Chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx has spent the last few years turning Lowertown Brewery into a ByWard Market hot spot. Now he’s on to the next challenge, having opened an ambitious “double restaurant” housed in a heritage building in Aylmer at 61, rue Principale.
On the main floor, Le Maçon Pub seats 80, with a huge outdoor veranda and patio in the summer. Mortimer-Proulx hopes it will become a neighbourhood hangout, with made-from-scratch pub fare paired with a curated list of draft beers and local craft brews.
Upstairs, La Maison Conroy seats 50 (plus five at the bar) and is a more intimate space. Here, Mortimer-Proulx provides an upscale dining experience, promising a medium-plates menu tied to the seasons and supported by local farmers. This is where he gets to really show off his culinary chops.
City Bites Insider caught up with the busy chef for a quick tour.
Everyone loved your vegan cuisine at ZenKitchen, then you changed it up and presided over great pub grub at Lowertown Brewery. It’s an eclectic path — what precipitated this latest move?
I lost my Mum last summer, which was obviously really tough. For me, it felt like it was time to readjust. I was planning to leave the city at the end of the summer and maybe head out to spend some time on either the east or west coast. I’d already let the owners know what I was doing. So that was my plan — and then this opportunity to run my own restaurant came about.
Tell us about that.
The majority owner, Rod Scribner [who also owns Salt on Preston Street], got in touch over the summer to see if I’d be interested in running my own place. I drove over to Aylmer to check out this beautiful heritage building and could see it would be a unique opportunity for me to really show off my style. Obviously my style was there in my cooking at Zen and at Lowertown Brewery, but neither was totally what I would cook if I held the reins.
So downstairs you have a pub [Le Maçon] and upstairs you have a fine-dining restaurant [La Maison Conroy]. How do you mix the two?
I don’t. They have completely separate menus. The pub menu is really short — 11 items. It’s pub food that everyone’s going to recognize, but done really well — everything from scratch. The menu at La Maison Conroy is where I get to have fun without limitations.
So long as it sells.
So tell me about your menu at La Maison Conroy.
There’s a “cold side” and a “hot side.”
Let’s start with the cold side.
The cold side has these really amazing oysters and a big charcuterie menu. The charcuterie is all made in house, so I’ve got a country terrine, a potted fish made with mackerel, foie gras torchon, beef bresaola… There are a half dozen Quebec cheeses — they are so good, but also accessible. Guests are really getting into this. The most popular is the “7 for 47” which really gives you a good tasting.
And how does the hot side work?
I’m really having fun with this. It’s a menu that will change with the seasons and which I really want people to get excited about. Most of the plates are what I would call medium-sized. Often, a couple will share a charcuterie platter then 1-2 plates from the hot menu. If they go straight to the hot menu, they might share 4-5 plates, depending on how hungry they are. We guide them through it. Some people like to order one plate at a time, enjoy it, see how full they’re getting, and then decide to order the next.
Give me a few menu items — I love the menu titles, by the way. Ducking Delicious? Fish Out of Water? The “61 Strip”?
We love playing around with bad puns. The first is sous-vide duck breast, a confit and torchon croquette, with celery root puree, pickled cranberries, and a brandy demiglace. The fish is a Lake Ontario pickerel, which we’re serving with roasted spaghetti squash, a sweet and sour squash puree, lentil fritters, and creamed kale. People who’ve been around for a while will get the “61 Strip” reference! That’s a dry-aged striploin with celery root, Brussels sprouts and bacon, a Madeira demiglace, and a bleu Benedictine biscuit.
I hear you’ve reunited with two of your chef-mates from the ZenKitchen days.
When Zen closed, it was really sudden, and we felt like we weren’t done working together. So it has been great to reunite with Dipesh Parmar and David Gick. My full team is five.
You opened Le Maçon in November and La Maison Conroy in December. How’s business so far?
December was a tough time to open, I must admit — you’re fighting for dollars at Christmas. But it did give us a chance to work out details and things have been picking up in January. We’ve had some good feedback and I’m looking to build up our clientele.
Who do you see as your clientele?
Aylmer has 55,000 people, so that’s who I’m focusing on first and foremost — especially with the pub. I feel like we’re redefining what a pub can be — everything is competitively priced, but it’s all made in house. So, as an example, a hot chicken sandwich is made with our homemade sourdough bread and the chicken is locally sourced. We use the whole chicken — we use the meat then use the bones for stock that is then used to make the gravy. The fries are hand-cut.
Upstairs, La Maison Conroy is a destination restaurant, so I hope diners will come from Aylmer and Ottawa, as well as Chelsea and Wakefield. I really want to do something special.
La Maison Conroy is truly beautiful. Congrats.
Thanks. Rod [Scribner] took the lead on the design. He put in the booths and the chandeliers. He chose the artwork. He has been great about giving us the tools in the kitchen, too.
Last question. Are you having fun yet?
A lot of fun! It’s the first restaurant I’ve been involved with all the way from pre-construction to opening. When a restaurant first opens, it has no soul — that comes from the chef and the menu and the team. So every night that it’s busier, we’re super-happy. It’s fun to be busy — that’s what we’re here for.