Today for lunch we decided to head downtown to an Ottawa institution that has been in business since 1942.
A general rule of thumb about restaurants that have been in business for lengthy times can be either really good or slowly turn sour. You never know what you are going to get until you are there.
An example of a restaurant that has been open for good length of time is Jonathan's in Aurora, Ontario. The restaurant has been open twenty plus years yet good food, modern deocr and decent service can be expected. We have never been dissapointed in visiting this restaurant numerous times when we were living in Aurora and nearby Richmond Hill. In fact, I'm dissapointed I have not reviewed Jonathan's since a visit in 2007.
But many institutions do go downhill after being open for so long. This may be because the ownership is passed on to the next generation or sold to a new owner. This leads to changes that may not necessarily be good. Steer Inn Burgers in Richmond Hill is an excellent example of this. The decor has become dated and the similar tasting burger is not competively priced to the local Harvey's just down the street. The Steer Inn though may not be for long because the developer friendly property the building was sitting on was up for sale as of September 2012.
With the above in mind, my wife and I visited Mellos Restaurant (290 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa) for a noon time lunch. We entered just below the iconic Mellos Restaurant sign that overhangs the Dalhousie Street sidewalk. A server was just ringing a couple of customers through the cash register to our right. She said we could sit anywhere but there were a couple of tables for two available near the back. She continued to process another set of customers as we headed to the back.
The bar with the open kitchen behind it runs down the right side of the restaurant with the booths for sitting on the left. The walls are plane white with a few mirrors attached. No real artwork to speak of, but this being a diner nothing flashy should be expected. The exposed cooking area behind the counter was something different that I hadn't experienced at the diners I had visited previously in Aurora or Ottawa. The only advantage is you can watch the pair in the kitchen prepare the meals and see when they are ready.
We sat down, took off our winter jackets and settled in. The booths are quite cozy as the restaurant is narrow and long so space is at a premium. A couple of times I whacked my knee on the steel support bar to the table at our booth.
We waited about two minutes for waitress to bring the menues over for us to review. This was despite the opportunity to hand the menues to us on the way in. But this can easily be overlooked as the majority of the server's attention was taken up by the customers paying their bill on the way out the door. The diner was busy with customers during the beginning of our visit but things gradually slowed down as our the clocked ticked away as we ate.
Several reviewers at Urbanspoon.com noted that service was quite good at Mellos Restaurant. So I was interested to see what all the fuss was about especially feeling like your own mother was serving you at a restaurant.
We perused our menues to find several different diner options to we could enjoy. As usual my wife decided to investigate the breakfast options and I strayed towards the sandwiches.
The server returned to inquire if we were ready to order. We of course were and she started with my wife. But this is where things got a little interesting. It seemed the server felt rushed so all the usual questions were not inquired about. So below is the order we would have liked but couldn't quite acquire as the server's attention was elsewhere. Notes in brackets are what was served to provide a comparison.
The Order: 2 Eggs with a choice of meat (wanted Sausage but instead ended up with bacon), toast and choice of potato (was given home fries). 1 Chicken Salad Club Sandwich with choice of potato (was told it came with fries).
I was a little astounded ten minutes later when the food was served. As the waitress was walking away from our order to place it with the kitchen she of course noted my meal came with fries and did not provide other potato options. So my Chicken Salad Club Sandwich came with fries which was terrific because luckily enough that was exactly what I wanted anyway. But options for baked potatoes, home fries or other variations would have been nice. My wife ended up with three well prepared pieces of bacon despite wanting sausages in the first place. This latter part we missed as the choice of meat was never inquired about when my wife was ordering. So perhaps this was both the server's and our fault for overlooking it. But the attention to detail by the server was still an issue on this and other things to come.
The waitress inquired if we needed anything. We replied ketchup would be perfect. The table next to us had cleared out and the ketchup bottle on the table next to it was being used by another couple enjoying a meal. The waitress reached over, grabbed the ketchup from the table with the couple at it and put it in the empty table between us and them. She said we could share the ketchup. We politely did but I can't help but think for a diner a standard table item besides the salt shaker would be a ketchup bottle.
The Chicken Salad Sandwich was an interesting take on the traditional club sandwich. To be fair, Mellos Restaurant does have the traditional club sandwich on the menu but I wanted something different instead of the same old club sandwich diner offering. The chicken salad portion had creamy mayonnaise that practically stole the show. But the bacon was also well prepared and not dry and overcooked like at other diners or pubs. Fresh lettuce and tomato were also used to round out a good variation of the Club Sandwich.
The fries that accompanied the sandwich were exactly the same as what Le Bac A Frites based at the University of Ottawa. These were just as warm and delicious as Le Bac A Frites but instead of a hamburger accompaniment it was with a delcious Chicken Salad Club Sandwich.
My wife's breakfast meal she called it mediocre with nothing special about it. No interesting take on it except the home fries were not oversalted or overfried which left a nice soft potato taste to them.
After we finished our meals, we sat with an empty plate for a while. At no time since the food was dropped off did our waitress stop by to ensure everything was going well, refill our water, if we wanted anything else or to bring the bill. The person bussing the tables didn't make his way over to clear the dishes or help out the waitress by inquiring if we needed anything.
The two cooks, with no orders coming in, started kidding around and a practical joke was played on one of the other workers who was retrieving something from the back. All the staff of about five were more interested in figuring out what was so funny instead of ensuring the paying customers were looked after.
We gave up waiting for the service coming to us. We slowly put on our coats and looked towards the waitress. She was chatting up one of the other customers who was now paying his bill. The other waitress was still trying to figure out what the laughing was about from the nearby open kitchen to help out by retrieving our bill. We headed towards the cash register at the front and the rang up the bill. Sure I left a tip of $3.50 by not accepting any change but am still unsure as to why.
Overall, Mellos seems to be resting on its reputation of being around since 1942. But things are starting to turn sour. The food is decent with some interesting attempts at traditional diner fare. But the service and decor need some updating. For the same price I could visit the nearby Zak's Diner with roomier booths, more attentive service and a good condiment selection on every table. We probably will not be back to Mellos for quite sometime as there are a several other Diners in Ottawa the provide equally good food and much better more attentive service.