I've been to Ottawa a few times in the past couple of weeks. One night when LJ was at a work function, I decided to try out a new/old haunt. How can it be new/old? Well the place was Jean Albert's which used to be in Hallville On, but they moved to Ottawa's Chinatown since I left Ottawa. It had been a couple of years since I had been to Jean Albert's, so they were due a visit.
In early October I had gone in and finally got to sample their wings. I spent a good chunk of time talking to owner LeRoy. We talked about the move, the difficulty that comes up with know-it-all blogger/foodies (claiming his food isn't authentic, or when people says he serves certain items that are canned goods when he actually makes things from scratch) and the occasional racists that give him a hard time. It was great to chat because I don't usually get a one-on-one with an owner (although I didn't reveal my blogger status). While we talked I found out about their all-you-can-eat wing night, and said the next time I was in town I was definitely going.
Well jump back to the beginning of November and it was the next time I was in town. This time LJ was free, so we went for wing night. There was a birthday crowd in, also taking advantage of AYCE wings. (note the photos were at the end of the night when we were the last customers of the evening, not when people were there). Other than that it was quiet, but also later than the regular dinner hour.
The atmosphere is similar to their Hallville location with all the Americana: portraits of Lincoln and Obama, old Pepsi signs, giant American flag etc. But they've traded in their picnic tables for real tables, plastic plates for real plates - and they have an upstairs that can be rented out for functions that looks kinda like an old speakeasy. Its cozy and warm inside, and you are always close to either LeRoy or his wife Jennifer with the main counter right in the main dinning room.
Jennifer was our server and she is super friendly. She helped LJ choose what to have and negotiated some of my wing questions. It wasn't long before an order of their sweet water corn bread came out - which are a little thicker than they used to be, but taste really good.
LJ went with the Chicken and Waffles - three pieces of fried chicken on a waffle. She had never had this before and wasn't sure how you eat it, so I told LJ to cut up the chicken with the waffle and dip it in the syrup, or the Frank's hot sauce on the table - and she really enjoyed it. In fact she ate the whole plate (she almost always has leftovers!).
As already stated, I went with the AYCE wings. The wings come in an order of about 8-10 wings in a pound, that are dusted/breaded in their own spice mix, then deep fried. There are no sides. You can get their special sauces on the side ($1.50) or baked in after the frying process ($2.50), but things change when you are ordering AYCE.
I love Jean Albert's and I really like the owners, but one thing that always seems strange is the money and cost of things. They are upfront about charges, but they seem to charge for a lot of extras or things that one wouldn't normally. For example, the wings come standard with Frank's hot sauce. Normally on wing night you get this sauce automatically, and if you want to try one of the homemade sauces, its the $1.50-2.50 extra. On this night, Jennifer said they were including one of the homemade sauces. However that is the sauce for all the AYCE, so when I wanted to try 2 different sauces, I had to pay $1.50 more. Basically, my first two orders of wings I had "Slap Yer Mamma" which was included in the price; when I had my third order of wings, I tried the Honey BBQ and it cost $1.50 more for a small dipping container. I was really hoping to try more of the homemade sauces, but wasn't willing to pay that much more.
The wings ranged in size from medium to large, with about a medium level of meatiness. Above is one of the larger wings. The chicken is super crispy, and the meat very tender (and comes out temperature hot!). I easily ate many of the wings just plain with the tasty seasoning, but the others I removed the bones (came apart easily) and dunked the skin/meat in the sauces.
There are lots of extra sauces to choose from - most homemade.
Slap Yer Mamma
I've had this sauce before and I really like it. The pictures don't do the rich dark red sauce justice. This sauce is peppery, smokey and has a good kick. The more you eat the hotter it gets, but still has a lot of flavour. This is a great suicide sauce.
Out of all the BBQ sauces, I tried a classic honey bbq. This sauce was very sweet, but had a good depth of flavour. It worked on the wings, but I think it would be better on ribs.
I am curious how the standard hot sauce was like, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Honey Garlic Candy Coat sauce appeals to me (candy coating, it sounds soo intriguing).
FINAL SCORE: I love Jean Alberts. The service has always been friendly and the food has always been good. Some of the food can be pricey and they are cooking from scratch, so the food takes a while, but I think its worth it. Wings are crispy, flavourful and fresh. I really recommend the `Slap Yer Mamma' sauce to go with them - but I'd stick to sauce on the side and not go for baked in. And how can you beat AYCE wing nights? 8.5/10
Jean Albert's American Style Soul Food
495 Somerset Street West, Ottawa ON
Urban Spoon has a copy of their menu HERE