Top tastes of summer

Marlene Haley works from her Merry Dairy frozen custard ice-cream cone truck at Tunney’s Pasture. (Photo by David Kawai)

With just two weeks left till Labour Day, now’s the time to squeeze in all the patio noshing and warm weather delights you’ll crave come winter. Don’t let summer 2012 pass you by without trying these Top 10 treats.

Canal-side quaffing

Ottawa’s best summer setting has got to be 8 Locks’ Flat, the surprising cedar patio that popped up beside the canal within view of the Parliament Buildings. Talk about ephemeral: it opened in July, got its liquor licence last Friday, and will disappear by mid October. Celebrate the last lazy, hazy days by cycling there, sipping on a Beau’s Festivale (the Vankleek Hill brewery’s summer ale, available only while quantities last) and tucking into chef Janik Quintal’s Mediterranean sharing plate, globally inspired but (like everything on the menu) sourced locally.

Where to get it: 8 Locks’ Flat is on the grass beside the Rideau Canal, just north of the Corktown pedestrian bridge. Not accessible by automobile, it’s a splendid excuse for a stroll or cycle.

How much: $6 for a 12-ounce Beau’s beer, $8 for a glass of Sandbanks Estate wine, $11 for the Mediterranean sharing plate.

Peachy ice pops

Karen Henry of Wakefield became Ottawa’s sweetheart this summer with her jewel-toned ice pops made with the freshest local fruit. Now’s the peak of peach and melon season, so celebrate with a peaches-and-cream pop or perhaps one made with cantaloupe and mint. “It’s crazy — the first basket of peaches I bought were great and they’ve been fantastic every week,” says Henry, who buys her peaches from Warner’s Farm, at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, and her juicy cantaloupes from a Quebec stand.

Where to get it: Old Chelsea Market Saturday or Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park Sunday.

How much: $3 for one or two for $5.

Refreshment on tap

Stiegl’s Grapefruit Radler is surely the world’s most thirst-quenching beer. Its creation goes back to turn-of-the-century cyclists (“radler” means “cyclist” in German) and it’s a light, dry lager that’s just 2.5-per-cent alcohol and 75 calories per cup. Not available in bottles at the LCBO, get this summer wonder just until the end of August at the downtown D’Arcy McGee’s.

Where to get it: D’Arcy McGee’s, at the corner of Sparks and Elgin, open daily from 11 a.m.

How much: $7.30 for a 20-ounce glass.

Eat, lick and be Merry

Ottawans could be excused if they discovered the new Merry Dairy truck this summer and figured there’s nothing better on this planet than Marlene Haley’s vanilla frozen custard cones. But have you tried her new chocolate version? Rich, creamy and cocoa-ey, but not too sweet, it’s worth following the truck all over town for this addictive confection.

Where to get it: Go to themerrydairy.com to track the truck. Hint: she plans to be at Tunney’s Pasture Friday, between noon and 1:15 p.m.; at Twiss & Weber knitting, sewing and felting shop at 177 Armstrong St. (near Parkdale Market) Saturday between 2:30 and 4 p.m., and at 416 Preston St. (across from Stone Face Dolly’s) Sunday between 12:30 and 2 p.m.

How much: $3 for a cup or cone.

It’s taco time

It’s been the summer of the taco in Ottawa, with heated debates about which tacos are the hottest of them all. Head to Corazón de Maiz, a tiny four-table spot in the ByWard Market building for, arguably, the biggest serving of authenticity, without the side of trendiness. Open less than a year, the tag line on this café run by a couple from Mexico City is “Mexican food from the heart.” Judging by the kind service, melodic accents and honest, fresh food, it seems to true. Enjoy the open-air seats and view of the flower vendors while you can.

Where to get it: 55 ByWard Market, in the stand one south of the cash machines. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How much: $3.50 for one taco, $8.50 for three. Splurge and spend another $2.25 for a bottle of Mundet Manzana Verde — thirst-quenching Mexican green apple pop.

Sizzling juicy peaches

Is there anything better than a perfectly ripe, juicy peach? Possibly just one thing: a perfectly ripe, juicy peach that’s been tossed with maple syrup and a little liqueur, wrapped in buttered foil and cooked on the barbecue to caramelized perfection, then served over Pascale’s Cardamom Sherbet or her Sweet Corn and Coconut Ice Cream. It’s August heaven in a bowl.

