Petit Bill’s Bistro
Address: 1293 Wellington St W, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 8:30pm (Mon), – 9pm (Tue), – 9:30pm (Wed-Thu), – 10pm (Fri-Sat); 4 – 8:30pm (Sun)
Ottawa, being the national capital of a bilingual country, and just across the river from Quebec, has plenty of French restaurants. It doesn’t have much in the way of Newfoundland cuisine, and it certainly only has one French bistro with a Newfoundland influence on the menu: Petit Bill’s.
Located in the heart of Wellington West, Petit Bill’s is an unassuming restaurant whose interior could pass for just about any other restaurant. Furniture stained a glossy, warm brown, some miscellaneous art on the wall – it doesn’t exactly leave an impression.
The menu on the other hand, has hints of its Newfoundland roots: fries with dressing and gravy, salt cod fritters, and “Duck Newfit”, these are what differentiate Petit Bill’s from its more traditionally Parisian peers.
However, a few times a year, Petit Bill’s ups the ante and goes all-in on Newfoundland food, and it was on this occasion that I showed up with a Newfoundlander co-worker for dinner.
The menu was lean, at least figuratively, with just a couple starters and appetizers, and a handful of mains. Most of the big names that you would expect are here – cod tongues, Jiggs dinner, fish and brewis, and cod au gratin. Newfoundland’s traditional cuisine isn’t known for its inclusion of non-root vegetables, and this was no different. We ordered the cod tongues to start, and I got the fish and brewis, while my co-worker couldn’t resist the comfort food classic, Jiggs dinner.
The restaurant was full up, and there were two fiddlers playing for a good portion of the evening, so it made for a fun and lively atmosphere!
Our cod tongues arrived quickly, especially considering how busy it was that night. Four plump pieces of tongue were lightly breaded, and pan fried to a light brown, with a schmear of house-made tartar sauce, and some brown butter and caper sauce on the side.
I can’t remember if it was cod tongues or cheeks that I had at a pub in St. John’s, but either way they were much different than these, with a much heavier breading – as one would expect at a pub. I appreciated the light touch on Petit Bill’s home-style version; it really allowed the velvety texture of the meat to shine through. The tartar added some richness and a slight tang, while the browned butter and caper sauce elevated those even more, although I mostly enjoyed the cod tongues just as they were.
Fish and brewis is just about as no-frills a meal a meal as one can have. The preparations vary, but the essentials are salted cod, hard tack, and scrunchions – crunchy bits of rendered pork fat. Petit Bill’s added a bottom layer of yellow potatoes, and a cream sauce on top, but this is miles away from haute cuisine – and I’m fine with that! The cod was salty, but not overwhelmingly so, while the other constituent parts combined to make for a hearty, down-home style meal. Also, scrunchions are a wildly underutilized topping!
My buddy’s Jiggs dinner was a more visually appealing plate, with its wide selection of components. With shredded salt beef, turkey and stuffing, carrot, turnip, parsnip, cabbage, potatoes, peas pudding, beets and mustard pickles – a platter would have been necessary if there been one more thing on this plate. I don’t know who Jigg was, but their dinner is fantastic.
It’s basically a holiday dinner, but the quality at Petit Bill’s is much better, especially if your family members are prone to drying out any meat they cook. My co-worker was sending pictures back to The Rock, with words of praise, much to the delight of his relatives.
Service was readily available over the course of the meal, and incredibly friendly too, which added to the easy-going, East Coast vibe of the night.
Traditional Newfoundland Supper night at Petit Bill’s was a raging success, with the seal of approval from a Newfoundlander, and the more tertiary opinion of this Nova Scotian. I highly suggest checking it out, going with a big appetite and relaxed attitude, and enjoying a unique dining experience in Ottawa.
PS. Since Petit Bill’s isn’t great at updating their events section on their website, you’ll have to periodically watch their social media feeds for when they’re having their monthly Traditional Newfoundland Supper, and be sure to make a reservation!