What role does scarcity play in quality?
Lack of space is often the only criticism you’ll hear of oddBird., downtown’s staple French-fusion bistro. The thin and deep space, akin to a galley with boarded walls and a brass bar, is often packed to the gills.
A.J. Liebling, reflecting on post-war dining culture in Paris, wrote, “a good appetite gives an eater room to turn around in”. It’s this spirit of vintage gastronomic indulgence, combined with the portion-controlled square footage, that gives oddBird. its identity.
While room is a commodity, with just 24 seats inside, it’s on the menu that oddBird. creates space. Dining there lets you eat like Orson Welles for an evening, but without having to embarrass yourself (or Californian vintner Paul Masson). You didn’t fill up on oysters, or tartare, or terrine, so why not order the foie?
It’s this culinary offering, unique to downtown, paired with extensive wine lists, expertly crafted cocktails, and plenty of craft beer, that makes oddBird. so popular. It’s the fun that comes with trying a new dish (say, sweetbreads and mushroom toast), garnished with the knowledge that you’re occupying coveted space.
Most weekends, you’ll be turned away at the door with a considerable wait. So, you head east down St. Paul St. to one of the growing number of other options available to you – but there’s nothing quite like oddBird. Until now.
Since April, oddBird. co-owners Justin Duc and Scott White have been developing their sophomore effort, oddBar. Located on the corner of King and William, this new spot continues the spirit of oddBird.’s approach to fare, while shifting its overall focus to another culinary heritage.
“I would say we’ve bastardized French food, now we’re going to bastardize Italian food,” said White.
oddBird. is a French bistro accompanied by a hip-hop soundtrack, and oddBar. similarly emulsifies a few different ideas for its own style. Their take on a sports bar, oddBar. will feature Italian food, and offer diners a place to watch the game, all in an early-aughts suburban punk setting. Graffiti designed in part by artists from The Downtown Saints sets the stage, and a soundtrack of Sum 41, Weezer and other 2000s mainstream punk and rock completes the effect.
“When we opened oddBird., we wanted a bistro where Scott and I would want to go for dinner on our day off,” said Justin Duc. “Now, we have that, so we think, if there’s a football game on, let’s open a spot where we would want to go watch football, and listen to music we like.”
oddBar.’s menu will be centered around pizza and beer, primarily serving whole pies, by-the-slice at certain times, and sending plenty out for delivery. Diners will be able to round out their meal with appetizers (‘nduja, wings, Caesar salad), a few Italian entrees (lamb shank, hand-made pasta) and desserts (tiramisu).
“We had to figure out what would complement oddBird., and not compete with it,” said Duc. “We’re kind of limited with our space at oddBird., and most people go for the wine and cocktail side of it. [oddBird. does] sell a lot of beer, but I would say the focus is wine and cocktails, so we’re really going after beer with oddBar. We’re hoping to have an even more extensive list than we have [at oddBird.]”
Equally enticing to oddBird. regulars is the prospect of an odd-restaurant with a little extra elbow room. At more than double oddBird.’s quaint size, oddBar.’s 1790square-feet will seat between 30 – 40 diners.
The robust pizza selection will serve up a number of classics (pepperoni, margherita, etc.) along with a few rotating options based on seasonal produce from the oddBird. garden, and whatever else tickles the two cooks’ fancy. 16 taps will let the guys pour more of their favorite craft beers from around the country (Dominion City, Half Hours On Earth, Blood Brothers), along with Big Head’s Big Red as their staple wine.
Do I even need to tell you how good the pizza is? The crust is dense and sprinkled with sesame seeds as a nod to Montreal-style bagels. It’s made to be pulled apart and dipped in the accompanying garlic aioli. Neapolitan thin-crust purists can find what they want elsewhere in St. Catharines – oddBar.’s pizza is present and filling.
Of the three I tried, the classic pepperoni won out, with Chicago-sourced, mildly spicy cups. Every square inch of the pie is covered with pepperoni – “I can’t stand it when you only get a few pepperonis on your slice,” said White.
The Haggard pizza draws a direct line from oddBird.’s staple chicken sandwich, with crisp lettuce, pickles and the eponymous sauce added only after the pizza comes out of the oven. A nice alternative to more conventional, greasier pies, the Haggard is fresh like pizza isn’t.
Then there’s the King William pizza, taking its name from their crossroads, and serving up a slice of royal, gout-risking decadence. While the specific toppings will change over time, this iteration offered a more than healthy portion of shaved truffles, truffle oil, and mushrooms, all on a base of bechamel, mozzarella, and parmesan, with a much-needed dusting of lemon zest to cut through it all. The finishing touch? A crown of gold flake.
oddBar. is a prime example of the downtown core’s continued culinary evolution. St. Paul’s facades have one by one been occupied by burger joints, VQAO bars and eateries of greater and greater longevity. The expansion has now turned north to King St., first with Pharmacii, and soon with oddBar.
“It’s exciting what’s happening. The more cool spots that open up, the better it is for everyone,” said Duc. “I love the idea of someone having a cocktail and snack at Pharmacii, and then hopefully having a cool beer and a slice of pizza at oddBar. and then coming to [oddBird.] Then just head down St. Paul St., and hit all the places.”
It’s impossible to say for sure how well any given restaurant will do before it opens. But if oddBird. is any indication, the nearly doubled square footage of oddBar. will soon feel cramped. Pound for pound, oddBird. rolls the competition – it’s a trim flyweight, and soon enough, its big-boned Italian cousin will step onto the scene. The former’s quality of product and steadfast presence in the downtown core set the stage for the latter.
What I can tell you for sure is that the food is great, the spot is spacious, and the time is right. Keep an eye on King & William for when oddBar. officially opens its doors, planned for some time before the new year.