• By: Anne Dion

Neighbourhood Spotlight: Preston Street/Little Italy

With Light Rail on the horizon, here at Ottawa Life we’ve decided to start a series where we break down each of Ottawa’s neighbourhoods. We’re profiling each area by price, transportation, and lifestyle. Whether you’re a young professional or a family-making nest-builder, we’re giving you the details on every corner of our city.

These statistics were found at neighbourhoodstudy.ca, point2homes.com, viewit.ca, and kijiji.ca. Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) is based at the Centre for Research and Education in Community Services (CRECS) at the University of Ottawa.

If you or your company would like to participate in our neighbourhood breakdown, let us know by emailing anne@ottawalife.com 

Photos by Anne Dion

This week’s spotlight: Preston Street/Little Italy

Preston Street is home to Ottawa’s Little Italy, a vibrant and relaxed district with more cultural representation than its name would suggest. Preston runs North-South, between Chinatown to the East and Hintonburg to the West. Its Southern tip reaches Dow’s Lake, the man-made offshoot of the Rideau Canal that’s now the location of some of the city’s best family fun, like Tulip Fest and Winterlude.

With several large condo developments cropping up in the region, Little Italy and the Dow’s Lake area are set to be Ottawa’s next big boom. Right now, the average monthly rent for a 1 bedroom or studio apartment in Little Italy is around $1,100, but that’s likely to change in the next few years. When the Confederation Line of the LRT opens later this year, even the furthest tip of Little Italy will be only a 20 minute walk away from the Lebreton stop, making the area quite accessible.

La Roma is one of the quintessential restaurants of Little Italy. When La Roma first moved to Preston, the area looked quite different than it does today; but “Preston Street is now more than ever a growing, thriving neighbourhood,” says Antonella Ceglia, La Roma’s Events and Marketing Manager, “and a community with an amazing food, bar, and retail scene”. If you visit the restaurant now, you’ll get to enjoy their beautiful new renovation: “Every few years we update the look in order to keep things fresh and new.” explains Ceglia, “This year we’ve updated the chairs, floors, and lighting to offer a more casual and contemporary feel. The Preston Street area is a community and a neighbourhood not just a destination for a special event or occasion. We want our restaurant to be part of the change and growth that this neighbourhood continues to display!”

When OLM visited La Roma, we got to see two of their superb menu items up close! The pasta dish is called Fazzoletti (which means “handkerchief” because of its shape). “They are not only one of our most popular home made pastas but also a vegetarian option!” Says Ceglia. “They are stuffed with a house made ricotta cheese filling and baked. We love this dish because it represents a rustic yet elegant style of Italian cuisine.”

Another popular dish is the lamb shank; it saw its heyday this winter and for good reason. “It’s braised for more than 4 hours with red wine and other spices. Each bite is tender and melt-in-your mouth.” Don’t wait for this spectacular menu item to come back next winter — La Roma will give you a true taste of Little Italy, no matter the season.

An old favourite of every Ottawa local is of course Stoneface Dollys. The brunch, lunch, and dinner joint has been on the corner of Preston and Beech for many years, and has been beloved for just as long. “We’re most famous for our brunches, but there’s a lot of things people know us for because we make just about everything from scratch” says Mike Franz, Stoneface’s head chef.

“Our Diablo sauce is a pretty big hit. It’s our version of hollandaise; it’s lemony with a nice little kick of heat. It makes all of our eggs Benedict special to us. We also have a good reputation for our pancakes, especially our lemon ricotta pancakes, which come served with the best lemon curd I have ever tasted. It took us a long time to get that recipe perfect.”

A long time ago, Stoneface Dollys’ owner, Bob Russell, bought a little restaurant on Bronson Avenue and has been impressing the city ever since, eventually moving it to its current location in Little Italy. “Little Italy’s a great spot, it’s quite picturesque, especially in the winter. There’s always people walking around, and when the canal is actually open it’s even better.” explains Mike. “Bob has a way of making people feel comfortable, and a lot like family. He used to hold family dinners at the restaurant at Christmas time for his family, the staff, and regular customers. It’s that kind of attitude that makes Preston so great! Everyone that comes in here gets treated like Bob’s family, so it gives the whole street a bit of a family feel to it as well.”

We can’t talk about Preston Street without mentioning Absolute Comedy! With locations in Ottawa, Toronto, and Kingston, this uproarious stand-up comedy venue has been in the Capital since 2004, splitting Ottawa’s sides every night for almost 15 years. Absolute Comedy guarantees you a one-of-a-kind night out, with a menu loaded with all your pub favourites, a well-supplied bar, and of course some high quality hilarity. Since it opened, the club has been host to the best comedians from all over Canada and the United States, with shows 7 days a week. “Monday is our Open Mic night, Tuesday and Wednesday are Pro/Am shows and Thursday to Sunday nights are the All Pro shows with 3 to 4 Pro comics” explains Jeff Tanguay, Absolute’s Manager. Wednesday’s Pro/Am night features a mix of 6 local Pro and amateur comics, as well as a Pro Host and Headliner, busting your mid-week slump with some guaranteed entertainment. The Thursday to Sunday night shows usually feature 3 to 4 comedians with an MC, a feature act, and a hilarious headliner. Reservations are recommended as shows do sell out. Call (613) 233-8000 for reservations or check out absolutecomedy.ca to buy tickets online.

Although the Preston location is a two-story comedic palace, Absolute Comedy also does monthly or bi-monthly shows at other clubs across the city; you can sometimes catch them at Velvet Room in Kanata, Clocktower Pub in Westboro, and Bella Vista in Ottawa South! Their presence in Little Italy remains, of course, a landmark of the neighbourhood; “Little Italy is great,” Tanguay tells us, “lots of excellent restaurants and bars all around us!”

In a lively and evolving neighbourhood it’s no surprise that we find some of the city’s most stylish gems under the street’s string lights. Vincent is a contemporary women’s boutique owned by two sisters, and is now a thriving landmark of the neighbourhood. We say this with good authority, because Vincent won the 2017 OLA Award for Best Ottawa Boutique! If you voted for them, then you probably already know how cultivated, polished, and inviting the shop is. The sisters, Angie and Amanda, named their masterpiece Vincent after their late uncle, the artist who left behind lots of unfinished artwork and a beautiful name. They give back to the community through clothing drives and fundraisers for programs like Dress for Success, The Shoebox Project, and the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation.

The idea behind the boutique was to create “a space where women can shop in an environment that is welcoming and inspiring, and can feel connected to not only the style but the feeling.”

“We knew there was a place for contemporary luxury brands that are curated for the women who want to be different, appreciate quality and want to have an experience when they shop versus a transaction.” The two entrepreneurs continue, “So we bring in brands that are hard to find especially here in Ottawa, we call it a store well traveled for that reason. Our main focus is on our customer service and keeping our amazing customers our #1 priority.”

We asked Angie and Amanda what it was like owning a business on Preston: “Preston Street is known for great food, but we like to say that we feed you in a different way. This area is filled with character and with businesses that have been thriving for decades. Not only is it in the centre of the city, making it easy to get to no matter from where but it is on the cusp of booming. We literally, work, live, eat, workout, and play on this street. It has everything you need in the best way possible.”