Ottawa Donair Quest – Romeo’s Donair & Pizza
Address: 1580 Merivale Rd, Nepean, ON
Hours: 11:30am – 10 pm (Mon – Sat); closed Sunday
Doing this #OttawaDonairQuest, has been a mixed bag, with a few highs and many, many lows. The worst offenders are often pizza/shawarma places; they typically aren’t trying to emulate the Halifax donair, but rather the word is used in the place of the traditional “doner” or as a catchall for the various forms of spiced beef cooked on a vertical grill.
It’s with this hesitancy that I came to Romeo’s Donair and Pizza on Merivale. Located in one of the older strip malls on this commercial strip, I was encouraged by the word “donair” being in their name. My wife was going to be in the area to get her phone fixed (damn you, gravity!) so I tagged along to keep her company continue my donair research.
While the space was likely updated once, even that was likely a while ago now. There’s a handful of booths with dark violet vinyl, and a padded banquette runs along one wall. Fake, mounted fish and random paintings complete the quirky, lived-in feel of the place.
Romeo’s large, back-lit menu board above the counter gives centre stage to their donair. It even goes so far as to describe its Turkish origins, as well as the ingredients. So while it’s decidedly non-Haligonian, they’re obviously committed to what they do. The spit of meat that was slowly rotating behind the counter eased my fears of grey, pre-cut slices.
The menu is an eclectic mix of typical pizza joint and greasy spoon fare, with a dash of other Italian items like spaghetti and lasagna, as well as familiar Middle Eastern foods like falafel, hummus, and kebabs. Toss in the fact that the couple running the place are east Asian, and it’s quite the intersection of cultures at this little hole in the wall!
A solo donair wrap will set you back just $6.95, but I went with the platter ($11.90), which comes with fries and your choice of garden or Caesar salad. My wife went in the pizza direction, getting a 9” combination ($12.90, mushrooms, green pepper, pepperoni).
With a thin crowd at 7pm on a Wednesday, our food was ready in quick order. The donair came rolled up in wax paper, next to the fries and a generous salad. Unfurling the donair revealed the shaved meat with a respectable dose of the garlic sauce I had chosen, and crisp iceberg lettuce, onion and tomato.
If you’re here reading about donairs, there’s two things you mainly care about: the meat and the sauce. As said above, the meat was shaved before my eyes and was also finished on a grill, so it was automatically better than the donairs of their pizza/shawarma slinging peers here in Ottawa.
The flavour was certainly different than that of a Halifax donair, with what I would guess is a sumac seasoning, but it was still quite enjoyable! I had been expecting a garlic sauce along the lines of toum, but it was much less garlicky, a bit sweeter, and had a tangy, savoury edge to it that reminded me of tahini.
Having visited in the middle of summer, the veggies in my salad were all bright, fresh, and at their peak, and dressed in an herby vinaigrette.
I’m not sure how the fries got their somewhat-dark hue that is unlike anything I’ve seen on a fry before, possibly from getting reheated in the fryer, but they were crisp and satisfying, nonetheless.
The wrap was on the small side, but the platter as a whole was good bang for your buck.
My wife’s pizza had nicely browned cheese, which in the typical Ottawa fashion was on top of the other toppings. While the quality of toppings may have been a few steps down from artisanal, they were respectable for a neighbourhood pizza joint. The crust was thinner than many of the big names in Ottawa pizza, but was still airy and crisp.
If we lived in the neighbourhood, I wouldn’t be disappointed to have this pie on a lazy Friday night!
While they definitely aren’t making a Halifax-style donair, Romeo’s Donair & Pizza is making good food, at good prices, and that’s something special on its own.