Jean Albert’s should be familiar to Ottawa foodies. It is the reason a number of us traveled to Hallville, Ontario, where it was situated at 1759 Reids Mills Road. There, owner LeRoy Walden told the media he wanted to convert Ottawa from poutine to chili cheese fries ($8.99), a once and again starter on Jean Albert’s menu.
It was Treena who first informed me Jean Albert’s had re-located to downtown Ottawa. She just wasn’t sure where. Late March, I happened by Jean Albert’s, still in renovation, on my way to Ethiopian Restaurant, the Blue Nile (577 Gladstone Avenue).
It replaced a former Thai restaurant, Hot Peppers.
As a foodie who reads about collards long cooked with smoked ham hocks, flaky biscuits smothered in sawmill gravy, butter milk soaked fried chicken, and freshly baked fruit cobbler, I was excited to say the least. I never found the time to head out to Hallville when Jean Albert’s was there.
Fast forward three weeks and I come across Ottawa Citizen’s Food Editor, Ron Eade (@roneade), tweeting about attending Jean Albert’s grand opening.
Fast forward another week. The Hot Peppers sign is still up. Walden has yet to print business cards with Jean Albert’s new address. He has yet to release new takout menus. He is still looking for soul food cooks. Yet, he is selling out of shrimp and collards. In 6 days, he has sold 780 chickens, stress testing his supply chain. He hasn’t been home in 3 days and looks exhausted.
Needless to say, the Friday evening we walked in, Jean Albert’s was slammed. There was an hour long wait for a table. Somehow, we ended up at the restaurant’s best booth on the ground floor. The new Jean Albert’s has two stories. Its second is equipped with a full bar.
We ordered 1 lb of sweet potato chips ($6.99) to share and the Southern Fried Chicken ($13.99). The chicken comes with a choice of any two sides: mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, creamed corn, baked beans, French fries, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, black eye peas, or cole slaw.
Jenn and I ordered the lemon iced tea ($3.00).
True to form, it wasn’t sweet and tasted like a tea blend.
The sweet potato chips were sliced thin, fried to order, and doused in sugar and a little salt.
They were delicious, crisp and tender, tasting of dark sugars. Being freshly fried though, they went slightly soggy as they cooled.
With her fried chicken, Kymm ordered mac ‘n cheese and candied yams. Treena, mashed potatoes and baked beans. Jenn, mashed potatoes and creamed corn. Me, baked beans and dirty rice.
According to the menu, the chicken was “battered” in a “home made secret coating.” I found the coating slightly under seasoned, lightly coloured, and thin. I also expected more paprika. Still, it was wonderfully crisp, not too oily, and the chicken was moist, both dark and white meat pieces.
We had mixed thoughts on the sides. The mashed potatoes were satisfying. The creamed corn seemed made of sweet corn kernels (good), but with too much corn meal mush (not so good). The baked beans tasted better than canned. My dirty rice had red beans in it. I expected bits of chicken offal.
That said, as soul food goes, Jean Albert’s has no equal in Ottawa. Its service is quick, friendly, and attentive. The fried chicken was good. They have but to work on their sides.
Total: $42.61 (includes two southern fried chicken mains, two glasses of iced tea, a package of sweet water bread mix to go, and taxes)
Jenn and I will be back.
A poutine fan, I want to try the chili cheese fries.
We are both awaiting the return of Jean Albert’s breakfast menu. Brunch in Ottawa will never be the same when chicken and waffles become an option.