It is the launch of al fresco season and we’ve gathered a selection of some of the more interesting regional dining and people-watching venues. Sip a coffee, quaff a craft beer or enjoy a nosh or a full meal at a sidewalk café, in a private garden or secluded courtyard setting, under a pergola or gazebo, on a roof-top patio, or on a charming side-street terrace.
Here is my short list of recommendations — not exclusive and in no particular order — for refreshing al fresco dining and drinking inspiration this season.
The Lake Huron Shore
In Sarnia, Alternate Grounds Dockside affords the best view of the city and the only water-top patio on the Canadian side of the St. Clair River. Open seasonally, April 1–September 30, at Sarnia Bay Marina. agdockside.com
Smackwater Jack’s Taphouse features a patio that literally hangs over the river in Grand Bend, where it empties into Lake Huron. Always a popular spot for boat watching and sunset views, they recently added a wood burning pizza oven to the multi-tiered patio. smackwaterjacks.ca
Located between Grand Bend and Bayfield outside the lakeside village of St. Joseph, Hessenland Country Inn honours German culinary traditions. The Ihrig family relaunches their legendary al fresco Mongolian Grill nights in the summer on their outdoor patio with its great views of the bucolic grounds and fledgling vineyard. hessenland.com
Looking for something different? How about trying a bistro-themed restaurant for plane spotters and aeronautical aficionados with its patio located next to the London airport tarmac? Katana Kafe & Grill may be off the beaten path, but it offers a spectacular view of air traffic and Chef Chris Morrison’s cuisine receives rave reviews. katanakafe.ca
The Early Bird, a diner with casual farm-to-table cooking, has a retro charm and a 26-seat seasonal patio placed across the sidewalk for outdoor dining. theearlybird.ca
The close proximity to Budweiser Gardens makes both Waldo’s On King (waldos.on.ca) and Olive R Twists Food and Beverage House (olivertwists.ca) at the Covent Garden Market a desirable choice on event nights. Both restaurants overlook King Street’s restaurant row and are perfectly placed for relaxing and watching the passing scene.
For vegan diners, Glassroots (glassrootslondon.com) has a 14-seat elevated patio overlooking Richmond Row, and Plant Matter Kitchen (plantmatterkitchen.com) in Wortley Village also has street-side seating.
Wolfe of Wortley is a compact 24-seat restaurant which is complemented by a 14-seat patio. This is casual but sophisticated dining focusing on curing, pickling, fermenting, and preserving, featuring craft cocktails and a compact wine list. wolfeofwortley.com
The Springs, at 310 Springbank Drive, is one of London’s premier culinary hot spots. A beautifully appointed raised patio seats 40. Chef Geoff Tew features locally grown ingredients from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices, and ethically raised livestock. thespringsrestaurant.com
Idlewyld Inn & Spa is a grand Victorian mansion nestled at 36 Grand Avenue in a quiet Old South neighbourhood. Here the passion for food translates into updated classic cuisine showcasing local and seasonal products. The manicured grounds and elegant ambiance of the gracious front porch and hidden forty-seat “Garden Courtyard” create a welcome retreat for diners. idlewyldinn.com
Black Trumpet is a prestige spot for al fresco dining in its beautifully appointed British colonial Indonesian-style courtyard garden. This secluded oasis on Richmond St. seats 60 and features several levels amidst the wild plantings and exotic foliage. Chef Scot Wessling and the culinary team have a modern take on iconic classics, with Mediterranean and Asian influences. blacktrumpet.ca
The Church Key Bistro-Pub resides in a prominent heritage building across from the Grand Theatre and beside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Chef Michael Anglestad specializes in traditional food updated with gourmet flair. The pub features an intimate outdoor courtyard for casual cocktails or dinner pre- and post-theatre, and they also serve an exceptional Sunday Brunch featuring different entrée items every week. thechurchkey.ca
Bertoldi’s Trattoria has a well-appointed rooftop patio that gives patrons a great view of the denizens on Richmond Row. The patio, with seating for 100, resembles an Italian garden, with hanging baskets and colourful umbrellas. On cooler evenings, an infrared heating system lends the patio a warm glow. On sunny days, a misting system helps cool things down. bertoldis.ca
Marienbad Restaurant and Chaucer’s Pub share a Carling St. sidewalk patio with a smart black iron fence, pretty flower boxes, and comfortable tables with festive umbrellas that exude old-world charm. Chef Klaus Campbell evokes the traditional Mittel-European cooking styles of Central Europe. There is excellent steak tartare, schnitzels and a superior beer selection. marienbad.ca
