You may have heard that Joshua Bishop the owner of the Whalesbone Oyster House has partnered with his restaurant’s general manager, Peter McCallum, to open the new and much-anticipated Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern. Well, the time has come.
I have been assured the doors will definitely be open by Sunday, but Bishop hinted that they might begin serving sooner — as early as today or tomorrow — without the full menu being available.
Last weekend, they held the Whalesbone staff party in the space, spinning vinyl and slurping oysters among the renovation debris. That night, a who’s-who of the restaurant industry did their very best to help christen the ship and prepare it for launch this week.
When I stopped in for a quick preview, I learned that Bishop and McCallum started working together as busboys at the Lone Star Texas Grill on Baseline Road more than 20 years ago. Years later they worked together at Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto. Suffice it to say they know a thing or two about the importance of history. So when it came time to take over the lease of the 77-year-old Elmdale Tavern, a Hintonburg landmark and beloved live music venue, they understood that preserving the look, feel, and general attitude of the place would be critical.
Hearing them talk about working class culture and the importance of the Tavern to a community, it’s impossible not to think about Joe Beef — now a world-famous culinary destination named after a historic tavern-owner and located in a once rough-and-tumble area of Montreal. Since reading the book The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, I have been curious as to why we don’t have more restaurants helping to connect us to Ottawa’s history as a lumber town, and a place where immigrant communities, Jewish and Irish to name two, came to build the canal and help create Ottawa’s future. It feels like a missed opportunity — like history is too easily erased.
And so, Bishop and McCallum have renovated the old tavern space respectfully, making minimal changes, but enough to make the room feel welcoming as place to eat as well as remaining a watering hole. They’ve of course added a full restaurant kitchen and a few large communal tables — perfect for hosting a big old Canadian lobster boil party — as well as a magnificent 28-seat bar that anchors the room and invites strangers to pull up for a pint, a lobster roll, or a cup of chowder and a chat.
And speaking of food, I sat down for a few minutes with Chloe Berlanga who has moved out of her role as the Whalesbone’s chef to become executive chef for both restaurants. Stepping into her shoes as chef de cuisine at the Bank Street location is Michael Radford from Izakaya Asian Kitchen. Phil Denny, formerly chef at Jak’s Kitchen, will be in charge of the Tavern’s food.
Chef Berlanga says she wants the menu to be built upon recipes that eventually become so perfect, that it will never change. “It’s the opposite of the constantly-changing menus we see at so many restaurants,” she says. It’s about making the food that people can come back for again and again. “There is such beauty in repetition,” she says. “I do find charm in a menu that’s been around for 20 years — that’s tested and approved.”
In the spirit of getting to know the Whalesbone better, here are a few interesting answers to some quick and dirty questions:
How do you like your oysters?
Josh: One at a time. Naked. Never from behind.
Peter: With lemon
Chloe: Raw and if West-coast then with lemon. I slurp them.
What job would you have if you were not in the food business?
Josh: The contracting biz. I love it. Well, I love the beginning and the middle (laughs).
Peter: I’d run a lodge.
What’s the last place you travelled?
Josh: Cozumel, Mexico
What are your kids’ favourite foods?
Josh: Liam (age 6) Haida Indian candy (maple glazed smoked salmon); Lily (age 2) raspberries
Chloe: Clementine (age 5) sashimi; Paloma (age 10) paella
What’s your favourite aquatic movie/show?
Josh: A River Runs Through It
Peter: River Monsters, a show about extreme fishing on History or Discovery channel
Chloe: Babette’s Feast, my favourite food movie and it takes place by the sea
What song would be the anthem of your life right now?
Josh: “It’s a long way to the top if ya wanna rock and roll” (AC/DC)
Peter: “Dirty Old Town”
Chloe: “Open a Rose by U.S. Maple”
What’s your favourite restaurant in the city right now?
Josh: Supply & Demand
What’s the best thing you ever ate?
Josh: My mom’s pot roast
Peter: Kudu – antelope eaten over a campfire in Botswana
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Josh: Gum under the tables
Peter: People who don’t show up for reservations
Strongest food memory from childhood?
Josh: trying to swallow mushrooms and gagging on them
Peter: hating broccoli – I still do.
Where do you feel most at home?
Josh: at home
Peter: at work
Tell me what the Tavern is all about in about 10 words.
Josh/Peter: Hintonburg. Trying to pay attention to history. Keep it a tavern.
Chloe: East Coast/American influence. Straight-up menu. Home-style.