I’ve heard a lot of opinions about great pubs in Ottawa, all of which inevitably lead to a discussion about Pub Italia. My personal favourite consisted of a single word spoken by a friend of mine: ‘sacrilegious’. It doesn’t take much effort to understand where he’s coming from, as the entire restaurant looks like the inside of a monastery and the drink menu is titled the ‘beer bible’. What most people don’t realize is the historical relationship between monasteries and the preservation of the world's most famous and complex beers; a tradition that continues to this very day.
The 200+ beers offered by Pub Italia is reason enough to go, but be prepared to spend some money. Granted, you can get a 10oz draught of some great domestic beers at a good price (consider Dylan’s killer red for one), but if you’re interested in venturing out and trying something new, this is easily the best place to do it. Ordering a Trappist beer at Pub Italia seems to teach you something about the origins of the drink, offering an uncommon perspective on what beer was compared to what beer has become. In other words, it’s like taking history class – only there’s no exam and you get to drink it.
We did order a few appetizers, but I was much more interested in the beverages. The Irish nachos were good, but I didn’t prefer them to traditional nachos, while the tasty little bastards (that is, deep fried ravioli) were a total disappointment; small, not tasty, and would have been beyond redemption if not for the chipotle dip. Overall, the food has never impressed me, but the service has always been great – name any beer and they usually know it by heart and have a personal opinion.
For someone who is big on the character of a place, it's no surprise that I really enjoy going to Pub Italia. It doesn't get any more packed with personality than this! When we walked in on this evening, we were guided through narrow passages that wound between tables and bars, suits of armour and cabinets stacked with unique beer bottles until we finally reached a room with the air of an old monastery. Cathedral paraphernalia was showcased in every available space, and in the corner was a gigantic booth, surrounded in old bottles and lit by what looked like an ancient stained glass lamp. It's impossible to be bored when dining at Pub Italia, if only for the sheer amount of items to look at.
It was later in the evening, and we had stopped by to celebrate a friend's birthday. Dinner had already passed, and so we were only interested in munching on some tasty appetizers and trying as many beers as possible from their extensive beer bible. Of the two appetizers that we had, I definitely preferred the "tasty little bastards", cheese-stuffed ravioli that were breaded and came with a chipotle dipping sauce. Because they were deep fried, the ravioli were crunchy and easy to eat, and the chipotle sauce was just spicy enough to make the dish interesting. The second appetizer that we tried was Irish Nachos. I really love regular nachos, so I was a little skeptical of these potato chips covered in cheese, sausage and jalapeno peppers, and accompanied by sour cream and bruschetta salsa. And I was right. There was nothing really wrong with the dish; it just didn't stand up to original tortilla nachos with chicken, guacamole and blended tomato salsa that I can dip the chips into. Call me biased, but potato chips are not meant take the place of nachos. They didn't have the salt content that I love in tortillas, and they just weren't very crunchy.
The beers were another story. I don't think I've ever made a selection from the Beer bible that I didn't thoroughly enjoy, and tonight was no exception. My first choice was called Trois Pistoles and it was a great, full French beer that I had a wonderful time drinking and savouring all of the flavours. The second beer was something I had heard of but never tried, and tonight was the night. The thing about tequila flavoured beer is that it doesn't really have tequila in it. It's more like lime flavoured beer, but it's refreshing and sweet, and totally not what I would have expected a beer to taste like. And I liked it. If you're looking for a traditional beer, stay away from the Desperado, but for those who enjoy trying new things you're in for a treat.
Pub Italia has never disappointed, and I would recommend this place to anyone who enjoys a good beer and a good time. Just be ready to stay a while. This place is rarely empty, so pull up a booth, grab an exciting beer and enjoy your stay.
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