North & Navy restaurant on a Monday night next to the Vanier Building on Nepean Street. Courtesy of Christopher Schlesak

North & Navy makes list of best Italian restaurants in Canada

By Liam Leonard

Centretown’s upscale North & Navy is the only Ottawa dining spot to make it onto a new list of the top 100 Italian restaurants in Canada.

In honour of National Pasta Month (November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, by the way), online reservation service OpenTable recently released a list showing what its users consider the country’s best Italian eateries.

While 37 Toronto restaurants made the list, North & Navy was the only one in the national t in the top 100.

The list was created by sorting through 515,000 OpenTable reviews of the 2,000 Italian restaurants in Canada that pay to have the service available for customers.

North & Navy, which occupies a two-storey brick building on Nepean Street, was opened by co-owners Adam Vettorel and Christopher Schlesak in February 2015. It has earned praise before from OpenTable.

In an article published by the Ottawa Citizen a month prior to North & Navy’s opening, Vettorel said that the expectations the public had for the restaurant were daunting, not only because the Nepean Street building had previously housed fine-dining restaurant Beckta, but also because the duo were inspired by Vettorel’s family traditions to serve Northern Italian cuisine rather than the Southern Italian cooking more typical of other restaurants in the city.

Now, nearly three years into operation, Schlesak said the restaurant’s unique cuisine and ambience may be the reason it’s been recognized by OpenTable on its lists of top wine bars, top neighbourhood gems and — as of this month — top Italian restaurants.

“When we were thinking of opening a restaurant, there wasn’t a void we were trying to fill,” Schlesak said. “We were just trying to do something authentic and true to us. If you’re not true to yourself, you’re going to have a lot of trouble.”

Though the restaurant’s quaint exterior could easily lead to it being mistaken by a passerby for an old-fashioned, yet well-lit house, Schlesak said the location, look and feel of the restaurant all work together to create a sort of home away from  home.

“We want you to feel like when you’re at your grandmother’s house. She doesn’t want you to leave, ever,” he said. “She wants you to eat until you’ve fallen out of your chair, and that’s what we want here, too.”

Schlesak said there are plenty of great, old-school Italian restaurants in the city that aren’t on the list because they do not use OpenTable’s reservation services, but he said the site is not just a business tool – it’s also a means of communication because of its user review system.

“They’re specific reviews from real people who ate at the restaurant,” he said. “It’s gratifying to know that these are the people who came and ate here more than once.”

Samantha Dumas, a Toronto resident who visits North & Navy whenever she’s in the city, said the restaurant was her second home when she lived in Ottawa.

“It’s my favourite restaurant to people watch,” she wrote in a Facebook message. “No one is ever on their phone or bothering with taking selfies. It’s a place you really just want to soak up the moment, the good company, and enjoy.”

To Schlesak, OpenTable’s lists are a nice reminder that he and Vettorel are doing well, but he said such recognition is not the be all and end all for his restaurant.

“The choosing process is difficult and there are so many great restaurants in the country,” he said. “But it is a great tap on the back for all our hard work. When I found the list, I certainly shared it with all our staff.”