Don't be afraid of the duck.
That's Kevin Woodson's advice to customers hesitant to try the popular blackened duck breast at Woody's Steak House in Ottawa.
Typically, after a few bites, customers are hooked, said Woodson, who owns the restaurant.
"I can't go anywhere without it being mentioned now," he said.
Woody's is a popular spot during cold winter nights where guests can converse with one another at the restaurant and thaw out in the company of warm friends at the bar.
From behind the bar, bartender Rae Anne Allen enjoys chatting up the restaurant’s regular guests as well as those new in town. Generations of guests have come to know the staff.
Debbie Lowe said her parents regularly came to the restaurant on La Salle street to celebrate their anniversary and she still regularly visits the restaurant. The sounds of Frank Sinatra hanging in the air remind her of her dad.
“We’ve been coming here for generations. I’ve known (Rae Anne Allen) since I was a little girl,” the 55-year-old Lowe said. “I love the food here; they’ve got the best ribeye in town and they have the best carrots in the world.”
While Woody’s is known for it’s steak and seafood, it’s the blackened duck breast that tends to attract the most attention.
The menu includes a multitude of recipes Woodson cultivated over his lifetime spent in the restaurant business. Woody’s Marinated Ribeye is a popular item, and he estimates that over the past 20 years he’s cut around 150 per week. The flaming saganaki also turns heads when it is brought into the dining area.
Woody’s Steak House, a cornerstone in Ottawa for 20 years, underwent renovations over a year ago to enhance the dining experience.
You won’t find Woodson locked in an office. On most nights he throws on an apron and prepares many of the dishes with his chefs.
“The food is quality,” Woodson said. “That’s why I’m in the kitchen a lot because I want to make sure the quality of the food is the best money can buy.”
The owner had planned on exiting the restaurant business 20 years ago but fell in love with the large kitchen and seating areas.
The restaurant has a back room that was recently renovated and holds 30 people, and an upper loft that seats up to 100 guests and overlooks the lower lounge.
Woodson said he plans on decorating for the holiday season, as he does every year.
Guests who frequently visit Woody’s get to know the staff and the staff gets to know them.
“A majority of our staff has been here so long and I knew Woody prior to coming here,” said bartender Mike Day. “It’s like a lot of friends just getting together here.”
Waitress Kelly Cook said the restaurant attracts a lot of regular traffic but also sees customers from out of town. Many curious visitors stop by once and end up returning again on annual business or family trips.
Cook surprises many guests with her memory of faces and sometimes can remember where they sat and what they ordered.
“I think it’s just nice to go into a place and people actually remember you,” Cook said. “It happens all the time. I try to talk to guests, ask them where they’re from, and I’ll have some recommendations of other local places.”
Woodson said the business has been in operation for nearly 20 years, which is a testament to the cooking and staff. He prides himself on running a business that is fueled on not only good food but also a relationship between his staff and guests that feels more like an extended family.
Woodson’s own family frequents the restaurant and as his young grandkids rushed through the lounge prior to opening he found himself thinking about the future.
“They’re going to be taking over any time now,” Woodson joked.