If I were looking for a new place to live right now, I would likely choose Centretown. There is so much going on in the core of Ottawa that this is fast becoming one of our city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods. What is sure to become a most popular new element of downtown life opens on Monday, December 16 – Backdrop Food & Drink.
Located on the corner of Metcalfe and Gloucester, Backdrop is a new project for Amir Rahim, co-owner of nearby Grounded Kitchen & Coffeehouse, which he opened more than three years ago. “Expanding the business wasn’t really on my mind, but when this space became available, I couldn’t pass up the chance,” explains Rahim. “Grounded has been running at maximum capacity for a while now so it seems like there is plenty of room for a second restaurant in this neighbourhood. I will miss being at my beloved Grounded every day but I know it’s in great hands with co-owner Gabriel Pollock and manager Kris Quarrington, who will continue to assist at Backdrop as well.”
Much like Grounded, the menu at Backdrop consists primarily of classic dishes with a modern twist. Developed and executed by co-owner and chef Dave DiMaria, the fifteen-item lunch menu includes Warm Ups (featuring soups, stews and fish sticks), Plates (schnitzel sandwich, Philly sausage blintz, edamame burger and several other oh-so-tempting items) and More (salads, steak and egg and a daily seafood plate among others). The dinner menu offers even greater variety with such delights as pulled pork pogos, duck wings, French onion fritters, Chai-braised pork belly, salads and more. “Dave’s menu covers a lot of territory,” confirms Rahim, “so we are confident there is something for every taste, including great vegetarian offerings.”
A small note at the bottom of the menu notes that the food is created by “resident flavour benders Di Maria and (Geoff) Carvell” who appear to have great synergy in the kitchen. “I like to say that their personalities really shine through in the food,” says Rahim. “The menu has been carefully constructed to be fun and not at all intimidating, in addition to being all freshly made from scratch.” The sense of playfulness extends to the naming of dishes, which include Duck Dynasty (seared duck breast with soft-poached egg) and Crepes of Wrath (featuring spicy Buffalo chicken, pickled carrots, blue cheese cream and crispy kale). The food is complemented by an eclectic, appealing cocktail menu and a short, smart wine and beer list.
As for the space, there is a sense of the dramatic, as befits the restaurant’s name. “I worked once again with Venk Prabhu, who is a fantastic designer,” says Rahim. “We both like the industrial look but wanted to put a bit of a spin on it which is why we have incorporated so many theatrical elements, including lighting trusses. Much of the design was inspired by the building itself, a grand 100+ year old home which has seen many uses over the years, including previous restaurants.” A bold mural provides a pop of colour behind train-car inspired hightops on one side of the restaurant. Moveable mylar panels in the centre are a great focal point, as is the workshop-inspired table for six near the bar.
Another great element at Backdrop is its year-round takeout window on Gloucester Street. Offering a subset of the lunch menu, Backdrop has been serving up takeout fare for about two weeks already, and reception has been strong, according to Rahim. “I was very much inspired by Matt Carmichael’s takeout window at El Camino. It’s a very urban thing and I expect it will work really well here.”
It’s easy to imagine Backdrop as a multi-purpose venue, including as the setting of a chic cocktail party. The restaurant seats 60 but has room for 100 for a stand-up event. Next year, Rahim hopes to renovate an upstairs space to create a private party room. Backdrop will be open Monday through Saturday until the end of the festive season; regular hours starting in January will be 11 am – 4 pm on Sundays and Mondays; 11 am till late Tuesday through Saturday. Brunch will also be added in the new year. Rahim smiles as he speaks of how excited he is to finally open the doors this week. “We have worked so hard to get this space ready in under three months. I like to say that we’ve awakened an old giant that has been sleeping for many years.”
Backdrop Food & Drink is at 160 Metcalfe Street; 613.231.1234. Find them on Facebook or on Twitter @BackdropOttawa.