Ya Gotta Love Ethel’s!

Ya Gotta Love Ethel’s!

Ethel’s Lounge
114 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2X7

Dinner for two with a beer or two or three: $50-$75 (depending on the beer)
Open: Daily (varying hours)

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Ya gotta love Ethel’s! Doncha?

I think so.

The place is an institution. It hasn’t been around “forever” — just 20 years, but that’s more than long enough to qualify for institutional status. And every city, town and hamlet needs institutions and ones that are beer houses to boot. Just simple beer.

Now, on the whole, Ethel’s Lounge, self-referentially, say they are “legendary,” and I think we can cut them some self-aggrandizing-slack and agree. Ethel’s is legendary and has been since the mid-1990s. Really, in a world of labels and niches and positioning and branding — and, sure, that happens in just about every context, including this one — I like Ethel’s for its no-nonsense legendary approach to food and fuel. And fun.

Visit on any day, and you will have fun. With your friends; with your family. Even with the table next to you. It’s a study in sociology, too. You’ll find a deep and broad cross-section of humanity inside or on the patio. Perhaps an introspective loner at the bar, a ball team or two, young families, old families, middle-aged curmudgeons (like me), professorial types (but there’s nary a peep about dissertations or the Canadian Association of University Teachers) and students both frosh and graduands. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s an atmosphere best enjoyed with a simple, humble beer. No mad hoppiness. No weird flavourings.

Inside is simple diner-style formica and chrome and memorabilia, with no little dose of local entertainment history, especially CKCO-TV. The patio is well-used and the place generally has an enthusiastic and energetic vibe.

There are daily specials — for instance, Monday’s 12-inch ‘zza deal for $8 (your choice of toppings) after 4 p.m. Legendary places usually have those caveats. Then the regular menu has a raft of daily specials and apps, salads, specialty dishes, sandwiches and burgers and TexMex. The portions are often the size of the 28th state too; the service is similarly big-hearted and magically and smoothly perfunctory just as much as it’s polished-routine and very used to very busy, rabble-rousing nights.

Get a beer to start. Sip. Watch. Listen. Enjoy.

The dishes coming from the kitchen touch down in many spots. You could have a “Rajah”of bell peppers stuffed with chicken and slathered with cheese, or you could have “gunpowder chili.” On one visit, it could be enchiladas and on another, two 8-oz. patties that are the foundation of the Big Ethel burger.

Beer, of course, is always in order.

Antijitos are tortillas stuffed with cream cheese (quite enough cream cheese, in fact), jalapenos, and are spiced and seasoned in a way that makes them neither too hot nor too mild (jalapenos aren’t really hot anyway). The tubular packages are sliced and given a bit of browning and crisping-up in the oven and voila: “little whims,” as their name means. They come in quite the little heap of flavour to chow down on, too. I almost want to say that the cream cheese proportion out-muscles the crisp proportion, but, nah, this is pub grub.

Enjoy with a beer.


Perfect with beer: antijitos (Photo: WREats).

Ethel’s build-your-own fajitas ($13) feature spiced chicken with sautéed peppers, ‘shrooms and onions. You know the drill. Fill ’em up and douse ’em in cheese, salsa and some sour cream.

Great stuff with a beer.


Fajitas love brew (Photo: WREats).

Gunpowder chili, I would imagine, is manageable for most people in terms of spice-heat. It’s possessed of a fairly hearty meatiness and beanery, along with some toast and a side of red onions.

Again, terrific pub fare with a beer.


Nothin’ like chili and beer (Photo: WREats).

Pulled pork on a bun is serviceable and with some good slaw. It won’t be the startling best you’ve ever had, but it’s still delicious.

You know what? A beer accompanies well.

Pulled pork

Beer works well here (Photo: WREats).

Elsewhere in the galaxy, taquitos are essentially deep-fried tacos; however, there is a paucity, a dearth, of deep-fryers at Ethel’s. That is: they don’t have one. The four soft shell and chewy (not crispy) taquitos  ($10) can be stuffed with a choice of protein and arrive with salsa, sour cream and the irrepressibly delicious avocado. You put the things together as you see fit.

I have a hunch that a beer to go along side would certainly do the trick.


Have beer with soft taquitos (Photo: WREats).

Now, you can practically out-do yourself on Ethel’s meatloaf.

Indeed. It’s served as a weekday special (Thursday, I think) and comes in two sizes: one slice or two: two can kill. With mashed potatoes and a diner-duty mushroom gravy, it’s a lot to eat for under $11. The key though? The way the cook crisps and browns the mashed potatoes under the salamander. Now that’s legendary and makes all the difference in the mashed-potato world.


As the late Christopher Lee said, “Meet Loaf!” (Photo: WREats).

The restaurant does regular events, including live music. “Pasta Week,” for instance, begins October 7, and “Sausage Fest” begins November 11.

By the way, Ethel’s does Saturday and Sunday breakfast beginning at 11 a.m., too. I gotta try that. Later in the morning, though: so I can have a beer.


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