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Ottoman alive 

Nestled below street level on Spring Garden you’ll find Turkish fragrance, flavour and, above all, a prime spot to while away the hours.

click to enlarge Ottoman’s mezze plate, built around the yummy kisir in the middle.
  • Ottoman’s mezze plate, built around the yummy kisir in the middle.

Sometimes it seems like Halifax is nothing but a series of cached images from the 15 years I've lived downtown, and no matter what I see, I can't refresh and reload. There is clearly a disconnect between my eyeballs and my brain. Orange condos seemingly spring out of nothing but the sudden absence of the amaranthine scaffolding on Dresden Row. Gleaming dragons and dusky lotus flowers appear above Barrington in what seems like impressive sleight of hand.

It wasn't until last week that I noticed the golden awning and retro diamond drawing of the façade of Fawcett's Fine Jewellery had vanished to around the corner at the Trillium. (I guess I hadn't been buying enough diamonds to notice.) In its place is the Ottoman Cafe, a coffee shop and hookah bar only open in the evenings, except on Sundays. There is a small menu of sandwiches, salads, teas and coffees. And, of course, there are the shisha pipes.

I meet Allison there in the early evening on a Monday night. The space is small with a handful of tables strewn throughout, a little counter and display case running against one wall, and exposed bricks on the other, making the short climb to a low ceiling. Posters add a little personality, while hookah hoses hang lazily on a few hooks near the counter. The air inside is heavy and warm, thick with fruity and floral scents. Middle Eastern music plays softly in the background.

We decide to sample from a few different sections of the small menu, getting a mezze plate ($9.75), two fatayers ($2.50) and a panini ($7.75). I get a Turkish coffee ($3.25) and Allison an apple tea ($1.75)

Our drinks and the mezze plate arrive first. The plate has a couple of dolmas, hummus, and two salads: kisir and a Turkish potato salad. A little stack of flatbread, sliced into dainty triangles, finishes up the plate.

The dolma, slightly bitter grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture, are a little damp and soggy. The rice is overcooked, too mushy.

The Turkish salad is creamy and potato-salad-like, combining peas, finely diced carrots and pickles into a thick, slightly sweet mayonnaise dressing. It's interesting, but the vegetable flavours are lost in the sea of white mayo. I like the kisir a lot better. It's similar to tabouleh, a salad made up of bulghur wheat with some parsley and vegetables in it. It has a nice depth of flavor from red pepper paste, olive oil and pomegranate vinegar.

We chose the sucuk panini, made with a sun-dried beef sausage. The sausage is fragrant with cumin and garlic; it has a strong, savoury flavor. Unfortunately there is barely any meat in the sandwich. Though the heavily spiced meat has a nice taste, it's easily overwhelmed by bread. A pile of plain, crinkled chips is a throwaway side. Offering the salads as side options would be a quick way to add appeal to this light meal.

Both fatayers are also slightly disappointing, dried from reheating. Like the sandwich there is some good flavour there---the beef has a pleasant spice and the olive and chili fatayer has a nice, salty undertone--- but both are so bready that it's hard to register the flavours.

While a group in the back has been puffing away on a fruity shisha the whole time we've been there, we forget to order the one we had talked about earlier. Though the food didn't wow us, the chill atmosphere of the cafe makes it easy to while an evening away. We wander out onto Spring Garden and Queen, and hey? Are they building something here?

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