Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I am a fairly independent guy. I'm an only child which forced me to do a lot of things on my own. Like play. Explore. Make friends. When I went away to University, I went to a school where no one from my high school had even applied in years, let alone actually went to. I was totally on my own in the city. I learned to see movies on my own (how I miss $3 matinees at the Paramount). And I learned to eat out on my own too.

I'm pretty comfortable going to places and ordering wings without anyone. Taking photos by myself is still a bit strange I admit, but I can deal with it. But there are always eateries that I'm curious to go to, but avoid. Perhaps they are small and I'm afraid I won't be able to take pictures without making a scene. Or I might stick out in the crowd. Or its so busy that getting a table for 1 might be tres awkward. Those places I wait until my girlfriend or friends can go to. Otherwise, I never try them because there is just something that makes me uncomfortable. The Carleton Tavern was one of those places, until now.

Here's the stereotype I built up in my head: a tavern is primarily a drinking hole so the clientele might be more than a little rough; I can't see inside so I don't know the layout; I picture a much older crowd than myself; a no-nonsense, hard edged old waitress; no light to take photos.

I mean the place isn't much to look at, and the crowd made me cautious. Not based on evidence, just what I imagined. In the summer, the 2 patios are always packed, so lots of people go. And they advertise a lot of food specials too. Finally, on I saw photos of the interior, so I decided to see if the Carleton Tavern was as scary as I made it out to be.

The inside is just as I imagined it, and just like the above photo made it out to look like. Tavern-like decor, uncomfortable wood chairs and tables, and no music. The place was established in 1935. The crowd was, well it could have been the same people (just kidding). I was by far the youngest patron in the joint. It was early, so there was really only a group at the back, a cowboy (I kid you not), and two guys sitting beside me.

One of these guys annoyed the hell out of me because while discussing business loudly (contracting? real estate? something along these lines) his cell phone, set to the highest volume and using the old-school telephone ring, went off constantly the whole time there. And sometimes he didn't check the phone for 4-6 rings!

My encounters with my waitress were, interesting. No she was not the old-bar wench I expected, she was in her 20's, but moderately surly. Maybe surly is a bit harsh. She seemed confused as to me being there, let alone by myself (it is possible my paranoia was on high alert, but I don't think so). She asked if I wanted a drink . . . :Coke or Pepsi" I asked. She kind of just stared at me, "well, which one? Coke or Pepsi?" oh, I had no way of knowing I could have both. 'Coke' I said. "Do you want a menu or . . ." she asked with suspicion. "Yes please."

The menu came and there were no wings on it. Lots of good sounding grub from cheap burgers and hot dogs, sandwiches, appetizers and Montreal Smoked Meat, but no wings. But I know they have wings because I've seen the banners outside advertising as such (see above photo). When she came back (she never did tell me her name), I said I would get the wings. "How do you want them?" "What kind of sauces do you have?" "The usual kinds" - and that was when the surly hit hardest. The usual kinds? What does that mean? My guess is that means Mild, Medium, Hot, and Honey Garlic . . . but I decided to wait out an answer. Then she listed the sauces: " Mild, Medium, Hot, Honey Garlic, BBQ, Cajun, Thai, Teriyaki. Holy smokes - that's more than just 'the usual'!

Somehow I managed to pick two sauce for my wings. It wasn't long before I had my can of Coke and two baskets of wings in front of me.

The wings were on for $0.35 a piece, and I went with 10 wings each of hot and bbq. The wings are deep fried then tossed in sauce. Very simple, very straight forward.

The wings were bigger than I expected: I thought pigeon sized wings for sure. I was wrong. About a medium wing. And some were pretty meaty. All the wings were very juicy - tender and moist. But they were not crispy enough for my liking. While the meat was cooked, the skin was just not deep fried long enough.

I went with two sauces, HOT as my standard to judge all places by, and BBQ. It was not hot. Like I can't even conceive of what mild would be.

Actually, the sauce was also super weak in flavour. Cayenne hot sauce I think, maybe Frank's, maybe Tabasco - it was just to minuscule to tell. So it didn't taste bad, it just didn't taste.

I did not enjoy the BBQ sauce. It was thin. Yes viscous-wise it was thin, but as a BBQ sauce it was just thin. It was not really sweet, and it wasn't savoury. It didn't have any bold kick, no hickory, no smokey. I ate these quickly to get over them. Again, the sauce wasn't terrible tasting, it just sat in my mouth not doing anything for me.

