Big Rig needs to raise its game
How to tell apart the national capital region’s numerous and newish beer-themed eateries? Lord knows I’ve struggled.
Here’s my breakdown, peppered with superlatives. Beer Brothers Bistro serves the best food. (That the venue doesn’t brew its own beer doesn’t disqualify it.) Les Brasseurs du Temps in Gatineau’s Hull sector makes the best beer. Mill St. Brew Pub has the best location. The one with the most locations — five — is the Clock Tower Brew Pub chain. And Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery, which opened in June with Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris “Big Rig” Phillips as a partner, is the sportiest and most celebrity-driven.
Unfortunately, I have no better compliments for Big Rig, unless you prefer “brew pub with the most prominently displayed swag” or “brew pub with the wait staff with the shortest uniforms.” At this mash-up of sports bar and big-box franchise restaurant — indeed, even before Big Rig debuted, there was talk of opening two more locations — the dining experience can only be described as big on mediocrity.
The all-day menu promises better. “It’s not just about the beer,” it reads, and the four-page document’s centre-spread teems with descriptions of not just sports-bar staples including burgers, sandwiches and pizzas, but also the likes of lobster ravioli with seared scallops, braised short ribs and truffle sacchetti, and Niçoise salad.
Too bewildered by the choices? Some items have been awarded the “Big Rig stamp of approval,” written as they are in red with a thumbs-up symbol beside them. Too bad that we usually did not find them to be much better than the less lauded choices.
Before you can set your teeth into Big Rig’s food, and even as you eat, there are numerous distractions. Seating 300 or so people in a big reverberant space with high ceilings and concrete floors, Big Rig can be filled with a big din when it’s busy, which it appears to be most of the time. Unless your sweetie is the ultimate Sens fan, this is the last place where you should murmur sweet nothings in his or her ear. Worth a look are the giant stainless steel kettles behind a glass wall, wherein Big Rig’s beer is made. You can also watch the TV screens that feature non-stop sports — during a family dinner, we were able to keep up with some mixed martial arts brawling.
Would that the food we had at a lunch and dinner were as thrilling. A Big Rig caprese salad was less than the sum of its parts. The mozzarella was fine, but the tomatoes and basil seemed tired. Better was the The Big Rig-approved Tuna Niçoise salad has a generous serving of nicely seared fish. However, sticklers for Provençal authenticity would have been up in arms about the salad’s arugula and wasabi-spiked dressing.
The Big Rig-approved brisket sliders did not meet with our approval because of their too-sweet barbecue sauce and the gristle that detracted from the otherwise tender meat.
A dinner visit began with the best item we’ve sampled on the Big Rig menu. Fish tacos featured moist, flavourful, pan-fried tilapia and fresh pico de gallo. It was satisfying, but would have been better and more engaging served with more condiments.
Main courses were mainly letdowns. Zebra-striped lobster ravioli and seared scallops, despite their thumbs-up designation, were short on lobster and there was no sear on the scallops. Sautéed rapini and parsnip purée on the side demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the usual sides, but they still seem tired. The lager beurre blanc sauce simply did not register.
A Montreal rib-eye steak ordered medium rare arrived medium, quite possibly because it was the thinnest rib-eye we’ve ever encountered. It was still toothsome and tasty — a dusting of Montreal steak spice guaranteed that — but at $29.95, it seemed over-priced in the extreme, especially with carrots and beans that seemed unseasoned and perfunctory.
The Big Rig Club was a mammoth sandwich, its bread and chicken breast both too big and too dry. To the restaurant’s credit, a manager removed the cost of the sandwich from the bill after hearing this feedback.
Big Rig’s desserts are generally classics such as apple pie à la mode, two-bite brownies and strawberry cream cheese cake. The exception, chocolate chunk ice cream with a double chocolate stout float, should have worked for me — I like both components just fine on their own — but it didn’t. s
I sympathize with Big Rig’s cooks, banging out entree after entree for hundreds of boisterous, beer-fuelled diners. Perhaps given the sheer volume of plates moving out of the kitchen, the food can’t be any better than so-so.
Or, perhaps the kitchen can raise its game, just as its most celebrated investor has when his team needed it.
Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery
2750A Iris St., 613-688-3336, bigrigbrew.com
Open: Monday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m. to midnight, Thursday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sandwiches and burgers: $11.95 to $14.95, Mains: $11.95 to $35.95