By Michael Lowe
It’s been just over a year since the oddBird restaurant landed on the downtown St. Catharines dining scene – So, how’s it doing now?
My lunchtime visit this week proves it’s going strong and still wildly popular.
Chef and wine sales guy Darren Stoute, a cooking buddy of mine, and I planned a rendezvous to catch up on some industry news and chill out with some great food and drink. We arrive promptly at 11:30 a.m. Tip – plan to arrive early as the restaurant does not take reservations and it’s a small place that fills up quickly.
Seated at the copper-clad bar with a bird’s-eye view of the kitchen, we study the chalkboard menus and a spectacular wine list which features a collection of impressive Niagara wines, of which many are available by the glass. Food choices can change on the fly based on availability, the season, or the chefs’ whims so go with an open mind, an empty stomach and be prepared to wing it. There are also some great craft beers and specialty cocktails on offer.
Since most chefs are also music lovers at heart, expect a pronounced, steady rhythm of music on the playlist – but do not, under any circumstances, ask them to turn it down. Let’s just say I’ve heard stories.
To start, Darren selects the mushroom soup (photo above) – it’s thick, rich, savory, seasoned beautifully and drizzled with a bit of truffle oil to enhance the natural earthiness. On a recent dinner visit I watched the chefs plate Caesar salads and vowed to try it, and this was my chance. It’s a portion big enough to serve as a standalone meal, and good value at $11. There’s no skimping on the parm either, and the thick slice of house-cured bacon makes it one of the best Caesars to be had (photo below) – highly recommended.
Bowls of mussels arrive next (photo below). The mollusks have been sauteed in a Creole-inspired sauce that is velvety in texture. It has just enough cream to balance the flavours – not too spicy and is perfect for dipping the toasted bread into.
Most would be content with the preceding dishes alone, but Darren and I are curious and go back to the board for more. Of the eight variations on fried chicken sandwiches available, Darren settles on the General Tao style (photo below), sans the bread. The crust is crunchy which yields to moist and tender meat inside and there’s a nice bit of heat from the sauce and sliced chillies.
My choice is a bowl of roasted Shishito peppers served with some Caesar mayo for dipping (photo below). If you don’t like heat, eating shishito peppers is a bit like playing culinary Russian roulette. They say about one in ten will be hot and, of the ten or so in this order, they are mild with the exception of two – which are a stark contrast to the rest.
As we prepare to leave, Joel Smith continues assembling the restaurant’s very popular chicken sandwiches. Chefs Justin Duc and Scott White continue to surprise and delight diners, offering their unique stamp on St. Catharines’ culinary landscape. The oddBird is, without a doubt, one of our area’s best restaurants.
52 St. Paul Street,