Monday, 22 June 2009

THE JAMES STREET PUB ~ Ottawa, On

I'm a fairly forgiving person. Sure I have an enemies list (who doesn't?), but when it comes down to it, I generally believe in giving people a second chance. And restaurants are not exempt from this personal rule.





Way back in 2007 (wow how time flies) I didn't do an official review of The James Street Pub (JSP), but I did a rant because I did not have a good experience. Here's the problems I had:




  • The Internet and various websites told me that the place was called The James Street Feed Company, and that wing night was the night I went, when it wasn't. This is not the restaurants fault, I blame websites that didn't update their info.

  • The wings were small and expensive.

  • The hot wings were weak in flavour and heat.

  • My waitress was a bitch.


That's right, I was not happy with her because:



  • She kept calling me "Sir." Not in a respectful way, but in a snide, mocking way. She didn't do this with other customers.

  • She lied to me about the Pop: I asked for a Coke. She brought me a Pepsi. I don't mind drinking Pepsi, but if I had ordered a Labatts Blue, you wouldn't bring me a Bud.

  • She was not attentive, and was busy socializing with other staff instead of costumers.

  • She did not bring me the side of sauce I requested. Nor a second beverage.


That really poisoned my experience there. On restaurant review sites and even when you talk to people, one bad experience will ruin a place. An anonymous commenter disagreed with me on the wings and on putting down the restaurant. Well despite me saying "terrible service, expensive/tiny wings, I would NOT recommend this place to anyone " I was willing to go back and see if I had just hit a bad waitress that soured me on the whole experience.





I can't start over, as a fresh review. I was on guard for everything that might prove to be a negative experience. Unfortunately, that meant JSP was going to have to work hard to win me over.




The James Street Pub was originally called The James Street Feed Company, until it was bought by the Ottawa franchisee known as the Irish Village and re branded JSP in 2007, just before I visited there. But even to this day sites like restaurantica and yelp still refer to it as the previous establishment.



The JSP is now a sports pub, boasting the biggest patio on Bank street (they sit at the intersection of Bank and James). Unfortunately for them, construction has torn up Bank Street, making it vehicle inaccessible, and what view one would normally have from the patio is just ditch, dirt and fencing. That didn't stop the neighbourhood, who filled the outside completely, forcing this reviewer indoors.





I also have something to confess: I wasn't just coming back to re-review the pub. I'm a sucker for AYCE wings, and this was AYCE Monday night for $10. How can you turn that up? Or more importantly, how can I?

Inside the place is unremarkable. Flat screens showings Sportsnet, sports jerseys in frames, and booths. Inside was pretty empty, and I was sat in a booth near the corner. Shortly I was joined by Allie, my waitress. This was going to be the true test: what kind of service was I going to get?

Well, the best darned service one could get, that's what. Allie was fabulous. First, she asked if I was there for the wings (good guess, but everyone that sat in earshot of me also got AYCE wings). She passed the first test, she was friendly. Then she took my drink order; "A Coke?" I asked. "We have Pepsi, is that alright?" Perfect. She understands the importance of correct drink identification.


When she came back, she went over the 'rules' of AYCE, the wings and any other questions I had. Drinks were not free refills (at least not on wing night) but she was more than willing to oblige me for refill requests. At the end of my meal she even brought me water to cleanse my palate! Within 5 minutes of ordering, without exaggerating, my first order of wings arrived.


The AYCE special is $10 with a drink purchase. The first order is 20 wings, no splitting, and after that each order is 10 wings. Sauces cannot be split, but you can combine sauces (like hot and bbq, or Cajun dusted and 911).


You are also offered your choice of dipping sauce. That's right, a bar in Ottawa where you have the choice of Bleu Cheese, Ranch or Sour Cream. I really should have asked what people picked most often to see if Ottawaians really choose sour cream, or if they are just ignorant to chicken wing tradition.



The quality of the wings really fluctuated throughout the orders, and I will go into specifics with each of my 3 sauced orders. Some wings were small (most of them), but some were medium. They were all pretty meaty wings though, which was good. But I'm pretty sure they are frozen stock, which is bad. I also think that they were cooking wings in big batches and keeping them warm until served.

HOT

The hot came out and they looked good. Small but they glistened with sauce. 20 small wings piled up look good and I dove right in. But I was not impressed. This chicken batch was soggy. There was some crispy wings, but I really think the hot wings had been sitting in a tray and just dished out.



The hot was not hot at all. I had a hard time trying to identify what kind of sauce it was, but the spice flavours were really weak. The sourness of vinegar in the sauce was there, but it wasn't really there either. Get it? I actually ate a lot of wings dipped in bleu cheese, and I rarely dip my wings. Hot was a definite pass. And I had 20 to eat through.




911

My second order. These wings came out hot and crispy. Like they were made fresh to order. But they were on the border of being over fried. I asked Allie if the 911 sauce was just hot that was spicier, or if it was its own sauce. She said it was made in house and was, she assured, HOT. Homemade suicide can be good, but it can also be bad. When they arrived at my table, the smell made me turn up my nose, repulsed. I was not going to like these.

But I was wrong.

Another waitress brought me the wings, and this is what she said: "you ordered the suicide wings? Here they are, you are crazy, and enjoy!" I laughed because she slipped in the crazy comment that someone else might have missed. After taking a few photos (the lighting in this place made photos very hard) I had my first wing, but no heat. I was disappointed. Allie came by and asked how I was doing and was surprised to see me not suffering. But wing after wing, the heat really kicked in.

It was a slow dry burn. It started in the back of my throat. Then the mouth. My nose started to run just a little. My heart had little spikes of flames. My lips felt like pins and needles. I needed a drink. This was good stuff!

I could see chili flakes, and detect cayenne pepper. But the only secret I could get out of Allie in its recipe was Dave's Insanity Sauce, which has about a 180 000 Scoville rating. I felt this heat for a while, and it is clear I am a bit out of practice with spice because I had to reach for my drink several times.


Guinness BBQ

There were two BBQ sauces to choose from, and I didn't know which way to go. Guinness sounded more interesting, but I have had many bad experiences with alcohol based bbq sauces. I asked Allie what the difference was and her recommendation. She said the Guinness BBQ had a smoked hickory flavour to it. So that's what I got.


This was a very mild sauce. And the hickory smoke? Well that was just liquid smoke dumped in. It wasn't bad, but I wonder if the difference between the two sauces was just adding the smoked additive.



FINAL SCORE:

Well, my experience with Allie as an excellent waitress definitely affected my feelings on the place. She made my time there and changed me around on the place itself.
The wings on the other hand were nothing special. I hope that the small and colder wings were the result of wing night, rather than the usual product. But they have a top notch suicide.
5/10


The James Street Pub
390 Bank St, Ottawa, On
irishvillage.ca/james

2 comments:

Chris said...

I have to agree with you on the affect of service. Service matters and definitely influences my perception of the "taste of the experience" if not, the food.

Teena in Toronto said...

I find the quality of wings goes down on AYCE nights.

I'm glad your experience was better, though.