So on Friday Nov. 2, upon hearing good news of great joy from NCVA board member David, a group of seven of us descended on Mello’s Restaurant on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa’s ByWard Market to see if what David was reporting was true, or too good to be true. We needed to find out: is Mello’s restaurant truly for vegans, as he had promised?
In case you haven’t seen his original blog post, David reported the following through his blog about Mello’s:
We’re talking delicious fries with (vegan) gravy, jerk pork (read: seitan) and steamed bun with cilantro, the best (vegan) pad thai you will ever treat your tastebuds to, and whatever else they can cook up. The head chef appears to be no stranger to vegan grub, as he works skillfully with tofu, seitan, tempeh and other vegan protein favourites.
Wait, what? At an old-school diner? We had to see it to believe it.
Once we all arrived, the lovely server presented us with the menu. It detailed things like pork belly, and a cheese platter. ”We’d like the vegan menu,” we politely asserted. That’s when she pointed out the little phrase in italics at the bottom of the menu: Most menu items can be made with vegan or vegetarian substitutions.
Woah, minds blown. How to decide?! We grilled her a bit more, making sure she understood that we meant business. She got it, she really did. Note: The cheese platter cannot be veganized.
Well, I can’t speak for anyone else and their decision-making process, but Neil, Erin and I decided to join forces to share as many dishes as possible so we didn’t have to leave anything out. We ordered three appetizers, and three entrees to share. This is common for them; Erin has written before about their odd sharing habits, and I was about to join them. The server seemed taken aback. “That’s a lot of food. Are you sure?” We had never been more sure of anything in our lives.
The apps came first. A big plate of long shoestring french fries coated with delicious salty gravy (mushroom, I believe), “Reuben Dumplings” were actually dumplings stuffed with faux beef and Daiya cheese, and “Jerk Pork” that was bean curd skin soaked in spicy jerk pork sauce on some sort of homemade steamed bun. All were very good, but it is the dumplings and fries/gravy that I still fantasize about. They can also be made as poutine, using Daiya.
Then the mains. These were overall very good, but a bit more hit or miss than the starter fare. We ordered:
- The Pad Thai ($16), which was really quite unlike pad thai, but nonetheless completely delicious. My husband felt it was a bit bland, but I think it may be because he was eating JUST the pad thai and not six different dishes.
- The Buffalo Chicken Wings ($16) – breaded and fried tofu sticks dipped in hot sauce- a total win.
- The Beef Shortrib ($25)- this was substituted with tempeh. Now, I love tempeh. But this was not the best tempeh I’ve had, and to be totally honest, given the $25 plate price tag, it was a miss. My advice to the chef would be marinate marinate marinate, and also consider discounting the dish to reflect its much humbler substitution. The tempeh cheezburger at Cafe My House is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, and the platter sells for $15. This shortrib dish came with some sides, but they were a bit minimal and definitely did not justify the $25 price tag. I just checked my photos, and I didn’t even take a photo.
None of us expected anything when it came to dessert, so we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the chef had prepared a vegan dessert just for us! It was what the waitress called a “deconstructed” pie, with fresh berries, crust, and homemade coconut almond ice cream. It was excellent.
Overall it was a unique and delicious experience, that introduced me to some flavours and textures that I had not experienced before. A lot of care and consideration has clearly been given to making the vegan substitutions. Apparently the chef’s girlfriend is vegan, so you can thank her for this! I would recommend checking it out, and giving it a whirl. Apparently few people have taken advantage of the vegan substitutions which I am sure can be explained in no small part by the lack of promotion of these options to the veg community. So let’s show them some support! I was a bit disappointed not to meet the chef; I knew he was there because our server mentioned it, but he wasn’t identified so I wasn’t able to reach out myself.
I’ll close with a few things David mentioned in his blog post, so that you can heed the advice and have an experience just as enjoyable as ours:
- The seating is limited, so it is recommended that you make a reservation;
- The chef suggests letting him know in advance that you’re coming, especially if it’s going to be a large group of vegans, because lately, given the lack of popularity–which by the way the vegan army plans on doing something about–he wouldn’t be able guarantee that he’ll be able to make *everything* vegan on the fly. It would be in your best interest to call in advance anyway, because both himself and the staff are extremely friendly and it’s almost heartwarming to talk to them and hear how they will cater to your dietary requirements;
- These vegan options are only applicable to the dinner menu. An entirely different crew runs the show at lunch hour.
And yes, Erin, Neil and I ate everything that was put in front of us!
290 Dalhousie St., Ottawa ON