North & Navy – Sunday Gravy at NoNa’s
Address: 226 Nepean St, Ottawa
Hours: 5pm – 10pm (Mon – Sat); 4:30pm – 9:30pm (Sun)
When looking for a nice place to go out for dinner, and to pare back my seemingly endless list of places to try out, my wife and I went to North & Navy to get our fix of Italian eats.
Shoehorned in between a couple of forgettable mid-century office and apartment buildings on Nepean, we almost passed by the entrance. The interior of the red brick walk-up is well-kept and quaintly adorned with some maps, paintings and worn china cabinets – enough to give it some soul, without being tacky. We were seated at a booth, which I relished, as I usually lose out on it to my wife when there’s just a banquette and chair.
I had scoped out their menu online beforehand, and liked their take on northern Italian food with Ontarian ingredients. While I noticed that they had a “Sundays with NoNa” menu, I assumed that this was available in addition to the regular menu. Well, you know what they say happens when you assume.
The punny Sunday menu is in fact a pared-down version of the regular menu, losing the fancier, comparably less approachable dishes in favour of the Italian-American dishes like Sunday gravy (red sauce with spaghetti and meat), eggplant parm, meatballs, and garlic bread. The relaxed menu lends itself to a more relaxed crowd, and while there were other dressed up couples like ourselves, there were a few families there as well – something I feel isn’t all that common on a Friday or Saturday night.
After some suggestions from our waiter, we quickly decided what to order. The “FEED ME” was the easy choice for me; comprised of that day’s Sunday gravy of spaghetti, pork belly and fennel sausage, along with half of the appetizer menu (mixed salad, olives, garlic bread, zucchini, and capicolla). At $38 it was an incredible deal (this is now $46). My menu-regret was about to be washed away in a sea of reasonably-priced Italian comfort food.
Olives are one of the few foods that are just a no-go for me, but luckily my wife loves them, so they were unceremoniously shoved to her side of the table.
The mixed salad was a good size, and comprised of radicchio, some sad iceberg lettuce, a perfectly boiled egg, flat leaf parsley and thin strips of white onion. Lightly dressed in a vinaigrette, it was a mix of tangy and sweet, a nice way to start the Sunday feast.
The remaining apps came hard and fast – unctuous capicola, roasted zucchini coins with an aged cheese on top, buttery and garlicky bread – what wasn’t to like?
There was a bit of a lull between the end of our apps and the arrival of our mains but not an awkwardly-checking-your-watch-and-looking-around-constantly kind of wait. We were unhurried, and enjoying our night and the food, so the time passed quickly.
Despite the plentiful appetizers, I still had lots of room for my main course, especially once I saw it. Thick strands of spaghetti were perfectly coated in a hearty tomato sauce, dotted with slices of fennel sausage, and a generous slice of roasted pork belly perched on top – all with a coating of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, of course.
The sauce was a perfect consistency, bright and flavourful, with just enough acidity to balance the other rich ingredients. I liked the choice of the pork belly, as it had enough fat to be rich and a little indulgent, but not so much that it gave you the feeling that you were chewing the trimmings from a steak. The fennel sausage added a deeper pork flavour, as well as the herbiness of its seasonings.
We somehow had room for dessert, and although their Sunday dessert menu is just as compact as the rest of menu, the tiramisu ($9) was a must for my wife. Light and airy, creamy and rich, and with just the right amount of coffee flavour – it was a big success.
Service was very easy-going and friendly, but also knowledgeable, and for the most part well-timed.
The food options hadn’t been what I expected going in, but we were very happy nonetheless. If North & Navy can pull off the simple stuff this well, we’re looking forward to returning and trying out the regular menu.
To be continued!