A culinary adventure through the Summer Festivals of North America: Part Three – Ottawa Bluesfest (Canada)

As we continue our culinary tour around North America, we come to Ottawa in Ontario, Canada for their annual mammoth event the Ottawa Bluesfest, which takes over the Canadian capital city over 10 days every July. As they are about to kick off the event for 2016, we’ll take you back to the event last year and reminisce about the meals we enjoyed while we were at the festival – which, on the whole, were of phenomenal quality.


We start with what is likely the most famous treat in Ottawa, the Beavertail, essentially fried and flattened dough, often covered in lemon and cinnamon sugar – with a myriad of other topping options. The chain got its start in Killaloe, Ontario in 1978 and then opened its first permanent location in Ottawa in 1980. I imagine you can’t go to an event in Ottawa without the popular chain playing its part. And no visit to Ottawa is complete without trying it!


Apart from the chain Casey’s and Beavertails, almost all the rest of the food operators on site are independent local Ottawa businesses. A lot of the cuisine, however, embraces American style comfort food. My favourite food at the festival was from The SmoQue Shack, with a plate of brisket with baked mac and cheese and house made potato chips. Perfection, and surprisingly as good as just about anything you’ll find in the south of American.


There was also this buffalo chicken grilled cheese sandwich with a side of fries from The Grilled Cheeserie.


And if you’d ever wanted to try Fried Chicken and Waffles, Reid’s Bakery offer just that.


Indeed, there’s a focus at this festival on comfort foods, such as fried chicken and burgers, or Pizza from long time favourite Gabriel’s, but you’ll also find Thai and East Indian and some healthier options – like this tasty vegetarian curry – which ensure there’s something for everyone at the event.


Some of the people serving at the festival have been doing so since the festival’s start in 1994. I had the chance to meet Fadi Baroud, the head of the Fadi’s Fabulous Foods, which serves up food across three stalls at the festival. He’s been serving food at the festival since 1997, and started out from a single trailer. Now he has a stand for burgers, one for hot dogs and one for poutine. His most popular dish is the regular poutine, which might just be Canada’s national dish. Fries, Gravy and Cheese Curds. No trip to Canada would be complete without having some Poutine, and the Duck Poutine, which was a new addition this year, was a particular highlight.


His other new dishes for the year included the crispy fried chicken on a bun (which was delicious) and the back bacon on a bun. Across the board, whether it be at Fadi’s or at one of the many other food outlets serving at the festival, there seems to be two consistencies: quality of the meal, and affordability. Though some dishes were a tad overpriced – like the buffalo chicken grilled cheese coming in at $14 – but most were under $10 with sizable and comfortable portions. All of which is to be enjoyed alongside some of the best music in the world.

The Ottawa Bluesfest kicks off in just 14 days – it will take place from July 7th to the 17th. This year headliners include Billy Idol, The Lumineers, John Fogerty, The Monkees, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duran Duran and City and Colour, alongside Australian acts like DZ Deathrays and The Paper Kites. For tickets and more details head to: ottawabluesfest.ca.

The writer attended as a guest of the festival. Air Canada got us to Ottawa from Sydney via Vancouver with the support of Ottawa Tourism and Destination Canada. While in Ottawa we stayed within walking distance of the festival at the The Albert at Bay Suite Hotel 435 Albert Street, courtesy of Ottawa Tourism. 


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.