When the Boston Pizza franchises opened in Ottawa, I had just graduated from high school. They were a popular destination for those of us who lived in the suburban areas of the city. Having grown up in Ottawa South, it was not the first large chain restaurant and I was familiar with them all: Subway, Fat Albert’s, McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Swiss Chalet, and Red Lobster. “Big box” chain restaurants, Kelsey’s, Perkins, Denny’s, The Outback, and Montana’s would appear with the advent of Ottawa’s first Walmart-dominated strip malls.
Still, the suburban neighbourhood of my childhood was different. There was a locally-owned Lorenzo’s pizzeria, two middle-end Italian restaurants called Capone’s and Robbie’s, and a smattering of North American-style Chinese take-out and delivery joints. Lorenzo’s, with its meager parking and eat-in dining room hailed from another era, when foot traffic and family-run corner stores were prevalent in the suburbs. Though, I saw my first car-centric and house heavy neighbourhood in what was then up-and-coming Hunt Club.
These memories came flooding back when I traveled into Orleans with dear friend Izzy (@spoonsie) to Boston Pizza Orleans’ “Community Tasting” event. A supporter of locally-owned eateries, I was surprised by the invite. One of the reasons I blog is because I want to bring attention to Ottawa restaurants whose kitchens have Chefs (head and sous), cooks (prep and line), and dishwashers. In these kitchens, cooking is a lasting career, not just a means to buy your first car. Menus change with the season, monthly, sometimes weekly, even daily. These restaurants source their ingredients, produce, dairy, and meat, from local farmers, either Ottawa’s own or from within Ontario. Many have their own gardens. Most serve sustainable fin-fish or shell-fish. Conversely, chain restaurants employ cooks and “scullery technicians.” They have 100-item menus that seldom change, if at all. Their supply chains are national, often international, relying on suppliers like Sysco. I do not want Kanata’s Centrum, a non-pedestrian friendly strip mall with its collection of big box restaurants, to be a microcosm of Ottawa’s restaurant scene.
During my trek, I realized swaths of suburban Ottawa have been cut eastwards. What was once empty fields on Innes Road has become a big-box mecca. This is where Boston Pizza Orleans is situated. There, I realized the restaurants I frequent would be hard pressed to survive. The foot-traffic they depend on is non-existent. Public transit is difficult. The roads are built for cars, not people.
A second sad realization came when I entered Boston Pizza Orleans. Suburban living dissuades people from leaving suburbia. There are significant costs in time and fuel to find alternatives to big box restaurants. Add to that the logistics of organizing a family outing and you have more than enough excuses not to. Budget-friendly, children-friendly, and convenient, I understand Boston Pizza’s draw.
Expecting family-oriented food, I was impressed by the fact Boston Pizza International seems progressive. Boston Pizza locations, be they franchise or corporate, do not have the choice to modify recipes or menus established by Boston Pizza International. Still, 10% of dishes on the enormous menu have been swapped out and 75% have had their salt lowered (slightly). Mayonnaise-based salad dressings have been replaced with vinaigrettes. Vegetables grace new dishes. There is now gluten free thin-crust pizza.
Here are some of the new dishes:
Thin crust; made with “signature pizza sauce”; layered with pepperoni, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, cheddar, and “pizza” mozzarella; finished with green onions.
Thin crust; made with pomodoro sauce; topped with chipotle seasoning and “pizza” mozzarella; sprinkled with roasted corn, red and green pepper, and red onion; finished with parmesan and fresh cilantro
Baked mixture of penne, chipotle seasoning, bacon, alfredo sauce, mushrooms, green onion, diced tomato, cheddar and “pizza” mozzarella
Mini-burgers; topped with cheddar cheese, “signature burger sauce”, and banana peppers
Spinach Leaves; tossed with poppy seed dressing; topped with sliced mushrooms, bacon, diced tomatoes, chopped egg, and crumbled feta cheese
28-day aged 10oz striploin, char broiled to requested doneness
Sliced breaded chicken breast fillet, honey mustard sauce, julienne carrots, diced red pepper, romaine lettuce, “crispy Asian noodles” (uncooked ramen!), wrapped in a flour tortilla
“traditional toffee pudding” served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and smothered with a rich caramel sauce
Please note the last dish was ordered by friend, Tanya (@sobbee). It is a full-size version of the sample-size we were served. The vanilla ice cream atop the sticky toffee pudding samples had completely dissolved after they were served.
The inability of the ice cream to stand at room temperature speaks about the food served. Higher quality ice cream melts slowly. Lesser ice cream is aerated to increase its volume. Was I served culinary masterpieces? No. Was the food tasty? For a chain restaurant, yes. It was also not very oily.
Would I consider comparing the thin crust pizza to what I am served at The Black Thorn (15 Clarence Street), my favoured purveyor of thin crust? No, it would not be a fair comparison. Would I consider comparing Boston Pizza’s “sliders” with bistro equivalents, such as the ones I last had at Canvas (65 Holland Avenue )? No. Would I consider comparing the striploin to what I expect to be served at a steakhouse? Absolutely not.
Compared to competing chain restaurants, Kelsey’s, Denny’s, and Moxie’s, I think Boston Pizza has successfully diversified its menu from the one I remember to better serve value-conscious families, especially those with finicky children.
Health-conscious families, however, may well push Boston Pizza International for more changes. Salt-wise, according to the Globe and Mail, many of the menu items still approach the upper tolerable limit for people aged 14 and older, 2300 mg/day. A 611 g Greek salad contains 1960 mg of sodium, down from 2250 mg. The kids’ cheeseburgers contain 1030 mg of sodium per 195 g serving.
Boston Pizza Orleans, however does stand apart from its siblings with respect to its service and community engagement. The front of house, hosts and servers, are approachable, friendly, and attentive. Even owners Barb and Bob Tuttle greeted guests.
Its Community Relations Coordinator, Leslie Scott, has built an online community around the location, something unique to Ottawa’s restaurant industry, chain restaurant or not. She established a significant social media footprint, using Twitter (@bporleans) and FaceBook, becoming its voice. She keeps the accounts interactive and maintains an informative blog, which she updates regularly. For the “Community Tasting” event, she drew people from across the city to participate, including fellow Ottawa food blogger JB (@lordofthewings) of the Lord of the Wings blog. Through the event, I was finally able to meet the engaging Kelli Catana (@kellidaisy) and kind Laurie St. Julien (@lauriestj), both bloggers, both moms, both amazing people.
Will it take another 10 years for me to set foot in a Boston Pizza? No.
Ever community minded, Boston Pizza Orleans opted that afternoon to help my friend Izzy raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society via her 4300 km cyle from Vancouver, BC to Austin, TX. Look for an event soon at isaonabike.com.
Boston Pizza Orleans
3884 Innes Road, Orleans
Tags: big box restaurant, Boston Pizza, Orleans, pizza, sponsored, thin crust pizza