Frances Boehmer is not one to mess with. A former waitress at the Ritz 3, she hoped to one day own the restaurant, but her boss sneered, “When pigs fly.”
Ten years ago, the pigs spread their wings for Boehmer. Her restaurant, Flying Piggy’s Bistro Italiano is a diamond in the rough of Ottawa South, serving up fresh homemade pasta and other Italian favourites.
Nestled at Bank Street and Heron Road, Piggy’s looks like a weather-worn cabin, unworthy of attention. Yet the parking lot is always full – there is more here than meets the eye.
On a Thursday evening, the cozy restaurant is busy, but not full. A long table hosts a party of retirees, and there are a few couples seated at tables-for-two. Piggy’s has its fair share of regular customers, and reservations are recommended. The dining room, which holds about 40 people, is packed for lunches and weekends.
The dining room, awash in cheery orange paint, is dotted with pig knickknacks – a piggy mobile, pig holiday ornaments, even speckled hogs stare up from placemats. Handwritten chalkboards announce the specials, and soft jazz music plays below the hum of dinner conversation.
The menu is varied, but concise. Generous appetizers don’t disappoint. Springy mixed greens, artichoke hearts and button mushrooms are tossed in a creamy basil aioli, and topped with slender sprouts ($8.00). Chicken satay seems a long way from Thailand, but tender skewered morsels arrive alongside asian-style slaw and peanut sauce with a zing of heat ($11.00).
Service is friendly, familiar and no-nonsense. There’s no snooty flourish here, it’s like having your favourite uncle serve you dinner. For mains, our server recommends the full portion of pasta over the half size. At a few dollars more, he points out it’s a better value.
The Flighty Boar’s crispy prosciutto and sauteed mushrooms lend their smoky flavour to a bed of elastic homemade fettuccine in a slick of white wine and cream ($15.00). A seafood pasta dish ($17.50) overflows with shrimp, mussels and scallops, tossed in a perfect marinara sauce – not too sweet or acidic. Silky noodles in a cream sauce flecked with basil are just the right nesting spot for succulent scallops ($17.50).
The menu specials are equally tempting. Ripe pears add unexpected sweetness to short twisted noodles in sundried tomato pesto with rapini and ewe’s milk cheese. A large rib eye steak is perched atop turnips and other tender vegetables, drizzled with a reduction of currants and gin. The sauce is slightly overpowering, but well matched with the steak, which can hold its own.
A full dessert menu is a pleasant surprise, as all sweets are made on-site.
One misstep though is the crème brulée special. While Piggys’ chocolate-fig anise crème is a brave flavour combination, the dish falls flat. A good helping of the dark brown crème could use a little more brulée, and while the fig chunks are a treat, the chocolate weighs it down. The flavours are a delight, but the dish is better described as a rich mousse.
A luscious chocolate cheesecake with a walnut cookie crust hits the right balance between dense and fluffy, and the slight orange scent makes it a refreshing end to the meal.
Flying Piggy’s is fine rustic Italian cooking at its best, served in a warm, casual atmosphere. It’s a rare gem of a spot, and for Boehmer, those little oinkers are soaring to great heights.