Omaw, a much-anticipated collaboration between chef Matt Blondin ( Acadia , Momofuku Daisho ) and the Food Dudes (Brent McClenahan and Adrian Niman), is a Southern-inspired restaurant in what used to be nightlife party place LeVack Block on Ossington .
Currently, the ground-floor front room is serving dinner and drinks while the separate back space is a weekends-only lounge and late-night snack bar with a speakeasy-esque vibe run in partnership with the John Doe Group (also behind The Addisons Residence ). There are also future plans for the upstairs of the heritage property.
If, like me, you're wondering what the name means, it's a made-up word (and not an acronym for something, like I'd assumed) that's meant to sound like a Southern term of endearment for a mother (similar to its Greek neighbour, Mamakas ). The intention is to evoke ideas of nurturing and Southern hospitality.
Blondin, who's been in the restaurant consulting biz with The Food Dudes since 2013, may have done the Southern-style cooking thing already at the now-closed Acadia, but don't expect this eatery to be a complete rehash of that, although he does tell me Omaw is what Acadia should've been in the first place.
As a creative person, Blondin constantly wants to try new stuff (and keep his kitchen staff on its toes), so expect the menu here to change frequently, particularly while they're still feeling out the crowd's tastes to figure out what should be the staple dishes. "There will always be room for experimentation," he says.
Bar manager Alex Harber ( Momofuku Nikai , Nota Bene ) has come up with a beverage program that includes a North American-only beer and wine list along with a nice selection of bourbon. A short cocktail menu evenly split between originals and classics will, like the food offerings, change up regularly.
We try one of the originals, the Grow a Pear ($14, bravo on the wordplay), with habanero-infused mezcal, pear, jasmine, house-made plum wine, yuzu and egg white. It's a fascinating blend of flavours (slightly smoky, spicy and sweet) that work well together, and I'm still a sucker for frothy egg white drinks, so this is right up my alley.
In terms of food (the kitchen is open until 1am), the plates are meant to be shared, and nothing is priced over $17. There's a helpful glossary on the back of the one-sheet menu in case you need help deciphering what "purloo," "bajan" or "silver fox" (nope, not an attractive older man in this case) means.
As is to be expected of Blondin, these ain't homestyle eats, but elevated Southern fare.
Kentucky fried squid ($14) arrives looking like a sculpture, with sprigs of chives sticking out of it. A composition of watermelon rind and fried squid sticks covered in an addictive and salty seasoning of collard greens, "salt pork" (cured, and often smoked, pork) and "white BBQ" (mayonnaise-based BBQ sauce), it tastes like seafood French fries (this is a good thing).
My personal fave of the night is the mussels on toast ($13), two tasty triangles of fried baguette covered in creamed corn, pickled mussels, celery "chow chow" (a Southern relish or condiment - thanks, glossary!) and an artful, snow-like dusting of powdered malt vinegar.
To finish, there's a well-balanced, tart and sweet keylime ($10) piece of highly Instagramable dessert art: a thin, rectangular slab of lime curd with "condensed buttermilk" (caramelized buttermilk) on a corn crust covered in shards of meringue. It looks so good I almost feel guilty cutting into it.
With such a variety of great places to eat on Ossington, it's surprising that there hasn't been a Southern option until now. Expect this to be a hot spot.
Photos by Natta Summerky.