FINAL SCORE: My experience was not great here. I felt out of place on my own here and I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. My server did not make me feel welcome. Not unwelcome, and no one really didn't do anything to me. That being said, everyone else there seemed to be having a good time. But then again, they were almost twice my age, with their friends, drinking beer. Good times for them.

I did not care for the chicken wings, at all. If I went back, and with a crew or at least one other person, I would happily try the poutine, burgers or the smoked meat. But wings will not be in my order. 4/10

The Carleton Tavern
223 Armstrong St, Ottawa ON.

PS: this is a mural on the adjacent building to the Carleton Tavern for a restaurant that used to be there and connected (and ultimately incorporated into the tavern). I like it because its called the 'ugly club' and they had $0.20 wings.


Chris said...

Sometimes you just get a vibe about a place, ya know.

The Ugly Club sign cracked me up.

Brad said...

Lets just hope for your sake that the tavern isn't owned by those "Ottawa Mafia" types......

"You might be thinking to doing....another review my friend, one a bit more... kindly to our establishment"

Lord of the Wings said...

Chris - I love that sign too.

Brad - ya exactly. I don't need more threats against my wing views. But no offer I couldn't refuse was made . . .

Karen said...

The Carleton Tavern is very much a family owned and family run establishment. It is really a down home kind of eatery. The author of this web page, really should give the Carleton Tavern another try. Every business has off days and another vist before publishing such an unkind review would have giving your readers a better are more honest evaluation of the Carleton. There are different clientel depending on the time of day you come here. Mornings is business people grabbing a bite before going off to work. They also have a knitting group that comes in the morning on Wednesdays. At noon hour there is the lunch crowd from Stats Canada and the surrounding businesses and of course in the evenings there are the drinkers and party people. Fridays they have the Cooper Brothers who gather to discuss business plans, there is a poetry group that meets here regularily. There are several dart groups who come regularily, free evening entertainment Fridays, and Saturdays and specials daily.
You really have to come and see all that the Carleton Tavern has to offer. There really is something for everyone here, you just have to give it an honest try.
The owners of this business would love for the web owner to come by again and this time ask to speak to Sam or Simon both owners. I am sure that your next visit will give you a different perspective of this establishment.
I have been coming here for over 20 years and the people are very nice.

Lord of the Wings said...

@Karen - thanks for stopping by the blog and for speaking about the Carleton Tavern. I don't often write negative reviews (as you may have seen from other post) and don't announce I am doing a review because I don't want special treatment and to give readers the same experience they might have going to an establishment.

And I agree, many restaurants can have a bad day - the food might have been off that day, the waitress might have been upset and I just saw the wrong clientele. But I did not feel comfortable or welcomed on that day.

But I know the Carleton Tavern is a very popular spot and appeals to a lot of people. If I still lived in Ottawa I would go back and see if my experience was off. I do appreciate you coming here and passionately defending the Carleton Tavern ~ my experience won't be everyone's and I am happy to hear about other's such as yourself.

Anonymous said...

If they had a bad they when you went to visit them, they must have had a bad day too when I went to visit them. Living around the area I knew what kind of people generally went there so I was kind of afraid to try it by myself. I went in there and it was actually pretty big. I didn't even get a menu to look at. I was fortunate enough to see the flavours for the wings on the wall. I thought it was strange that the staff tried to seem inconspicuous when coming by to see me as I was alone and Asian eating wings. My first server was burly and I guess asking for wings and beer didn't suit her so she passed me off to another server. Anyways, that didn't make me feel welcome either. The wings itself, I felt like I was going to get food poisoning. I thought they were undercooked. Only good side to my visit, the beer, Kitchisipi beer. I wouldn't go again even if they had their wings for 1 cent!

Lord of the Wings said...

@Anonymous - Sorry to hear you had a bad experience as well Anon.

Jan said...

Re Anonymous... You were not sluffed off to another server you dork. Old taverns have a drink server and a food server. Have you ever been in a pub in Montreal? They do the same thing! If you want to educate yourself, maybe you would be fit to pass judgment on the Carleton.

Anonymous said...

Took the family there for wing night and the place had a very peculiar smell. Not a good first impression. Felt like fish out of water.

Similar experience as Anon with the waitress saying they have the usual sauces and was unspecific until requested. I've been a waitress and her 'service' was definitely unfriendly.

In my humble opinion, the wings were decent for the price (you get what you pay for). I doubt I will return given the restaurant's vibe and the waitress.