Since 2011, Ottawa diners have been going to Union Local 613 on Somerset Street for great Southern cuisine. Whether for brunch, lunch, or dinner, chef Darren Flowers’ menu features classics with a twist — pickled fiddleheads and smoked duck hearts, among others.
Now, with the opening of Jabberwocky, its sister establishment upstairs, the hip factor of 315 Somerset climbs higher. On its own, Jabberwocky would impress with its restrained aesthetic, fabulous cocktails, and tasty vegan plates. The chef is Mike Frank, whose station is behind the live-edge bar. While he composes delicious and healthy treats, just a few feet away, powerful cocktails are being shaken and stirred. The magic of Jabberwocky is found in a creative — and flavourful — ensemble of yin and yang that takes you into a culinary wonderland.
With its shared tables, mismatched plates, ubiquitous Mason jars, and raucous playlist, the atmosphere of Union Local 613 is roadhouse cool. Upstairs at Jabberwocky, the ambience is more like a spa. Afternoon light pours into the space and reflects off the blond wood tables and floors, as well as the white chairs. Instrumental jazz plays subtly. The exposed brick walls are bare except for projections of black-and-white films. While Union Local 613 is all about meat and big flavours, at Jabberwocky, it’s all about subtle vegan and vegetarian flavours. Downstairs, the vibe is Nashville funk; upstairs, it’s Copenhagen cool.
“Lavender makes everything so great!” my slightly tipsy friend exclaims. “I’m so sad this drink is gone!” She’s talking about the last sip of her BBees Knees, a golden concoction of gin featuring burnt and spiced honey infused with sage, lavender, and lemon. This cocktail is one of several remakes of classics. The Oaxaca Fizz is delicious but more difficult to manage because the horchata fizz at the top of the narrow glass makes for awkward drinking. The Patio Marg is a glorious twist on the classic margarita; with fino instead of triple sec, mezcal instead of tequila, it comes up smoky and satisfying (and comes complete with a salted half rim).
As with the delicious and potent cocktails, the small plates offer the shots of flavour in an inventive Through the Looking Glass approach. Fluffy pillows of fried tofu on a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts are topped with pepitas and green onions. A dusting of an “all-dressed” powder (ketchup and spice) punches up the earthy flavours.
Potatoes arrive looking like devilled eggs. They’ve been steamed, hollowed out, and refilled with a mustard, dill, lemon, garlic, and coconut dressing. The top is crisped up with a generous handful of fried onions.
Another underground basic, celery root, is transformed on a bed of chili paste, bolstered with a tahini garlic sauce. Puffy bits of rice cracker add texture, as do the garlic chips on top.
Downstairs, for dinner at Union Local 613, we order the special to start — a flaky home-baked biscuit with pulled pork. The pork is seasoned with allspice, so the taste is more Caribbean than Carolina.
A salad is hearty and kale-based with a tangy cider vinaigrette, studded with pickled fiddleheads and radishes. Puffs of creamy fried cheese on top give a rich counterpoint to the bitter pickled base.
You can only order the hanger steak rare, proof that the kitchen knows what it’s doing. The meat is flavourful and presented with equally meaty mushrooms and fingerlings that, admittedly, could be a little crispier, but who cares when it’s served on a bed of chimichurri (for the potatoes) and black garlic sauce (for the meat).
Rainbow trout is seared so that its skin is a lovely mouthful of melt-in-your-mouth crunch. The moist fish underneath works well with the robust and slightly chewy Israeli couscous and roasted tomatoes. The menu says it comes with Brussels sprouts, but the night I’m there, it’s asparagus, which works well (and takes advantage of local spring bounty). Strips of preserved lemon on top give the dish a kick.
The lemon meringue pie is legit. With a shortbread crust, lemony filling that is neither too sweet nor too sour, and topped with meringue gently toasted, the pie is like a lemonade kiss from the girl next store.
The wine list is short — maybe too short — but it is curated (and priced) to complement the great food.
Jabberwocky is open Wednesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 3 p.m. to late. Small plates $12. Union Local 613 is open for lunch Wednesday to Friday, dinner Monday to Saturday, and brunch on weekends. Appetizers $11–17, mains $24–$28.