A postcard-perfect fishing village on the shores of Lake Erie, Port Stanley is known for its harbour, colourful heritage buildings, and the iconic King George VI lift bridge. Regular visitors to “Port,” as it is known by locals, are attracted to the village’s dynamic artistic community, Port Stanley Festival Theatre, galleries and specialty shops. A big draw is the main beach, which offers one of the best stretches of sandy beach on the north shore of Lake Erie and is home to a newly refurbished pier.
The fledgling Main Street Taqueria is now serving tacos, burritos, tamales and fresh salsa. Shebaz’s Shawarma & Falafel is another new addition to the village. Be sure to stop by Killer Desserts and Café, known for its gluten-free sandwiches, made-from-scratch soups, and cheesecakes. Another great stop on any culinary tour is the Harbourtown Fudge store, next to the historic Telegraph House Heritage Inn, both operated by Jon and Vicci Coughlin. For casual fare, don’t forget about the landmark Mackie’s at the main beach, celebrating 105 years in Port Stanley. The following are more detailed suggestions for an authentic taste of Port Stanley.
Kettle Creek Inn
Nestled in the heart of Port Stanley, this historic inn is one of “Ontario’s Finest Inns.” Jean and Gary Vedova opened the doors to Kettle Creek Inn in 1983, after renovating the building. The Vedovas, along with sons Troy and Dean, are hands-on. Additionally chef Rob Lapman keeps the Inn’s kitchen fresh and relevant. Menus showcase a commitment to the area with ingredients that are farmed, fished or foraged locally, such as the perch and pickerel that arrive in the kitchen daily. The Ontario-reared meats are all fresh products, and signature dishes include a locally-revered pot pie. Recent menu items include an appetizer of white beer-cured salmon with Dijon mussels, pickled onions, crispy capers and toasted pretzel bread. At dinner there is an entrée of grilled sterling silver teres major steak (beef shoulder) with charred broccolini, pickled enoki mushrooms, chili jam, fried beef wanton and cilantro. Kettle Creek’s wine program features the estate wineries of Lake Erie North Shore, which includes Cooper’s Hawk, Mastronardi, Sanson, Sprucewood and Pelee Island. The Inn has 10 guest rooms and five luxury suites. Dining options include a parlour with a cozy fireplace, an intimate English-inspired pub, two dining rooms, a gazebo and a stunning garden terrace. Jean tells us, “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.” 216 Joseph Street.
The New New Age
This is a casual farm-to-table bistro, brew pub and herbal tea company. Stephen and Katie Hotchkiss moved to southwestern Ontario from Los Angeles in 2014 to start cultivating medicinal and culinary herbs on their family farm. As herbalists, artists and foragers, Stephen says, they’ve “fallen in love with Ontario’s biodiverse Carolinian forests, and conceived The New New Age as a celebration of the bounty of Ontario’s southwest.” The bistro is committed to organic ingredients and the majority of ingredients are sourced on their own farm or from local growers. Their micro-brew pub, known as Last Castle Brewing, specializes in seasonal batches of farmhouse, sour and herbal ales that use only organic and wild crafted ingredients. Field Magic, their signature farmhouse ale, uses a recently re-discovered variety of Ontario heritage hops known as Bertwell. The hops are provided by one of Elgin County’s best organic growers, Common Ground Farm. There is a line of herbal teas available made from ingredients grown on their farm or sourced organically from elsewhere. 286 Bridge Street.
Solo on Main
Port Stanley’s latest culinary hot spot is located in the heritage home previously occupied by Mickey’s Boathouse. Solo on Main is a family-run business with chef Lauren Van Dixhoorn at the helm, twin brother Paul on the bar and floor, and sister Lyndsay handling the restaurant’s business details. In seasonable weather there is a smartly appointed patio and inviting front porch that offers alfresco seating and great “Port” views. Inside, there is a charming walnut bar in the lounge, topped with quartz. The casual white-linen dining room with its original hardwood floors is decorated in warm gray tones and the walls are adorned with local art. The cooking is refined and the presentation modern and thoughtful. Van Dixhoorn and sous chef Brooke Cowitz, alumni of Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute, worked together at Queen’s Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they became steadfast friends. Smoked steelhead trout frites with scallions, crème fraiche, crispy shallots and Guinness hollandaise are an inspired take on poutine. Chef has upped the ante with her classic rendition of bones and toast, an offering of roasted marrow bone with salt chimichurri sauce and garlic rubbed bread. There is an assertively modern Italian flavour to the “Solo and Share Plates” menu, which is available all day, offering items like nduja (spreadable pork sausage) crostini, house-made pappardelle, mozzarella arancini, and a rotation of excellent daily risottos. The evening menu features roast chicken, flank steak with chimichurri, and pan roasted tenderloin with shallot anchovy compound butter. There are pickerel and perch, Lake Erie staples, either pan fried or breaded. The culinary experience succeeds on many levels. 187 Main Street.
The Windjammer Inn
Just off the main beach in Port Stanley, this is the former Shephard House (1854), built by Samuel Shephard, a prominent local grain merchant. Owner and accomplished chef Kim Saunders sources her ingredients from the large farm network in Elgin County. In her eleventh season, her personal culinary style is evident on the menus, which state the kitchen’s food philosophy. “We use Local and Organic, Ethically Raised Products as much as possible. Thank you to our Farmers!” Saunders, who was raised on a farm, grows many of her own herbs, edible flowers and heirloom vegetables in the gardens surrounding the Inn. Saunders honed her craft in a number of Toronto restaurants before purchasing the Windjammer Inn. Lake Erie fresh line-caught perch and pickerel are available in season. Think lightly smoke-roasted Everspring duck breast with ricotta herb gnocchi, roasted broccoli and rhubarb ginger chutney. A recent feature was roasted venison, hunter-style, sweet potato wedges and wild leek chimichurri. Scratch breads, artisanal cheeses, fresh farm produce, local meats and Saunders’ baking round out the menu. In season, the restaurant has seating on the newly rebuilt wraparound porch. The Inn has three tastefully appointed rooms and two separate rooms next door. 324 Smith Street.
Several other restaurants specialize in featuring famous Lake Erie pickerel and perch (both yellow and white) and other delicious local catch. Port Stanley’s diverse culinary establishments offer up an authentic taste of the region, whether you are a connoisseur or simply appreciate a glass of wine or a cold beer..
Bryan Lavery is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.