Address: 379 Preston St, Ottawa
Hours: 11am – 11pm (Mon – Sun, hours may differ during/after pandemic)
You gotta love an easy-going bar with a long history of pulling pints and serving hearty fare. In Ottawa, this ideal is epitomized in Little Italy institution, The Prescott.
Opened in 1934, years before such crazy modern developments like the transistor and women serving alcohol, The Prescott only recently left the hands of its founding family. However, they’re still pouring cold ones and serving up their famous meatballs and square pizza.
On my first visit (pre-pandemic), I came by for a hearty lunch with my wife. Well, technically breakfast since I slept in because I was about to start a set of night shifts later that day.
Showing up after the lunch rush, all of the civil servants and regulars had departed from the northern section, named Antonio’s, after the founder Antonio Disipio.
We were seen to right away by our fantastic server, Donna, who exuded the sort of effortless friendliness that really adds to the appeal of places like The Prescott. My glance at the menu was only cursory as I had come on a mission to try their two main dishes: the meatball, and the pizza.
I talked through my meatball options with Donna and ended up going with the Hot Meatball Platter ($11.49), which is the regular meatball sandwich, but covered with meat sauce, and a side. Fries and coleslaw would be my vegetables. Feeling like some pasta, my wife went with the Meatball Melt ($15.49) which would basically turn out to be meatball lasagna.
Being there mid-afternoon, the kitchen wasn’t exactly slammed, and we had our hefty plates of food before us in no time.
With The Prescott’s age, they would have been one of the early Italian restaurants in the city, and as with most cuisines in the early stages of their introduction to a people unaccustomed with it, they adapted to local tastes and the availability of ingredients. The bread on the meatball sandwich isn’t a dense-but-airy focaccia, but simply a couple of pieces of white bread. It worked though – this sandwich was never going to be picked up, so the soft bread just acted like a sponge for the meat sauce.
Speaking of the meat sauce, it was a big win – with plenty of ground beef, and a mild, lingering heat. The meatballs themselves were quite good – light, but neither mushy nor crumbly. I prefer a good sear on my meatballs, but ya can’t win ‘em all.
The fries seemed to be of the from-frozen, skin-on variety, but were wonderfully crispy, with soft and fluffy interiors, so their origins were easily overlooked.
I appreciated that their coleslaw was house-made, or at the very least, wasn’t neon-green goop from a bucket. Long strands of cabbage and carrot were dressed simply with vinegar, pepper and celery seed. Definitely on #TeamVinegar.
My wife’s meatball melt was an impressive size, coming in a football-sized piece of bakeware. Somewhat ironically, it came with a long roll on the side that would be useful in say, a meatball sandwich. There was plenty of cheese, sauce and noodles, and in the end, I did my husbandly duty of polishing off the last few bites. It’s tough, I know.
Full of meat and carbs, we declined dessert.
Our second visit occurred after 2020 took a turn for the worse, but had started to recover with the re-opening of patios. The Prescott has always had a decent-sized patio tucked around the corner on Beech Street, comfortably away from the heavier foot and car traffic of Preston. You have to wait to be seated, and tables are much further apart than they’d normally be. Sorry, draft beer lovers, it’s bottles/cans only currently.
Since I had the meatball on our last visit, I had to try the other dish that The Prescott is known for – their pizza. Their square pizza, specifically. The Dewie, topped with pepperoni, bacon, green pepper, mushroom, onion, and olives, is their bestseller so we went with a large ($26.49) to ensure that we’d have leftovers for a lunch or two during the week.
We tacked on the Chef’s salad ($7.99) – a basic garden salad – for some greenery, and we couldn’t resist the meaty siren song of their meatball so we got the most minimalist version that’s available – the Meatball in a Bowl ($7.99).
The Dewie came out on an impressively large platter, which contained its 20 rectangular slices. Almost more impressive was the cut and crisped edge on two sides of the pizza which suggested that this was just one quarter of a much larger, par-baked crust.
On the upside, the pizza had plentiful toppings, real bacon, and a bright, deeply tomatoe-y sauce. I enjoyed the aforementioned cut perimeter of the pizza the most, with its crisp, rough edge. House-made chili oil on the side lets you add some heat, and there’s a shaker of Kraft Parmesan for added cheesiness.
In the “cons” column, the outer edge of the crust, or the cornicione in pizza-snob lingo, was almost impossibly hard from the double baking. I always eat the crust, not to mention clear my plate, but there were dark brown hunks of crust on my plate that just weren’t worth suffering through. The crust as a whole was fairly bland, and my wife even described it as “cake-like”.
The cheese had an almost watery texture, which may have been from all the uncooked vegetables on top of it, but no matter its origin, it was not particularly pleasant.
The Chef’s salad served its purpose of alleviating some dietary guilt, but wasn’t anything to write home about.
I appreciated that the Meatball in a Bowl was exactly as advertised – one big meatball, in a bowl, swimming in meat sauce. As always with The Prescott’s meatballs, it was light in texture, but still meaty, which was amplified all the more by the sauce.
Sometimes time and nostalgia can distort the true merits of a long-lived restaurant. While this may be the case with the pizza at The Prescott, their meatballs, service and atmosphere all live up to the hype. Go in knowing what you’re getting into, and enjoy the easy-going vibes and eats that this Ottawa fixture has to offer.