Pick-Your-Path Lunching (is awesome).

Recently, I read a tweet claiming that there are more Subway sandwich shops than McDonalds(es?) in Canada.  I was surprised by this, but upon Googling it found that it was actually old news–Subway has been ahead for awhile.

Why not, right? The lunchtime Subway line on campus is rivaled only by coffee shops in the morning.  From where currently sit, I’m about a 10 minute walk from four (yes, FOUR) highly popular Subways. The reason I know this, of course, is because I frequent them. I frequent ALL of them.

The appeal is simple: The food is affordable. It’s quick.  It’s addictingly good. It’s a lot less guilt-inducing than other fast food options. Most importantly, though, it’s highly customizable. Companies in almost every sector have realized that, courtesy of the 21st century, people want and expect to pick their own path.  Heightened sense of individuality-cum-entitlement? Check .  Welcome to the iWorld, folks. iDig the iWorld (sorry, iWill stop writing like that now…), but us first world kids are undoubtedly spoiled by all this access to options.

Subway definitely knows what’s up: It’s a sandwich. It’s a GOOD sandwich.  Most of all, though, it’s YOUR good sandwich. Subway, along with many other companies that are really rocking it right now (Freshii, for example), know how to appeal to our semi-newfound “BTCHPLZ, I DO WHAT I WAAANT” mindset.  Clearly, combining choice with cold cuts SELLS.

It sells to me, at least. Subway and Freshii are easily two of my favourite lunch spots. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to other businesses running from that same formula: serving a simple favourite with lots of options on top.  I’ll chat about specific places around downtown Ottawa, but almost every city will have at least one place specializing in…

Gourmet Grilled Cheese. Recently, a little place called Melt opened up at 399 Dalhousie. I went for the first time last week with my friend Rebecca, who shared my opinion that a sandwich shop dedicated to grilled cheese is “such a GREAT idea!”  She was very impressed with her “Herbivore” sandwich, while I was psyched to pack a grilled cheese full of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, and prosciutto. The taste was okay, though a bit too buttery (that one kinda comes with the territory) and slightly dry (“I’m thinking this needs some ketchup”).  All in all, though, this is such a cool concept that we will definitely be stopping back in.

Oh, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese? It’s TOTALLY a thing.  It’s huge in Toronto (because everything awesome is huge in Toronto), while Vancouver has a popular grilled cheese truck. “Say Cheese” in New York even hosts “cooking parties” for kids’ birthdays. Yup. Totally a thing.

Poutine. When I first moved to Ottawa, Smoke’s Poutinerie literally became something to write home about.  A place open until 3 am that puts onions/mushrooms/bacon/sausage on a poutine? Sold. Game over. Cue my first year of University–and, of course, the first meal I presented to any out-of-town visitors when they came to the capital.

Smoke’s Poutinerie has since exploded across the country, so I can no longer claim it as a reason people should really (really…REALLY) come visit Ottawa. I never actually could–Smoke’s started in Toronto,  a city which now boasts a monstrous SIX locations. There’s probably a location in your city, too, so I suggest you go. Now.  My favourite dish so far is the “Nacho Grande”; Chili and guacamole make for one hell of a poutine.

Burgers. Okay, we all know this one. Harvey’s, right? Personalizing burgers is their game. And I agree with that, I do. I don’t seek to de-throne the fast food joint responsible for any and all bacon-covered veggie burger cravings (if you haven’t done this, you really should. Both the burger and the irony are delicious).  I do, however, wish to point out that there are some other major players taking burgers and their toppings to another level.

Enter the “gourmet burger bistro.” When I first heard of The Works, I was immediately enthralled.  Initially, I was drawn to the restaurant atmosphere: picnic tables, drinks served from measuring cups, salt & pepper shakers crafted from lightbulbs…cool stuff everywhere.  The menu fits that “cool stuff” category too, with six patty choices and over 70 topping combinations.  Topping burgers with anything from peppercorns to pineapple to peanut butter, The Worked has earned itself a local reputation of being the pinnacle of everything a burger joint should be.  That might sound over-the-top, but I’ll stand by it. I’m a really big fan.

I should backtrack a bit, though: The Works’ reputation is no longer local.  It recently expanded to Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo, Kingston, London, Peterborough and Oakville…basically, yet ANOTHER of my Ottawa selling points is no longer exclusive to the city.  On the bright side, there are a lot of happy people in Waterloo.

Mexican Food. Sorry, I know I should be more specific here.  Basically, I’m talking about tacos, burritos, quesadillas…stuff that, strangely, Ottawa really knows how to serve up.  Specifically, stuff that Corazón De Maíz in the Byward Market really knows how to serve up.  The owners are known for providing some of the best customer service around, and they always offer GREAT suggestions as to what to put into a taco. Ultimately, in true pick-your-path fashion,  it’s still your call. My mind was blown when I was first offered pork as a meat option alongside the traditional beef/chicken deal, and it continues to be blown every time I go there.

I know other cities have great, independently-owned vendors in their market(s) serving up traditional fare, and I think it’s always worth supporting those companies (bonus points: the food is almost always fantastic).  As for Corazón De Maíz?  Well, this is one place that I can definitely claim for Ottawa…at least for now!

Pitas. One of my closest high school friends used to work at a small pita shop outside of Kitchener’s Stanley Park mall. I have more memories of Mega Pita than I do of even my own teenage work places.  So many late nights were spent waiting for my friend to get off work as I “helped,” mopping/sliding across the floors. I once rushed a cheap dollar store fan to her while she sweated in the non-air conditioned kitchen, and we shared it as I kept her company on a boring and blistering hot Sunday. I even called the Mega Pita owner “The Boss,” a title I denied even my own high school bosses. As far as I’m concerned, that guy is still “The Boss.”  He will always be.  He is ESPECIALLY the boss because  his business is the reason my friend can make a damned good pita. He is also the reason why I continue to frequent pita spots like Byward Market’s Pita Pit–that is, when I’m not at Subway.

How about you? What’s your favourite “I DO WHAT I WAAANT”-friendly spot? Anything I missed? I’m pretty sure I could live off those five foods for months (re: last summer. Sorry, mom.) but if any other central dishes are getting amped up, I would love to give it a shot!

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