Osten is part of a trio of eateries run by partners Richard Forbes, Mark Dufort (executive chef) and Dan Hawkins who chatted with me after my dining experience.
They launched Shorty’s Pizza in August 2018 and, by November 2019, the spaces next door were renovated for 1101 CaféBar and Osten Beerhall.
Osten’s exterior is a hard-to-miss indigo blue. Inside, the space is rustic, post-industrial, filled with light and pleasant breezes when the patio garage door is open. Neighbours visiting during the reno chatted about the building’s history — once a woodworking space and once a production facility for Bozzo’s Meats Cash and Carry.
During the pandemic, Shorty’s continued to operate with the other venues temporarily closed. Osten is now open for takeout, patio and dining in with reduced-capacity seating, using 1101 CaféBar space for “spillover.”
From the outset, the goal for Osten’s was to deliver a cosy setting, welcoming to the neighbourhood — Hamilton’s east end.
“Osten” is German for “East” and in German communities it’s the season of Oktoberfest. “Beer hall” likely conjures up (pre-pandemic) scenes of rollicking socializing with beer, but for the rest of the year in Germany, beer halls are a part of everyday family life, visited by people of all ages looking for affordable beverages and great food.
Hawkins has fond memories of the conviviality of these establishments from overseas travels. He also claims inspiration from the New York City beer halls/gardens that have mushroomed in number over the past decade. Whether in a warehouse or under the High Line, he likes their ambience, approachability and especially the comfort food that pairs well with beer.
Pre-COVID-19, Osten had separate menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour and brunch. The pandemic demanded menu revisions to suit takeout and simplified service.
Hawkins hopes their new menu will “reintroduce Osten back into the community as a dining destination” — a full-service restaurant and comforting escape. It would be a mistake for prospective diners to narrow expectations because of the beer hall moniker.
The food at Osten draws inspiration from the team’s travels and life experiences. This translates, in part, to East European influences without a direct focus on one region. You’ll see hints of Poland, Hungary, Germany and beyond — even though no one on the team has genetic links to these cuisines. Hawkins reports that he grew up in a very diverse community in North York to which he credits Georgian and Azerbaijani influences. The menu’s intent is to promote a dining experience that is convivial and works well with beer.
Nothing is specifically labelled as an appetizer, and many plates are shareable. We began with the in-house pickled herring — perhaps inspired by someone’s memories of the Netherlands or Scandinavia — especially the open-faced sandwich format. With a base of pumpernickel bread and farmers’ cheese, the herring is topped with quick-pickled onions that pop with freshness.
Beet-pickled devilled eggs supplied eye candy with a wee garnish of their own subtly flavoured hot sauce inspired by Ajika (a Georgian garlic/tomato hot sauce).
Star attraction for me was the khachapuri (huh-chuh-poori; also pronounced as kuh-chuh-poori). This Georgian cheese-stuffed pastry has become popular recently, but Hawkins recalls it from his childhood neighbourhood. Their Adjaruli version hails from Adjara on the Black Sea coast — so no surprise that it is boat-shaped — with the classic cheese combo of sulguni (like mozzarella) and imeruli (briny, salty) replaced with mozzarella and feta. The hot, gooey, melted cheese is topped with an egg yolk that you can stir in. This dish can fail if the dough is not right, but the team at Shorty’s crafted a soft, light perfection.
There’s passion behind their smoked meat which gets thumbs up in the sandwich and is a great side. They may one day package their smoked meat and sell it with their bread and mustard and pickles — all homemade.
Craving some vegetables, we had the Brussels sprouts described as coming with ham hock, lemon preserve and bread crumbs. The protein seemed more like Canadian back bacon — still a flavourful combo.
One of our dessert choices was the Black Forest pudding — another pull at nostalgia. Happiness is chocolate pudding, but despite the whipped cream, dark cherry and sauce it did not elicit memories of Black Forest cake — missing that kirsch flavour.
Cheesecake with sherry cream was like no other cheesecake I’ve had. Hawkins described it as a sort of “mishmash,” differing from other cheesecakes they’ve featured. It resembled a slightly dense poppyseed, ricotta pancake with sherry cream. Served warm, it will likely be a hit with diners as the weather cools.
There is much more on the menu that will tantalize along with daily features. Since Osten is a beer hall, it must be said that the collection is carefully curated, as local as possible.
While they are making no claims to grandmothers’ influences, Osten hopes that sharing their love of world cuisines will make this your new dining experience and escape.
1103 Cannon St. E., Hamilton
The look/feel: Welcoming, artsy industrial
Hours: Open Daily 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Happy Hour 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
What I paid: Pickled herring $12; Devilled eggs $5; Khachapuri $12; Smoked meat sandwich $14; Brussels sprouts $12; Black forest pudding $5; Cheesecake $7; Coffee $3
Wheelchair access: Yes