away from the bird. And you can see the spices were everywhere on the chicken. It was rubbed with love for sure.

A comparison photos of the crispy, salty but flavourful skin, versus the moist and tasty chicken meat. Even the white meat seemed to have flavour.

Another reason I was going to need napkins, I had no cutlery. No matter, this isn't the kind of chicken you cut with a knife. No, this is eat with your hands, mess on the face and fingers, feel like a caveman chicken.

This was a really tasty bird. The spices mixed with the wood charcoal make for an excellent chicken experience. My biggest complaint was the spice. I had asked for very spicy (which Yre's seem to enjoy) but my bird was not hot (as in spice). No bite, no pain. So either I didn't get the spicy one, they toned it down for me, or what they think is hot is not. Despite the lack of heat, there was a lot of spices, and thus, a lot of flavour. The bird wasn't big so I could have eaten a whole one I think, but the 1/2 was really all I needed.

Yre's isn't much for presentation, flash or atmosphere. But with a large waiting crowd, a long line of orders and great word of mouth, its clear he knows his chicken. This was a perfect picnic food for eating out in the nearby park, because eating in wasn't really desirable and taking it home it would just get cold (for where we live anyway). Just make sure you order well in advance and you are prepared to wait. It's worth it.
YRe's BBQ Chicken
169 Charlotte Street, Ottawa, ON

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