Veteran restaurateur serves up craft brews and simple snacks at new eatery
If you haven’t already heard, OTTO Food and Drink specializes in craft sausages and Alberta beers, to the virtual exclusion of all save a few brews from our sister provinces. And, of course, sides.
If you haven’t heard, I can almost hear you say, “So what?” Well, this is what: OTTO is Culina alum Ed Donszelmann’s vision of a neighbourhood eatery specializing in craft beer and sausage. Meaning, the attention to quality is implied. Meaning the vibe is easygoing yet bustling, with music and conversation and plates of food careening around the spare, wood-and-brick storefront dining room of a Thursday night.
Meaning Donszelmann himself will take the time between serving and bussing tables to sit down and tell you a bit about the menu, suggest a family-style approach to mains and sides, and answer—best as he can— questions like “Why did you call it OTTO?”
The sausage, he says, travels hundreds of metres from where it’s made by his chef in Little Italy. Clearly he puts a lot of stock in those links to build a whole menu around them.
But just because all the entrees are sausage, don’t expect it to be easy to choose—unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, in which case you have one choice of sausage. The pork selections alone range from spicy andouille to bratwurst to chorizo verde and beyond, to say nothing of the beef, chicken, lamb and even fish variants. Plus, the daily special sausage, with blueberries, apricots and fennel on board.
Co-diner was sold on Donszelmann’s description of the Italian sausage, also flavoured with fennel as well as cabernet sauvignon. I couldn’t resist the allure of the North African-style lamb and beef merguez ($8 each). For sides we agreed on large fries ($10) and beets with goat cheese and horseradish ($11).
Beer presented a whole other quandary—in addition to a handful of beers on tap, there was a full page of mostly Alberta craft brews to sort through. No fan of the hoppy beers, co-diner chose easy-drinkin’ Calgarian Common Crown Blonde, where I was drawn to exotic Lacombe for its Blindman Kettle Sour, a style I’m becoming convinced is great with potentially spicy and/or garlicky repasts.
There was just enough time between the arrival of beer and food to notice that revered local dining-out doyenne Liane Faulder was seated nearby, a genuine endorsement if ever there was one as her official assessment of the place must have transpired when OTTO opened last December.
The sides and sausages arrived at once, the latter reclining brazenly unadorned (you can get a bun for a nominal fee) on a wooden block lined with butcher’s paper, a few gherkins and a small heap of sauerkraut on the side. The big bowl of fries got spicy mayo. The beets were partly camouflaged by arugula.
Co-diner and I often agree on one stand-out dish, but this time we were both convinced we ordered the superior item. She thought her Italian sausage, gorgeously plump and ideally grilled, prevailed with its red wine savour, sweet aroma and hint of chili heat. I considered my merguez, a velvety, slightly leaner melange of lamb and beef redolent of the cumin, coriander, caraway and garlic built into harissa spice paste, to be the better banger. We did agree that the meal was exactly what we were wanting that night.
The fries were fries and therefore delicious, albeit mysteriously ungreasy, though a knob of garlic butter seemed to have made its way into the bowl with them. The tender beet slices with melty goat cheese and a hint of horseradish were even better. And I was totally right about that sour beer.
Somehow we talked ourselves out of dessert, even though I consider Pinocchio salted caramel ice cream proof of a benevolent deity. I believed Donszelmann when he shook our hands as we left and said he really appreciated our patronage. I’m likewise convinced that I want to come back and down a few more primo sausages with beer at OTTO, and see how it expands on its “food and drink” credo in the future.