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A visit to Lowertown Brewery on York

I was really, really hoping to rave about this locally owned place. Like really, really hoping I would love it. I am a huge fan of these type of eateries and totally biased when comes to small restaurants since I used to own a tiny little spot myself. I know how hard it is to make it in the food industry. I understand the long hours, the outpour of cash, the anxiety during low season and the stress of being on top of your game every single time… It’s not easy out there! Most industry people will tell you that it has to be a passion because the compensation does not reflect the time spent building and nurturing your business.

We were looking forward to our evening with much anticipation; The King and I had previously enjoyed some of their handcrafted brews and “appies” on the patio. This was our first official “dining” visit. We were also very excited to introduce this place to good friends since we are constantly praising the many locally owned restaurants here in Ottawa!  Anyhow, as mentioned above, I really wanted to love this place a lot. Sadly, our experience last Friday evening was like a first date (with THE one you have been dreaming) that goes really bad and keeps on going bad… From service to menu to food, it really pains me to give this Ottawa hot spot a fail. Yes, a fail… And here is why:

About the service:  quite frankly, the service was non-existent. We were greeted by a young man who looked slightly frazzled at having to find a table to accommodate us. The only table left was one near the entrance and we were not offered the choice of waiting at the bar until a better table opened up. It was pretty much «take it or leave it», so we took it. Sure, our server was pleasant and friendly but as it is typical these days in a lot of restaurants, she was completely clueless to what it means to provide service. As a former server myself, it blows my mind how little importance restaurant owners give to properly training their staff. If only they would recognize the value of great service instead of simply hiring because the person has the «looks». It was obvious this young person had very little experience yet she was expected to perform on her own on a busy night. Service went downhill from there. She couldn’t answer basic menu questions, didn’t know what the house specialty was and couldn’t describe most items on the menu. We ordered our drinks to start which took forever to arrive. It took even longer for our server to come  around again and take our food order. We ordered appetizers which never came: we ended up cancelling those when our mains arrived. There were no apologies either… The lack of service continued throughout the rest of the evening and we could never see our waitress near the tables. We noticed other tables around us that seemed to also be waiting for unusually long periods.

About the food:  Let me start by saying that the menu is humdrum boring. And viewing the menu is complicated because the lunch menu is also available during dinner service, so you have to look back and forth at two menus. Looking at 2 separate menus is not deal breaking, it is just annoying. And they didn’t have enough menus for each one of us so we were 4 sharing one lunch menu and one dinner menu. As far as what Lowertown has to offer, well nothing is unique, nothing is really cool other than a few signature items such as candied bacon strips, homemade pickled vegetables and beer brine chicken. As mentioned before, the appetizers were forgotten and when our mains arrived, they were lukewarm. It was obvious they had sat under the hot plate for some time. My friend had ordered salad instead of fries. And guess what, he got fries, no salad… Our other friend and I had upgraded our fries to poutine ($3 surcharge): how surprised we were to see that the size of our fries was considerably smaller than the portion of fries on the other two plates. To make matters worse, the gravy and cheese were cold and congealed on the plate. It was too bad because the fries were actually decent ones and the gravy was tasty. The chicken dinners were served on a metal plate lined with parchment paper. As the moisture from the chicken seeped onto the paper, it became mushy, wet and started to tear when cutting into the chicken. Since the paper is the same colour as the meat, it was not easy keeping the paper out of each mouthful. That was a very unpleasant affair. We could have returned our «cold» meals back, but by then, we were beyond frustrated and disappointed so we opted not say anything. Since we were all still hungry after our mains (the portions are not overly generous) we ordered dessert. This course was another disappointment: not only were they out of their two signature deserts (Murphy’s law, they were our first choices), the servings were really small too. Coffee had to be returned because it was served old and cold. Honestly, a negative experience from A to Z.

I understand this review is pretty harsh. It is doubly disappointing because this restaurant is situated in an amazing spot, one of the best on the Byward Market. The interior is hip and really cool: we love the vibe of the place. The King and I live nearby; we go out on the market a lot and we always favour local restaurants over chains. We have enjoyed Lowertown Brewery’s patio on several occasions for a few beers and appetizers since they opened in 2014. We were definitely looking forward to our first full dinner there. We may have been one of those «jinxed» table however, recent web reviews are starting to express experiences similar to ours… I have e-mailed Lowertown about our unfortunate visit and I have yet to hear from them. I suspect they are insulted which is too bad. Customers who take the time to relate their experience should be valued. If the restaurant did not deliver, it should make amends. Maybe this type of venue is not for us (although we love other local pubs),  but that does not excuse the ridiculously poor service and the lackluster fare… If anything, a simple apology would have been nice. It is possible that we may visit again for a few beers on the patio once summer rolls around just because of the location but as far as the eating there, well… Maybe not.