Travel the back roads and country trails and familiarize yourself with the proud Quaker settlements, Amish farmgates, rural hamlets and a variety of trails where you can see, touch and savour first-hand the many unique regional tastes distinctive to Oxford County. The small, historic town of Woodstock, population 38,000, is home to Sixthirtynine, which is emerging as the embodiment of one of Ontario’s best destination farm-to-table restaurants.
By definition, a destination restaurant is usually one that has a compelling appeal to entice diners from beyond its region. Interestingly, the earliest concept of a destination restaurant originates in France with the Michelin Guide, which rates restaurants as to whether they merit a special visit or detour by motorists.
Newly refurbished to a higher standard of comfort, sixthirtynine is a tasteful 30-seat room offering menus that are tied to the rhythms of the growing season in Oxford County. After a decade its synthesis of gastronomy, service and comfort has matured into something substantial and remarkable.
A full wall in reclaimed lumber, ceiling beams and a new bar top in raw lumber with a natural edge has set the mood for the recent redesign by Kelly Oliver of Oliver Design in Woodstock. The renewed space introduces a crisp palette of navy, grey, and white, and natural brown tones in the floor, as well as a few strategic bio-ethanol fireplaces and solid comfortable dining chairs upholstered in platinum fabric.
Chef Eric Boyar’s culinary repertoire, rooted in classical French technique, was developed in such Toronto hotspots as Splendido, Mistura, Goldfish and the Metropolitan Hotel. Chef and his wife Jennifer returned to his Woodstock home in 2005, and opened sixthirtynine with his mother Pauline Bucek. Pauline and Jennifer are hands-on partners and both work the front of house, often spelling off one another.
Boyar and sous chef Wes Quehl deliver a homegrown Oxford County “from scratch” farm-to-table experience. They are among the leading-edge chefs showcasing the distinctive diversity of culinary regionalism that safeguards rural knowledge, its wisdom, as well as its traditions. Dedicated to building and nurturing strong personal relationships with farmers and producers, Boyar travels straight to the source to procure items for his Oxford County driven menus.
The restaurant has always featured a culinary garden and Boyar is now working his own plot of land. The family, Boyar tells me, has always had ties to agriculture. The farm where they started growing a lot of the restaurant’s produce is located just outside of Woodstock near Princeton called Gobles which is where Boyar grew up. The 60-acre property was purchased by his brother and father two years ago. They cleared 30 acres for farmland and have dedicated two acres for cultivation for the restaurant, with plans to grow even larger.
Locally procured food has never been more intentional, as many chefs and restaurants have gone a step further and begun growing their own produce in community gardens, on rooftops and farming plots of land. Some of the payback comes in the form of specialized produce. Boyar tells me there is deep satisfaction in preparing and serving homegrown food to appreciative customers.
It seems to me that cooking with vegetables and herbs from your own plot of land is one of the best things you can do to deliver a great farm-to-table experience. However, there’s a trade-off in the form of the extra hours of work combined with already long days in the kitchen and, in the Boyars’ case, the fact that they have three young children.
Sixthirtynine is a participant of the Feast ON certification program (which has similarities to the former Savour Ontario Dining program), which brings together diners and restaurants who share an interest in choosing and serving locally grown foods produced in Ontario. The program is a criteria-based designation system, designed to increase the profile and demand for local food by identifying restaurateurs and food service operators dedicated to procuring and serving Ontario foods and beverages and whose particular attributes qualify their commitment to local food. The Feast ON seal and designation is meant to assure consumers of an “authentic” taste of Ontario.
A former recipient of the Top 30 Under 30, the annual recognition program that celebrates young hospitality food services professionals from the Ontario Hostelry Institute, Boyar has also represented Oxford Fresh in the prestigious Ontario Premier’s tasting events at Queen’s Park.
I caught up with Chef Boyar earlier this year at the Wine & Food Show at the Western Fair Agriplex, and again this summer, when Ontario’s Southwest brought the region’s food, wine and beer to Toronto with its City Fare event at Wychwood Barns. Representing Oxford County, Boyar’s spring-fed trout crudo with horseradish cream, pine nuts, trout skin chicharrón and mustard sprouts, all but stole the show.
There is a first course of seared scallops served with apple celery root purée, duck confit and aged cheddar ravioli with red wine gastric on the current menu, and another first course of steamed PEI mussels with Railway City copper ale, double smoked bacon, house mustard and heavy cream. A representative dinner entrée is roasted Berkshire pork loin with edamame, pearl barley risotto, confit of garlic, hen of the woods mushrooms and smoked chili oil. Another item on offer is the apple smoked duck breast with buttered white navy beans, pioppino mushrooms, spiced red cabbage purée, duck confit croquette and quince butter with a cider reduction.
Boyar tells me it has taken years to develop the staff so that he is able to comfortably participate in events like City Fare and more recently as a judge at the Blackbox Food Fight festivities at the Arts and Cookery Bank in July.
Consistent with the cuisine, the wine list offers many Ontario VQA’s with an assortment of old and new world wines. The bar list features a well-conceived selection of Ontario craft beers and seasonal brews. Tasting menus are available by request with optional wine pairings. There is a small and intimate patio for al fresco dining. A highlight for patrons is the Chef’s Table — four seats that position diners right in front of the kitchen, allowing them an interactive experience.
639 Peel Street, Woodstock
LUNCH: Wednesday–Friday 11 am–2 pm
DINNER: Wednesday-Saturday 5 pm–10 pm,
Sunday 5 pm–8:30 pm
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large. He also shot the food images on the left.