One of the most recent additions to the increasingly spiffy Hunter St. West is a restaurant on the north-east corner of Aylmer called Kettle Drums, an establishment brought to you by the people behind Reggie’s Hot Grill, El Camino’s, and the new incarnation of McThirsty’s. Each of these eateries has its own unique focus, and, as owner Reg Maranda informed me, that of Kettle Drums is to offer an environment of utmost comfort. Quite immediately after entering the restaurant, this becomes apparent; the décor, which is sophisticated yet subtle, consists of a breathtaking bar, furniture of earthen tones, soft jazz music and a warm glow emanating from cheese-grater light fixtures.
I arrive to find I have the place to myself, so I am promptly show to a seat, joined shortly thereafter by photographer Tori Silvera. The three page menu offers a fair selection of Italian-themed dishes and alcoholic beverages (the latter taking up the entire third page and including nearly 20 varieties of cocktails and beer, over a dozen wines and five martinis). Despite the long list of liquor, Reg says that it is all meant to compliment the food, which takes precedence here.
Nourishment options are broken down into appetizers, salads and entrées. Being in the habit of paying for meals at restaurants, I inadvertently look at the prices and find myself somewhat dismayed; this is a fairly expensive place. The lowest-cost item is mushroom soup at $5.95, and at the other end of the spectrum is a nearly $19 lasagna dish. Not breaking into the 20s is a plus, but most items are well into the double-digit range, a downside for many students.
But enough about things that aren’t what I ate. My first order is a glass of home-made root beer, which I would recommend even on the $3.50 price tag (maybe only to connoisseurs). It had an excellent full flavour and was minimally sweet, just as it should be. Tori says to “be sure to get some if you venture to Kettle Drums”.
For an appetizer we share an order of antipasti ($16.95), which offers a basket of toasted baguette slices accompanied by olives, apple & pear slices, two kinds of cheese, and a fruit spread (usually there is also prosciutto and another meat, which we had substituted for more of the other toppings). The whole is something greater than the sum of its parts here; I wouldn’t call it phenomenal, but considering the simplicity of the toppings, what they came together to create was noteworthy.
For our main, we try the Kettle Drums Mac and Cheese, a creation that features aged cheddar, asiago and garlic goat cheeses, topped with panko crust. Two warm slices of cheese bread come on the side, all for roughly $15. This one really hits the mark; rid your mind of the existence of any other KD Mac and Cheese besides this. The interplay of cheeses is brilliant, a savoury blending with the distribution allowing for bite-to-bite variation. I’m getting hungry writing about it.
Dessert, which I have all to myself, was something called Deconstructed Cheesecake. What this is, exactly, is a handful of house-made cheesecake orbs served alongside warm cups of chocolate and caramel with a line of crushed graham cracker and walnuts to boot. Such presentation is sure to inspire inner satisfaction in any person who doesn’t see why playing with food in public is a social stigma, like myself. By the time this treat arrived, I was already stuffed and beginning to feel the pain of lactose intolerance, but I still ate it all.
After having our orders delivered, Tori and I both felt that the prices were high not only with regard to a student budget, but also to the sizes of the portions. I found it somewhat odd that our appetizer cost more than our entrée, and while the meal was more than filling, I anticipated a little more mac ‘n cheese for the price.
A probable factor behind the cost is the fact that Kettle Drums buys much from local or regional providers. Their honey and vegetables come from the market, as does whatever else they use that is in season. Their beef is from Peterborough and their cheese from Campbellford.
In short, I offer a metaphor of Kettle Drums being a spa for the taste buds. It costs a little more than you might normally think to pay, a decent portion of the price is for the presentation, and it’s the perfect place to go on someone else’s dime. Suggest it to your family next time they visit you. Or, if you really can’t wait, be sure to go on a Wednesday night after 9 p.m. to score half-price appetizers and $5.50 pints.