I have passed this restaurant a thousand times giving it no more thought than wondering why anyone would name an eatery after the soft spot on an infant’s head. The Fontenelle is nestled into a sad, neglected stretch of Montreal Road across from the old bingo hall amongst several empty for rent retail spaces with nothing more than an old, nostalgic sign rising off the roof to announce it. Passing right on by is standard for most people, I would guess — it certainly was for us. Recently the diner has cropped up in Ottawa Foodies, a website devoted to good food in Ottawa. It’s mentioned several times if you are looking for a good breakfast in the city.
How could I have neglected to visit this place, just walking distance from my house. especially when I really do not have a favorite breakfast spot? Looking for a diner? People direct you to Elgin Street Diner or Zaks, both which are passable, with lotsa food on the plate, with an ironic, hipster-faux-nostalgic vibe. I was almost insulted that the Elgin Street Diner was featured on “You Gotta Eat Here” recently. Really? That’s the best Ottawa has to offer for morning fare?
We have a lot of shopping to do for an impromptu Cinco de Mayo party on this first sunny Saturday in Ottawa in sometime. Rob and I decide it’s time to check out The Fontenelle.
Entering The Fontenelle brings me back to childhood, and this place dates back at least to the sixties. Velvet paintings of cabins in the woods, brick-a-brac, formica tables, green vinyl banquettes and swivel stools at the lunch counter greet you. No manufactured kitsch. Perched by the coffee machine is a politically incorrect dog made entirely of empty cigarette packs. I swear even the light streaming in the front window is from the mid-sixties. A friendly staffer, we later learn, is one of the family in this family-owned establishment, seats us and brings menus and coffee, included with breakfast. I’m sure if you sniff hard enough in just the right direction, you can detect the faint smell of bacon crisping in a pan, coffee perking and cigarette smoke, a scent many of us woke to in our busy yesteryear.
As we peruse menus, four middle-aged guys debate strenuously the merits of shopping carts with lockable wheels. I would guess they gather there at least every Saturday. Families with kids happily enjoy their meals, singles sit with The Sun, couples begin their day across coffee and the owner’s grand-kids hang out while grandad is in the kitchen cooking eggs. Saturday this week anyways, is not terribly busy but nicely occupied.
Oh yeah…where was I ? Breakfast! I ordered a breakfast club. White or whole wheat are my only options, which I appreciate. Some days you do not want to agonize over sourdough, multigrain, rye and so on. Coffee is decent and included with breakfast, unusual indeed. My plate arrives with my sandwich and a heaping helping of real honest to goodness home fries crisped up on a flat-top. Not deep fried “nuggets” diners call cafe potatoes or home fries. The breakfast comes unadorned by anemic winter fruit to be discarded. My club is on white bread, buttery good with fresh tomato, egg, perfectly crisped bacon, mayo, thick deli ham browned on the flattop and the piece de resistance…orange plastic cheese. Yes. Perfect. It melts and oozes just so and coats your mouth with cheesy goodness that reminds you that it’s not good for you.
Rob ordered smoked meat and two eggs, which came with well-buttered wheat toast and those same perfect flat-top home fries. The smoked meat was heated up on the flat-top, creating bits of caramelized deliciousness. His eggs were perfectly scrambled.
Classic ingredients and simple preparation, perfectly executed old-school. Honest food. My favorite kind of place. I hesitate to blog about this place. You will not find it on your own, likely — it is so un-hip it’s hip. Discovery will render it null and void.
Breakfast for two (which included a canned pop) $20.40 plus tip. We ordered the more “exotic” fare. A bacon and egg breakfast can be had for a song.