At the end of September, Ottawa’s newest steakhouse, Harmon’s, quietly opened its doors to the public. Although work on the restaurant remains unfinished, diners were invited to see, experience and taste what is complete, and the reviews so far are very positive.
At the helm is chef de cuisine Michael Korn, a veteran of Ottawa’s finer kitchens and formerly a senior saucier at Beckta. He made the move to the Whalesbone group for the opening of their Elgin St. location, quickly rising through the ranks from senior cook to chef de cuisine, a position he held for four years. Korn credits the group’s executive chef, Michael Radford, for helping him develop into a chef and leader.
“He’s been a really important mentor to me,” says Korn.
During his time at Whalesbone Elgin, Korn took special interest in the curing and aging chamber the restaurant had installed.
“At first, we were buying dry-aged meat and just finishing it in our chamber,” Korn recalls. “That was okay, but it wasn’t ours. I knew we could handle the whole process. So, we bought some un-aged meat for the restaurant, set it in the chamber—and so began the longest 40 days of my life.”
Patience and a few sleepless nights paid off, as the meat had indeed aged properly. Korn and his team were given the green light to age all their own meat and conduct experiments with more than just beef. Duck, veal, pork and lamb have all been treated in that room, drying, aging, and becoming ever more flavourful.
“The smell of properly aged meat, cooking steaks you’ve aged in-house, those are always proud moments for me,” says Korn.
The dry-aging program gave Whalesbone Elgin an identity of its own. While still a fantastic fish and seafood restaurant, it also boasted an amazing selection of in-house aged steaks and chops, with chef Korn keeping a watchful eye over all of them.
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So when the Whalesbone group decided to open a steakhouse, they already had their secret weapon lined up.
“Pete [McCallum, majority owner] came up to me and asked me if I wanted to open a steakhouse,” says Korn. “He brought me into the space, which was still the Fox & Feather. I was floored thinking about opening a restaurant of this magnitude during a pandemic, three blocks from our current shop.”
Any insecurities chef Korn may have had were pushed aside as he accepted the new role. Due to his good standing in the restaurant community, many former colleagues reached out, eager to work with him again.
“It’s been humbling,” he says, “and kind of unexpected to have cooks I’ve worked with in the past call you up to be part of this project. I’ve always tried to curate an environment of positivity where my cooks can succeed. It’s a very gratifying part of the job.”
Even so, Harmon’s is still in need of staff to reach its full potential.
The full Harmon’s experience will eventually house a trio of concepts. Harmon’s proper will be upstairs: A beautiful, opulent steakhouse, the likes of which Ottawa perhaps hasn’t seen since Hy’s closed down.
Downstairs in an equally lovely 40-seat room will be Abby’s, again named after Abby Harmon, whose school for young ladies was the original tenant of the building. This space will boast lighter, bistro-fare plates with equal emphasis on vegetables and fish alongside meat.
The other side of Harmon’s main floor will be a butchery and bodega, selling all the cuts of meat one can dine on at Harmon’s to take home, as well as a selection of house-made condiments, sauces, and curated items. Chef Korn smiles as he thinks of what the bodega could develop into.
“I’m hoping it could fill the void left by Boushey’s,” he says. “We could curate a great cheese selection, start doing in-house charcuterie. And if we were to do that, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t run a sandwich counter at lunch. Of course, if that took off, then meals-to-go could be another avenue in the future. There’s just so much potential here.”
Korn knows how important it is that people have a variety of ways to enjoy Harmon’s. Lessons learnt during the pandemic are being applied here. “This will be a place that you can experience as you like,” he says. “Whether a big celebratory night out for an amazing A5 Wagyu steak and all the sides, or a couple of quick plates at Abby’s, or even grabbing a steak to grill at home in the backyard, we want people to know we’re more than a once-a-year destination.”
As the work continues, Harmon’s will continue to evolve. There are plans for a chilled seafood section of the menu, and table-side Caesar salads are in the works as well.
“We’re trying most of all to offer comfort. We’re taking great ingredients, not over-manipulating them, and giving you the best version of what these products can be. It’s a little bit of mom’s cooking, done up restaurant-style. Simple, identifiable food.”
While chef Korn is quick to say that Harmon’s wasn’t opened for him, one can easily trace the steakhouse’s steps back to that drying chamber. Korn’s knack for aging meat, his honest approach to food, and his humble leadership style made him an easy choice to lead this massive new venture.
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“My hope for the future is that we’re exceptionally proud of the food leaving the kitchens, but equally as proud of the people here. That we continue to have a positive, productive workspace for people. I hope that in five years we can sit back and reflect and know that it was worth it, that we’ve done something positive for the city, the people who work here, and those who come here to enjoy what we do.”
Harmon’s Steakhouse is now open at 283 Elgin Street in the former Fox & Feather space.