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Photos by Alison Larabie Chase

Meow! That’s Hot spices up Centretown

By Alison Larabie Chase on June 29, 2018

Local hot-sauce entrepreneurs Steph Christie and Larry Russell, both veterans of Ottawa’s restaurant community, have been concocting delicious pepper-and-fruit-fueled condiments since 2007. After years borrowing kitchen space from House of Targ on Mondays, they opened their own retail shop and production kitchen at 519 Bank Street this past April. The space includes a restaurant and bar, offering a seasonal menu of soups, sandwiches, salads, mussels, mains, and desserts. Each menu item has a suggested hot sauce pairing, and there’s a tasting bar at the front of the room so you can try before you apply.

The sauce that started it all is dubbed Fire Kitty, named for a kitten-emblazoned cigarette lighter used by Russell and friends during an after-hours hang at Il Piccolino, a now-closed Italian restaurant on Preston Street where he was cooking at the time. He started making the hot sauce, which includes apples, jalapenos, garlic, and smoked paprika, exclusively for the restaurant, but so many customers wanted to purchase it that it seemed natural to acquiesce. More varieties followed, including Cheshire Chipotle, Bengal Burn, Manx Mangler, and Persian Pyro. Each sauce is made with fresh fruits, peppers, vegetables, and herbs, and heat levels vary from meek to major.

The Bank Street space serves as production kitchen when the restaurant is closed, but on a Wednesday at lunchtime, the long wood-topped bar and cluster of simple tables and chairs were welcoming, and the space was flooded with light from the huge front windows of this former bridal salon. Renovations uncovered a beautiful exposed-brick wall that runs behind the bar, and local painter Marc S. Garland’s paintings (all for sale) offer pops of riotous colour. The music is all-vinyl, all-Canadian, and the bar list features Ottawa craft beers and Ontario wines and spirits.

I ordered the pickled shrimp salad (hot sauce pairing: Manx Mangler) with asparagus and feta cheese. Everything was springy, fresh and crunchy, and the pickled shrimp were a nifty touch I hadn’t tried before. For dessert, I scored the last piece of a delicious homemade lemon meringue pie. Roughly half the menu is vegetarian; I’m dying to go back and try the pickled beet, butternut squash, and feta sandwich. All side dishes are ordered separately, so you can grab a light snack or enjoy a larger meal.

If you’re just here to grab some hot sauce, you’ll find it lining a shelf at the side of the room, next to a variety of other locally-made food products by the likes of Michael’s Dolce, Lowertown Canning Company, Top Shelf Preserves, and Brown Bag Coffee. It’s an awesome reminder of how strong the craft food scene is in our city (and a one-stop shop for great gifts).

A Tuesday night songwriters’ open mic, hosted by Slo’ Tom, and other events like a recent Father’s Day concert by two local children’s bands, are just some of the other ways Meow! That’s Hot is integrating itself into the community.

If you’re looking to spice up your life a little, definitely stop into Meow! That’s Hot and consider staying a while. They’d love to be your new local.

Meow! That’s Hot Kitchen + Bar is located at 519 Bank Street near the corner of Catherine. Find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Open Tuesday 5-10pm, Wednesday through Saturday 11:30am-11pm, and Sunday 11am-3pm.