Current quest: finding the best burger in the city. It's a burger fight to the death. Eight burgers enter, one burger leaves.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Pop-Up Madness: Matt Carmichael's Pop-Up Venture at Mello's Diner

I'm a big fan of the casual, unpretentious diner vibe, but I'm not always crazy about the greasy diner food (because working out sucks, y'all).  Luckily, thanks to Matt Carmichael - chef extraordinaire formerly of Eighteen, Social and Sidedoor - we can have the best of both worlds: fresh food made with quality ingredients served in awesome plastic booths.  Carmichael launched what I think is Ottawa's first pop-up restaurant Monday night at Mello's Diner on Dalhousie.  Pop-up restaurants are basically temporary restaurants using random spaces (a private home, former factory, and in this case, greasy spoon diner that has been around longer than Coronation Street).  I'm always up for trying new things; sometimes this works out (zip lining!) and sometimes not so much (the Ottawa Carleton Regional Plow Match!)  So Ariann, Brandon and I grabbed our umbrellas and headed down for the 6:00 pm seating.

Mello's was gussied up with flowers, candles, and new lighting (sparklier lightbulbs?)

The menu was short and pretty seafood heavy.

After we ordered, they brought out a complimentary bowl of bourbon caramel popcorn:

It had a lovely, smoky, burnt caramel flavour, though I do think it could have been improved with the addition of a little Maldon salt sprinkled on top.

Me:  It's Cracker Jacks, grown up!
Brandon:  I must say, I am disappointed with the declining quality of Cracker Jack prizes.
Me:  It's Cracker Jacks, gone posh!  It's Cracker Jacks that have left their trailer park, went to Harvard and now live on the Upper East Side!  It's...I'll stop now.

Next, we had the black tomato and mozzarella salad ($12) and the cod fish taco ($8)

These, too, were amazing.  The mozzarella in the salad had the consistency of marshmallows, soft and pillowy and melt in the mouth.  The cod fish in the taco was crisp in its light batter, topped with jalapenos and greens and a mayonnaise based sauce.  It was everything that my taco at Tacolot wasn't - namely, flavourful.

For the mains, we had the caramelized black cod with peas and morels ($22), which was served in a aluminum take-out container:

and the steak frites with peppercorn sauce ($22):

The cod, for me, was the hit of the night.  The fish was light and flaky, the sauce slightly sweet and the peas done al dente.  The steak frites, in contrast, were, as Brandon described, "deliciously average".  Cooked medium rare (the server didn't ask how we wanted the steak) it was a little on the chewy side; I would have liked the frites crispier though Brandon said he liked them mushy.

Ariann:  Everything else just slid down, then with the steak we had to... (*makes manic chewing motions*)
Me:  The steak is definitely not the road less travelled.  Not only is it not the road less travelled, it's a 400 level highway. Complete with Timmies.
Brandon:  (wistfully) It's a dream that never grew wings.

We tried the one dessert offering, a coconut caramel pot du creme:

I took more shots of our food that night than I have of various UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the globe.  The Imperial City in Hue, for example, got one shot.

I'm generally not a big fan of custard, but this was beautifully creamy but light, with caramelized banana chunks sprinkled with coconut cookie crumbles.

The Mello's pop-up will be running from Sunday to Wednesday, starting at 6:00 pm, for an indeterminate length of time.

Photos were taken by myself and Brandon. Mello's on Urbanspoon


  1. A lot of great things to say about this pop-up affair. Don't fret over the steak frites - the other dishes are as tasty as described here!

  2. i was just given your link by D Ramsey (from church) cuz he said i would appreciate it- and i do! i had no idea you had a food blog! this is awesome.

    :) krystle