Stop counting calories and order a blended shake from Holland’s Cake and Shake. (Photos: Kamara Morozuk)
Forget the fact that Ottawa was once coined the “city that fun forgot” — the adage couldn’t be further from the truth. Ottawa’s burgeoning culinary scene proves its fun score is actually on the rise.
What better way to disprove the stereotype of a stodgy government town than by noshing your way through boozy artisanal ice creams and organic fruit-studded popsicles? Here are our top four spots in the city for enjoying a frozen refreshment.
Holland’s Cake and Shake
Long before the over-the-top milkshake craze started, Michael Holland was blending pastries into his shakes and crowning them with delectable toppers.
At Holland’s Cake and Shake, the self-described pastry overlord of Ottawa (he has “overlord” tattooed on his fingers) offers a 16-ounce vanilla or chocolate milkshake topped with a cake of your choice, a brownie, a cookie, cotton candy made in-house and a sparkler.
There’s also frozen custard soft-serve in seasonal flavors such as cotton candy, Ovaltine and whatever local fruit is on offer at the farmers market just down the street.
Any of the individual-sized cakes Holland creates from scratch can be blended into a chocolate or vanilla shake — weekly themes such as Willy Wonka or Austin Powers offer whimsical references to pop culture.
This summer look for the launch of hard ice cream made using liquid nitrogen — “the best ice cream you’ll ever have, because nitrogen aerates it to be more light and smooth than any machine could ever produce,” says Holland.
Tammy Giuliani was 19 and on a solo trip in Rome when she was picked up on the side of the road by a handsome stranger on a Ducati. Three days later he asked her to marry him. Three decades later, they own Ottawa’s Stella Luna, one of the hottest gelato shops in the Americas.
Years after they moved to Canada to raise a family, Giuliani went back to Bologna, the cradle of gelato making in Italy, to train with local artisans. Since 2011, when she and husband Alessandro opened the shop’s doors in Ottawa South, they have won numerous global awards, including being in the top three gelato artisans in all of North, South and Central America in 2016.
Their secret? Premium ingredients such as hazelnuts from Piemonte, bilberry from Italy’s northern Alps and puree from tree-ripened mangoes in Mumbai.
Check out their newly opened second location in Hintonburg, where you can sit underneath a soaring sky-blue ceiling with award-winning flavors such as bourbon and ganache swirl with candied maple pecans or rum studded with wild cherries.
Evoking notes of a childhood spent in Mexico, the spring–summer menu at the Cupcake Lounge offers frozen treats with a Latin twist. Think the sweet and sour tang of pineapple and chili on a stick or the embrace of dulce de leche in the middle of an alfajore ice cream sandwich.
Owner Claudia Arizmendi has launched four variations of ice cream sandwiches — from raspberry sorbet between brownie cookies to s’mores — as well as popsicles in a dizzying array of flavors and colors made in small batches from 100 percent natural ingredients.
But what’s even better than a summer treat on a stick? When that treat is melting into the bottom of a glass of prosecco and you’re watching the world go by from the patio at one of the store’s two bustling locations. Poptails involve pouring premium Spanish cava over the popsicle of your choice, lending a subtle fruity finish to a crisp summer drink.
Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen
Sometimes you just don’t want vanilla or chocolate. Sometimes you want heirloom tomatoes that have been roasted in balsamic vinegar then blended into ice cream with a cardamom caramel swirl.
“People are afraid of it when they first see it, but then they fall in love,” says Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen owner Liz Mok, 26. The former tech designer grew up in Hong Kong and Vancouver and is the first to incorporate Asian flavors into ice cream in Ottawa.
What started as a cart in a farmers market has since evolved into a bustling business in the Centretown neighborhood, where a staff of nine make everything from scratch, including rave-worthy, gluten-free vegan cones.
Look out for the popular Asian street snack, bubble waffles, later this summer. In the meantime, make a day trip out of it by devouring a scoop of their best-selling Hong Kong milk tea flavor on your way to the nearby Museum of Nature.