Tucked into a strip mall across from an Irish pub, St. Martha’s Brasserie d’Orléans has a different approach to many bars with their long list of beers. They simplify things — only 16 varieties on offer. However, from the corporate Coors to the local — Stray Dog Brewery, pride of Orleans — the offering is solid.
The brasserie has a casual vibe that attracts a diverse array of diners, from real estate agents to 20-somethings. Salt-of-the-earth servers are chatty and sociable; tables and chairs aren’t fancy. In fact, the only element in the room even approaching conspicuous is a blonde marble bar with mirrors at the back. Lining the walls of this six-year-old establishment are turn-of-the-century black and white photos —a bare-bones tavern, for example — showing the long history of the building as provisioner. (By the way, don’t confuse St. Martha’s Brasserie with its sister restaurant, St. Martha’s Culinaire d’Orléans, which is on Tenth Line Road.)
Today, look for hearty French brasserie fare cooked by executive chef Francis Périard. The menu features steak frites, coq au vin, and côtelettes de porc sauce au jus de pommes. For something more familiar, pizza and burgers are available. Or try the French onion soup, generous with Gruyère, onions, and crunchy croûtons. The fresh-tasting moules-frites (mussels with fries) come in a subtle sauce of white wine, cream, and leeks. Skinny fries are first-rate! (Good with a frosty glass — yes, chilled glasses — of Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, a fruity Alsatian wheat.) And these are only the appetizers.
And where else this side of the Ottawa River can you find that rich old French classic, cassoulet? This dish, which takes three days or more to make, includes beans, garlic, and herbs. Although some recipes call for sausage, pork rinds, or spare ribs, St. Martha’s makes theirs with duck, lamb, and wild boar. And along with the meat, black beans and haricot beans. Grilled ciabatta comes on the side. The dish is so balanced that no one herb stands out, it’s that good.
As for the duck confit entree, skin is deliciously crisp and the flesh is juicy and falling off the bone. Cherries are a nice touch while perfectly cooked vegetables — potatoes, carrots, green beans, and rapini — tumble generously around the bird. Fish and chips sees Atlantic cod dipped in a rice flour batter for an extra crispy, gluten-free entree. The only flaw is its dry, bland red cabbage slaw. Tartar sauce is decent, though.
Save room for dessert. Pudding chômeur, a dense pudding with caramel sauce at the bottom (like an upside-down cake without fruit), is made in the best Québecois tradition — sweet. More caramel sauce is served on the side. Try the parfait layered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate peanut butter ganache, and sponge cake. Ask for an extra spoon because someone else will definitely want a bite. Or more.
St. Martha’s Brasserie d’Orleans
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
503-3095 St. Joseph Blvd., 613-424-9199