Location: Hometown Grill, 1525 Bank St. Ottawa.
When you walk into the beige, box-like building tucked just off the side of Bank Street, past Billings Bridge, you’re greeted with non descript grey booths to the left, a large bar along the right, hockey jerseys in every corner and TVs hanging on every available inch of wall space.
Hometown Grill has all the elements of your typical sports bar, but the small green letter “V” accompanying their outdoor sign is a subtle indication of what makes this place unique.
The waiter comes over to greet you politely and take drink orders, placing several menus on the table in front of you. The main menu features “typical” meat-centered sport bar food such as chicken nachos and pepperoni pizza, but beside it you’ll see a separate bright green sheet which features Hometown's all vegan menu.
This would generally be one of the last spaces you’d expect to offer this kind of food. However, over the last few months Hometown Grill has worked hard to distinguish itself from other sports bars by creating this unique and inclusive space for meat and plant-eaters alike.
I was excited by the variety of food prospects, so to start off we ordered the Cauliflower Wings ($13). The generous portion was perfectly seasoned with sweet chili Thai sauce, which successfully walked the line between fully coating all the 'wings' but not making them too soft or soggy.
As a main, I ordered The Hometown Vegan Burger ($15) which was advertised as half off on Mondays. The burger patty itself was soy based and a bit bland on its own, but the vegan chipotle sauce, the price and the mountain of crispy fries on the side made up for it. If you go on the right day, Hometown also offers the choice of their veggie patty or Beyond Burger patty for the same price.
I also got to try the Burrito Bowl ($15), which came in a crunchy tortilla bowl pilled high with rice, chickpeas, black beans, veggies, salsa, guacamole and topped with dairy free cheese and cilantro sauce. The meal was hearty, but the fresh vegetables and the spicy sauce helped freshen up the meal and tie all the warm Mexican flavours together.
The Vegan Chocolate Mousse Cake ($4.50) was the perfect way to cap off the meal, with its rich, chocolaty fudge taste and feel.
According to vegan chef and restaurant owner Christos Vasilas, so far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. “People have loved it,” he said. “So far we haven’t gotten one bad review or comment.”
The quick service, tasty menu and low prices made it clear to me why their efforts have managed to catch people’s attention. Ottawa is home to a variety of vegetarian and vegan restaurants such as Pure Kitchen and Grow Your Roots, but the clientele they draw are generally those who have chosen these restaurants seeking this particular kind of food.
A vegan menu in a sport bar catches the attention of consumers who would normally never think to order this kind of food. I brought my non-vegan dad for lunch there to try the vegan menu. He tried the Beyond Burger and loved it (see below)!
“We wanted to create an atmosphere where a vegan and a non-vegan can get together to eat,” said Vasilas.
During my short time in the restaurant I saw this vision playing out before my eyes. As I looked around at the customers at the other tables I saw a group of middle-aged men beside us and the family in front of us all chowing down on the veggie burger.
Vasilas said that they don’t plan on slowing down. “Maybe in the future we’ll do a full turn around and be the first vegan sports bar in Ottawa.”
This is a true testament to the direction that this lifestyle is headed and the extent of the growth that has occurred over the last decade. Whether other sports bars in Ottawa will follow suit remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Hometown Grill’s new menu has managed to catch the attention and steal the hearts of vegan and non-vegan Senators and RedBlacks fans alike.