With creaky floors, tall ceilings, red chairs, mismatched tables, very good food, excellent coffee and caring service, The Quirky Carrot is a happening café. It’s a village retreat, a place to drop in for a soup & sandwich lunch, or flop down on the couch with a book, a cuppa joe and a scone. In fact, it’s about as perfect a café as one could ever want, unless one wanted a cafe closer to home (and home is Ottawa).
No matter. The drive is pretty. And for those who live in and around Alexandria, The Quirky Carrot’s a town treasure.
Owned by Alexandria native and former teacher, Julia Graham, her Quirky Carrot first came to my attention when I was looking up members of something called Feast ON. It’s an organization — much like Savour Ottawa — that honours (and encourages) Ontario restaurants and food events to support Ontario product in their purchasing practices. To qualify, 25 per cent of food and beverage purchases must reflect Ontario buys.
Ottawa restaurants who look local wherever and whenever possible — and there are many, many of those — have trouble meeting the Toronto-based Feast ON requirements because our ‘local’ includes Quebec. Which makes tons of sense. Indeed, only Murray Street and Thyme & Again are listed members. But I panned a bit wider, and here was this little cafe in a little town 100 km southeast of Ottawa, committed to Feast ON. I was curious. And it was a gorgeous sunny day for a winter drive.
Soup at The Quirky Carrot was a hill of chunky mushrooms braised in red wine and perfumed with fresh thyme rising out of a lightly creamed mushroom broth. Done. One option was to pair that soup with a sandwich. Another was to go whole hog and have the soup, the roast pork sandwich (thin slices of roasted loin on hearty bread with Dijon, arugula and blueberry chutney —then grill-pressed) with a salad. The two women at the table beneath the ‘What’s Brewing’ black board (on which such important Quirky Carrot calendar dates are noted as: cooking school classes, open mic evenings, #MadaMonday ($1 for every latte sold goes to the Madagascar School Project), staff party night, etc.) were forking up a kale salad and making mumbling sorts of yummy sounds. “Yes,” I said to chef and owner, Julia Graham, “supersize me with the trio combo.”
The Quirky Salad is based on kale — and as kale salads go, it was a very fine one. The meaty leaves were properly trimmed, torn fine and apparently hand massaged with lemon and sesame oil before being piled on with a chiffonade of raw carrot and beet, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, all tossed in a hemp and tahini dressing. You’ll want the recipe.
There were baked goods — jars of cookies, platters of scones, a vegan chocolate cake, tins of healthy looking muffins — and take-away options. I opted for the cumin-scented vegan chili and a bag of house granola. Dinner and breakfast in a bag.
“To Julia from dad,” says the note on The Quirky Carrot web page. “Always cook and prepare food with love in your heart and that love will be passed on to others.”
One gets the distinct sense Graham is following orders.
The Quirky Carrot, 1 Main Street South, Alexandria, 613-522-2229
Open Monday to Friday, 7:30am to 3:30pm & Saturdays 9am to 2pm.
Cooking classes Thursday nights