Where to get it: Find Warner Farm’s peaches and Pascale’s ice creams at Ottawa Farmers’ Market on Sundays (Pascale will be away this weekend, but back Aug. 26). Torrie Warner of Beamsville says he’ll be bringing his peaches to Ottawa on Sundays until just after Labour Day.

How much: Warner’s peaches are $3.50 a litre. Pascale’s ice creams are $11 for 500 mL.

Somerset sophistication

The strip of Somerset between Bank and O’Connor has been rejuvenated this season, with four new restaurants. One fresh face on the block is 327 Wine Bar, which opened July 6 and stays open late. The 16-seat patio is particularly popular on warm summer nights. “Once the sun crests over the rooftop, the temperature drops,” says co-owner and chef Brad Henderson. “People come at 6 p.m. and don’t leave until 11 or later.” The most popular nibble to nosh on is the Seared Colossal Scallops, served with fennel slaw and soy-honey sauce that practically has people licking their plates. Wash them down with Gin Gin Mule, a summery concoction of Hendrick’s Gin, lime juice, mint and ginger beer.

Where to get it: 327 Somerset St.

How much: $14 for the scallops, $12 for the Gin Gin Mule.

Frozen pleasure, Italian style

Stella Luna, in Old Ottawa South, serves possibly the best gelato this side of Italy. Open just more than a year, the gelato café has taken Ottawa by sweet storm, serving up fabulous flavours, made fresh every day, as well as a love story: its owners are Tammy, an Ottawa woman who was proposed to in Rome just three days after meeting Alessandro Giuliani. Twenty-five years and three children later, the couple are living their dream of making Ottawans “fall helplessly, head over heels, in love with gelato.” Try the salty peanut alongside the Cuban chocolate. Resistance is futile.

Where to get it: 1103 Bank St., between Sunnyside and Hopewell.

How much: $3.95 for a small cup.

Berry, berry nice

Jewel-bright berries are the stars of local summer markets, with irresistible flavour and invaluable antioxidants. Bolster yourself for the colder months ahead by indulging now. Diane Rochon of Jardin Rochon Garden in Edwards says the blueberries are at their peak this week, late-season strawberries will be good till the end of September, and raspberries, which are grown in a greenhouse, should last till October. Her favourite way to savour them? “With whipping cream, of course,” laughs Rochon. Or drop into a Gatineau depanneur to pick up a pint of Québon’s Country Style Cream — it has less than half the fat of whipping cream, but because of stabilizers and emulsifiers, has a luxurious, thick, mouth feel, worthy of the best berries.

Where to get it: Find fresh berries at all local markets. Find Québon’s Country Style Cream at Gatineau food stores, such as Marché Omni, 50 rue Bégin.

How much: Prices for berries vary, but three bowls for $10 is common. A pint of Country Style Cream is about $5.

The holy trinity: tomatoes, basil and garlic

Tomatoes won’t taste as good for another 12 months, nor will basil. The local garlic crop, which thrives in hot, dry conditions, has never been better. Capitalize on all three with this simple salad. It’s the traditional Italian way to use up stale bread, but if you don’t have any, cut a French or Italian loaf into 2-inch (5-cm) chunks and toast them in a 350-degree (180 C) oven for about 8 minutes. Believing that you can never have too much garlic, I brushed cubes of Art-is-in Bakery’s Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Sourdough with garlic oil, then toasted them lightly on the grill before adding them to the salad. Fabulous.

Crunchy Panzanella Tomato Salad

Makes: 6 servings

■ 1 pound (450 g) bacon, cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces

■ 1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil

■ 3 tbsp (50 mL) white balsamic vinegar

■ 3 medium vine ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges

■ 3 medium yellow tomatoes, cut into wedges

■ 1 small red onion, thinly sliced

■ 1 clove garlic, minced, optional

■ 6 thick slices rustic country bread, stale

■ 1 cup (250 mL) fresh basil leaves, torn into bite sized pieces

■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan cheese, shaved

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Place a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy, stirring often. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

To make the dressing, place olive oil and vinegar in a jar with a secure lid, shaking until creamy.

Place tomatoes, red onion, garlic, bacon, bread and basil in a large bowl, tossing lightly to combine. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with dressing, tossing to coat.

Garnish with Parmesan and serve immediately.

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