Craft beer enthusiasts have made Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium a local landmark, part of Ontario’s rich craft beer culture. Chef Matt Reijnen prepares seasonally-curated menus that reflect their farm-to-table commitment and passion for everything local. There are 23 micros on tap with excellent style variation, and twin street-side seasonal patios. pubmilos.com
The Morrissey House is a welcoming, warm and cozy local. Chef Andrew Harris features an innovative from-scratch menu. The 60-seat patio, set back from the street at 359–361 Dundas St., is an industry and neighbourhood hot spot, attracting a large crowd of regulars. themorrisseyhouse.wordpress.com
Toboggan Brewing Company is the concept of restaurateur Mike Smith, owner of the venerable London landmark Joe Kool’s. Toboggan’s craft beers are brewed below the floors of the Richmond St. brewpub. The 519 Kitchen features a large wood-burning oven, a large BBQ smoker and an enviable roof top patio overlooking Richmond Street. Smith’s other restaurants, Fellini Koolini’s and The Runt Club, feature charming twin patios with plenty of shade from mature trees at 155 Albert Street, just off Richmond Row. tobogganbrewing.com
There is no shortage of great patios in Stratford. If you enjoy people watching, pull up a chair at Mercer Kitchen, Bentleys Inn, Fellini’s Italian Cucina, Downie Street Burger or Stratford Thai Cuisine. Other favourite spots include Anne Campion’s Revel on Market Square. This is a great place to grab a barista-prepared beverage and some homemade small-batch baking and soak up the sun on one Stratford’s most striking patios. revelstratford.ca
The relaxed osteria-style restaurant Monforte on Wellington — known for its small plates, each inspired by a Monforte cheese — has a charming 35-seat courtyard with umbrellaed tables for al fresco dining. (fb.com/MonforteOnWellington) Another notable patio is located at The Parlour Inn by Vintage Hotels, just one block from the Avon Theatre and Studio Theatres in downtown Stratford. (theparlour.ca) Foster’s Inn (fostersinn.com) also offers a smart street-side patio, as does The Mill Stone (themillstone.ca). The HUB, at 27 Marketplace above Bard’s Steakhouse, is the only three-season roof-top patio in Stratford. (27marketplace.com)
Chef Aaron Carley, at The Restaurant at The Bruce at 89 Parkview Dr., describes his cuisine as “New Canadiana,” using traditional techniques and global influences applied to the good things of this province. The luxe restaurant features a stunning 36-seat terrace and a gazebo that can be booked for private dinners. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as pre- and post-theatre. thebruce.ca
Revival House offers great local, seasonal food in the warm atmosphere of Stratford’s former Church Restaurant. Tucked along the Brunswick St. (south) side of the heritage church building, a new 40-seat garden patio is the perfect spot to enjoy anytime nosh, craft cocktails and local beer. revival.house
Keystone Alley’s unique outdoor 40-seat alley terrace is a hidden gem on Brunswick St. The patio features an “edible wall” of herbs used in their seasonal dishes. A great spot to enjoy the Ploughman’s Platter and some wine or a menu full of fresh seasonal and local foods. keystonealley.com
In Woodstock, we like to enjoy Eric Boyar’s delicious farm-to-table cuisine at Sixthirtynine and dine al fresco on the small and intimate patio surrounded by attractive raised flower beds. sixthirtynine.com
In Ingersoll, maple and pine trees share space with bubbling cherub fountains along Elm Hurst Inn & Spa’s 33 landscaped acres. Inspired by the seasons, menus change to reflect the local harvest. The gingerbread-trimmed mansion features a large outdoor patio in a bucolic setting. elmhurstinn.com
Kettle Creek Inn’s dining options include a gazebo and a stunning garden terrace. Owner Jean Vedova says, “Guests can prop up their feet on their porch or balcony, sip a libation and amble down for dinner under the gazebo. It doesn’t get much better.” kettlecreekinn.com
At SoLo On Main, Chef Lauren Van Dixhoorn’s cooking is refined and the presentation modern and thoughtful. There is a stunning patio and inviting front porch overlooking the harbour. soloportstanley.com
The Windjammer Inn, at Smith and William, has comfortable seating on the newly rebuilt wraparound veranda. Owner and accomplished chef Kim Saunders sources her ingredients from the large farm network in Elgin County. thewindjammerinn.com
Tucked in the back of the Italian-inspired Mamma Maria’s Ristorante is a beautiful private dining area perfect for special events or parties. There are streetside tables and a stunning 50-seat patio off the private room overlooks the Thames River. mammamariasristorante.ca