I first learned about Zak's Diner (14 ByWard Market Square, Ottawa) way back in the late 1990s or early 2000s when I was student at the University of Ottawa.
Since then I have relied on Zak's for a good greasy spoon breakfast diner experience or some place where we are almost always guarenteed to not have to wait for a seat even on busier evenings. This latter part is especially important if you are fed up with some of the other restuarants in the ByWard Market and their 30 minute waits for your butt to become acquainted with a seat nevermind ordering food.
Last night was one of those nights. I met my wife after work and we headed over to the ByWard Market to look for Ahora Restaurant knowing it was on Dalhousie Street. We ventured along Dalhousie street looking for it on both sides of the street starting from George Street and ending up at St. Patrick, nothing. We gave up our search and ventured over to Chez Lucien which we had previously enjoyed, waited patiently for someone at the bar to take our name down and tell us how long the wait for the table was (30 minutes). We left and headed over to explore further options in the ByWard Market.
We walked up Clarence Street considering our options. We decided on Zak's Diner as we hadn't been there recently and we were sure there would be space. Normally when thinking a restaurant will have space, even on a typically busy night, it brings forth the connotation that it isn't a popular spot for whatever reason. Zak's is not the type of spot. Zak's Diner is a roomy 50's or 60's themed diner with plenty of tables and space so that you are not sitting basically on top of another customer's food and drink while attempting to enjoy a night out.
We arrived shortly after 6 P.M. and was greeted before the door could even close behind us. Attentive service has always been a key attribute to Zak's and would continue on this visit.
We were seated a table I estimate could easily have sat six people. Thus, it was easy to spread out and enjoy our meal without having to do the restaurant table juggle of where to put stuff as it eminates from the kitchen.
We perused the menus for less than five minutes and our waitress stopped by with two glasses of water (straws included!), to inquire how we were doing, if we had any questions about the menu and if we were ready to order. We replied that the water was good enough for us for the immediate time but may order drinks with our order which we were also ready to do.
The Order: 1 Grilled Cheeseburger (Zak's Diner jumbo grilled cheese with a burger in the middle with Sourdough bread) with fries and cole slaw and 1 Zak's Big Breakfast (Two Scrambled Eggs, 2 sausages, home fries, baked beans, toast & jam) with a bottomless cup of Peppermint Tea.
The cool thing about Zack's is each server is packing a smart phone hooked up via wifi to the kitchen. Thus as you are ordering the server is entering into the phone and the kitchen is getting it. This speeds up ordering as now the server doesn't have to copy it down on paper, punch it in at the terminal and/or take it to the kitchen. This obviously speeds up from customer ordering with server and the kitchen receiving the order and preparing the food.
About ten minutes later our food was brought out hot and ready to eat. The waitress dropped off both plates and inquired if we had everything we needed. I looked at the well stocked condiment station with ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper and other accoutrements and said everything was fine.
The Grilled Cheese Sandwich burger was interesting. Reading the menu I pictured the burger on regular hamburger buns sandwiched between two pieces of processeced cheese and grilled to perfection. I was pleasantly mistaken as Zak's Diner rendition was better. The burger was itself grilled, placed between two pieces different kinds of cheese and of course the bread is grilled as well. It was like a grilled cheese sandwich but better as you added a beef patty. An excellent original idea. Tastewise it was a simple sandwich delight that tickled the tastebuds.
The fries were interesting deli style fries. Thin sliced fries were decently warm and tasted good. Nothing overly special, but not terrible either. Slightly above mediocre would suffice.
The standard small cole slaw was served in a small plastic container. Again nothing special, but not terrible.
The Big Breakfast lived up to it's name. The scrambled eggs were satisfactory. The sausauges set Zak's Diner apart though. There are two large fat tasty sausauges that look like they are about to burst. The old school cubed home fries as well are a solid contender as they are served hot but still have the taste of potato present instead of overly burnt or greased. The toast was the usual melted butter but also comes with packets of peanut butter and jam if you wish to add these to your tastes. A full plate is offered at Zak's presenting true value and not the skimpyness of portions that some diners have sought to undertake to cut costs.
Overall, Zak's Diner is one of Ottawa's best places to grab a good breakfast meal anytime of the day. Great service coupled with solidly prepared diner food along with interesting renditions of diner classics (i.e. grilled cheeseburger) seem to attract the customers. Lots of room inside the diner for customers with the traditional 50's or 60's diner atmosphere also are big pluses. If you are looking for the diner experience of yesteryear, Zak's Diner is hard to beat in Ottawa.