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Local dining along the canal: Is 8 Locks Flat the city’s best new patio?

By Alejandro Bustos on July 19, 2012

There is a curious buzz in the air as I stroll towards 8 Locks’ Flat, the new patio restaurant on the shore of the Rideau Canal.

All around me interested onlookers – whether biking, running, walking or rollerblading – scan the recently installed wooden deck that is filled with people eating and drinking.

“We should stop there on our way back,” I overhear an intrigued cyclist say to a fellow rider as they bike past the restaurant patio, which is just by the Somerset footbridge next to the University of Ottawa.

The brainchild of Colin Goodfellow, who is the CEO of the Kemptville Hospital, 8 Locks’ Flat opened on July 7 and is set to operate until October 15.

Next to the restaurant is an artificial beach (or, depending on your viewpoint, a giant sandbox) where adults can lie on beach chairs and children run in the sand.

The idea for the restaurant/beach originated in a call this past winter by the National Capital Commission for ideas on how to animate the Rideau Canal.

Goodfellow responded with three proposals. One suggestion, inspired by New York City-based real estate developer Macro Sea, was to convert garbage dumpsters into swimming pools.

Sadly, this did not go forward, and Ottawa residents will have to wait before enjoying an urban dumpster pool party like the one  Macro Sea threw in Brooklyn (click here for more pictures).

What was approved, however, was Goodfellow’s vision of building a temporary restaurant. The result is a wonderful eatery with delicious food, juices, beer and wine.

“We could have easily put in a pizza oven and served beer to students and made a fortune,” said Goodfellow. “But this is not what we are about.”

This commitment to high-quality food and drinks is obvious.

I visited the patio during lunchtime and ordered a delightful coriander pesto linguini topped with baby spinach, along with freshly squeezed lemonade and a Beau’s beer. Both my meal and lemonade were prepared just right, as the natural flavours were allowed to come out. The beer was also quite good.

As for the service, it was excellent. Within a minute of sitting down my waitress asked what I wanted to drink, while the hostess was like an energizer bunny as she regularly checked in on customers. Even the chef walked over to a few tables to follow up on his work. Given this great experience my bill of $24.69, which included tax and a standard 15% tip, was worth it.

Also appealing is the strong commitment to supporting local businesses and the environment.

“The mission here is to localize the menu,” says Goodfellow while describing his suppliers.

Like a proud father, he highlights how the restaurant’s cheeses come from west Quebec, the bread from True Loaf Bread Company on Gladstone Avenue, and the seafood from The Whalesbone Oyster House on Bank Street.

Ontario businesses in neighbouring regions – wine from Prince Edward County, beer from Beau’s Brewery in Vankleek Hill and vegetables from local farmers – provide the other ingredients.

The project is also proudly green, as the deck is built with Canadian red cedar that is grown to the highest environmental standards. All food dishes, meanwhile, are served with biodegradable dishes and utensils that have been sourced with 100% sustainable materials.

Then there is the commitment to the arts.

“Supporting local food producers and local and emerging artists is what we want to do,” says Goodfellow.

In the near future, Goodfellow hopes to provide live music, as well as other artistic events such as fire dancers. In addition, there are plans to have a brush off event in which local painters are given a set amount of time to paint a canvas. (Think iron chef but with paints and brushes).

The entire patio/beach project, which is a three-year pilot, should re-open next year in the first week of May and run until mid-October 2013.

For those interested in going on a date or in a group, appetizers (which serve 2-3 people) range from $9.95 for a Mediterranean vegetarian plate to $25.000 for a double order of Kalbi short ribs.

For lunch, there is the coriander pesto linguini ($9.50), shrimp mousse baguette ($11.75) and Portuguese marinated shrimp ($14.50).

Dinner goers can choose from an interesting selection that includes fresh gazpacho ($7.50), marinated grilled tofu carpaccio ($12.95) and Bearbrook Farms sausages ($18.95).

8 Locks Flat is open until October 15 and is located by the Somerset Pedestrian Bridge near the University of Ottawa.