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In My Backyard: The Sandy Hill Lounge And Grill

This little neighborhood “Cheers like” spot sits smack bang in the middle of Sandy Hill, at the corner of Somerset East and Blackburn. Around the University of Ottawa campus, there aren’t too many decent eateries that are walking distance from our fairly densely populated area of town. Beyond the student crowd, Sandy Hill is a melting pot of young professionals, families, seniors, diplomats and city living.  Although most joints found alongside Laurier East near the University and the south side of King Edward service the needs of an ever-growing student population, The Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill seems to be the one establishment that continues to caters to a more diverse clientele.

We moved back to the area 3 years ago after a long, long haul in the burbs. We were excited to discover “The SHLAG” as it is lovingly called by the locals. A tiny little spot nestled on the first floor of a typical downtown brownstone apartment building. This place had a cool vibe complete with super affordable beer, really tasty & fresh food and awesome staff. It had been home to several other restaurants over the years but the current Sandy Hill Lounge and Grill has been a mainstay now for quite some time. We fell in love with it instantly and it quickly became our favourite and regular go to dining/watering hole. We brought friends, family and told everyone about SHLAG!!! It was a really happy place… SHLAG has always been super famous for its Molly Burger: a mammoth burger catering to extremely ravenous appetites, consisting of two patties stuffed with some wild combination of ingredients. Everyone loved the Molly Burger and its crazy attitude! And for the less adventurous, there was always the Super Fun Happy Bacon & Cheese Burger, a standard yet still pretty massive burger. If you wanted to sway off the beaten path, the Butter Chicken Poutine served on sweet potato fries had a cult following! And if that didn’t turn your crank, then the Cajun Marinated Chicken sandwich, the famous Tug Boat or the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf would sure satisfy. The appies were always top-notch, especially the deep-fried pickles and the crab cakes. Everything was served with pride with an accent on local and  homemade.

Then, something happened. I don’t really know when and why. The mood changed; it was barely perceptible at a first. From having to wait at the door for a seat on weekends to find ourselves «luckily» grabbing the last table at prime time to having our pick of where to sit, it seems the crowds were slowly receding. From being served really awesome food every single time, we started to notice some slips…  It started with a change of menu which sadly got rid of some big favourites such as the Butter Chicken poutine… The food was not always up to par and neither was the quality of the ingredients. In the past year alone, the menu has changed 3 times yet it is not inspiring, it is difficult to read and quite frankly, not really worth ordering from. Most appetizers are now your run of the mill commercially prepared product which arrive frozen and ready to be deep-fried. Zucchini sticks, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, mozza sticks for instance are pre-made junk… The daily specials are inconsistent and will disappoint more often than they will please. The owner insists on hosting a Cajun Friday yet neither he nor his cook seems to have any real knowledge of Cajun cooking. I have tried several of the Cajun offerings which can  not be compared with Louisiana cuisine.  Over the past year, the quality of the food has slipped so drastically that we have stopped going regularly. Sadly, the owner doesn’t seem very receptive to suggestion or criticism, even when the comments are made in a positive manner like «we love this place but…» As a matter of fact, I do take offence that he never, ever acknowledges us when we come in.

From 3-4 visits per month (it was our Friday night ritual), we have reduced our visits to once every 2 months or so. We only go when we do not feel like going far from home yet do not feel like ordering take out. Just this past Friday evening, having not visited a several weeks, we decided to chance it: we arrived around 7pm and were surprised to find the joint quite deserted… Then again, it is not hard to see why it would be empty: beyond the decline of the food, the place needs a major scrub and update. The entire restaurant is tired and the staff is no longer fully engaged… Anyhow, I was in the mood for a burger and to my delight, Friday evening’s Cajun specials offered sliders topped with Swiss cheese and jalapeno. Now beside the fact that I have no idea how sliders with Swiss cheese make the cut under the Cajun influenced menu, I was really happy to have the choice of ordering what seemed to be a more «girly girl» size burger! We were the only table to order food, just the King and I. Yet, it took about 30 minutes for our meals to arrive; The King had ordered the Super Fun Burger, so it is not quite clear what  caused the delay… Looking at my plate, I found it odd to see the Swiss cheese stick out of the buns as solid as if it had just been pulled out of the fridge. I lifted the bread up to investigate and to my surprise, not only was I staring at mini pre-made patties (from frozen) but still raw and cold to boot. There is no reasonable explanation for this miss from the kitchen seeing the lack of clientele in the restaurant. Sure, our server was apologetic (not his fault) and the meal was replaced. And we enjoyed and overall discount of 10%, which was very, very nice. Having said that, my hubby had completely finished his meal by the time my plate was delivered. I didn’t make a fuss and the meal was fine (the fresh-cut fries are always good) yet I just shake my head at this kind of poor delivery on the part of the cook. The King, who has a very sweet tooth, ordered the featured dessert;  a weird concoction of pies baked within cakes and stacked several layers high (featured picture) which was surprisingly good! But a good dessert doesn’t a meal make and honestly, we miss the old SHLAG when the food was all homemade and always delicious…  And we miss some of our former servers who made us feel welcome every single time and were absolutely awesome! Yet, we somehow faithfully return,  just not as often…  Our running gag is this Love/Hate relationship we have with SHLAG these days.  But as the King says: if you stick to the burger, fries and a jug of beer, you will have a fantastic evening :). As for me, quite frankly, I keep hoping to find the old SHLAG back, in all its former glory!