If you could find a sophisticated urban-chic cafe and a creative bistro with an internationally-inspired menu sourced with fresh local ingredients, and place them in rural Southwestern Ontario across the road from outstanding original Canadian theatre, would that make you happy? Oh, yes. Thank you, Blyth.
The tiny village, home to the fabulous Blyth Festival Theatre, (www.blythfestival.com) now offers visitors two new dining options. The Queens Bakery www.queensbakeryblyth.com is owned and operated by two Blyth couples who have introduced espresso shots, custom made hot beverages, soups and baked goods to the area, in a funky urban ambience. Next door is Part II Bistro, www.part2bistro.ca, the creation of chef/owner Peter Gusso who has returned home to Blyth after cooking and travelling through the British Isles with his wife Sarah. Gusso wowed the judges at the 2012 Taste of Huron chef’s competition and he continues to delight customers at his full service restaurant.
The two eateries complement each other nicely. The Queen’s Bakery offers light and nutritious breakfasts and lunches including oatmeal, chili and soups, alongside more sinful choices of cheeses, desserts and speciality coffees including liquor shots. Part II Bistro provides delicious and hearty European-style meals including lamb, beef, chicken, pork and veal prepared creatively and expertly by Gusso. It is also licenced and features an interesting VQA listing and Ontario beers, a bonus for the crew and cast at the Blyth Festival Theatre. Not only do they now have the option of big city-style offerings, but it’s right across the street. Both the bakery and the bistro open early and close late to accommodate theatre-goers.
“We started something we thought we’d enjoy going to,” says Anne Elliot, one of the owners of the Queen’s Bakery. “We have a product that people are yearning for: a place where they can come and sit and stay a while.”
The bakery’s décor certainly leads to relaxation. There are a variety of comfortable seating options including cushy chairs at tables, and visitors might find themselves being entertained by local musicians who have gravitated to the bakery for informal jam sessions.
The owners, Anne & Rick Elliot and Jackie & Les Cook, met over dancing lessons at Les’ dance studio. Now, they incorporate music into the bakery. “We don’t have a TV and we don’t have a clock,” says Les happily. “We also don’t play any radio stations, just the music we like.”
The bakery promotes local food talent as well, offering Johnston Apiaries honey for sale (from nearby Goderich), Blyth Farm Goat Cheese from Paul Van Dorp (also available in London at All ‘Bout Cheese/Western Fair Farmer’s Market), Arva Flour mill flours and oatmeal, Pelee Island wines, Neustadt Springs Beer from north of Guelph, Coastal Coffee from Ben Gingrich of St. Joseph’s, North Huron Mushroom Farm mushrooms in their soups and Hannah’s Maple BBQ sauce from Odessa.
Anne and Les are the baristas while Jackie does the baking and cooking. “Originally we thought treats and coffee,” says Anne. “Then it quickly evolved and took on a life of its own. We put out a pot of soup for us to eat while we were working. Well, the lunch has really taken off! We thought we’d be dead in the winter, but the opposite happened! I think we have given a lot of locals their first cappuccino,” laughs Anne. She didn’t even drink coffee herself before attending barista school in Toronto and is now a convert to quality hot beverages.
Meanwhile, Peter Gusso, at Part II Bistro has done nothing but cook his whole life. The Fanshawe College culinary grad worked at Waldo’s with Mark Kitching and then took off to cook abroad in the British Isles more than seven years ago with his partner Sarah. Together, they gained incredible experiences and recipes before returning home to the Blyth area in 2009 for a family reunion. Realizing how much they missed their family and friends, they decided it was time for “part 2” of their lives: opening their own culinary business. First they ran the Blyth Station House B & B and a catering business. Then, in June 2012, they opened the bistro. In short order, Gusso won the Taste of Huron chef’s challenge and has been drawing in Huron County fans ever since.
The bistro dining room is casual with a modern flair, featuring theatre posters on the walls and large plates of interesting foods on the tables. Try his sweet chilli beef tacos as an appetizer or lunch or his mushroom bruschetta featuring Huron mushrooms. Chef also cooks with Metzger bacon and beef from nearby Hensall, Out of the Blue fish from Bayfield, trout from Headley farm and sausage from Scrimgeours in Blyth. “A lot of what I do features recipes from abroad with local, fresh ingredients,” says Gusso. He has some fun too, offering guests “soup shots” instead of a bread basket and playful takes on mussels by steaming them in Guinness. His pork spring rolls with a sesame lime dressing are scrumptious.
The mains are large and impressive, especially the lamb osso buco which features whole shanks and his gigantic ravioli stuffed with sweet potato and butternut squash.
“I’m trying to mix it up a bit,” Gusso says as he expertly moves around his small kitchen. “I just wanted to come home and build on this community. With Blyth being a theatre town in the summer there wasn’t any place to go out and have a nice time. Our first summer was much bigger than we anticipated and now we are really ready for this one.” His staff of seven includes another Fanshawe culinary grad, Matt Cottrill.
Blyth is located about an hour and fifteen minutes north of London on Highway 4, north of Exeter. Previews at the Blyth Festival Theatre start on June 11th with their smash hit from last summer, Dear Johnny Deere, featuring the story and music of Fred Eaglesmith. Don’t miss this limited run show! Eaglesmith is also performing a concert at the Blyth hall on May 25th — a rare treat!
The regular season of five plays opens June 26th with Beyond the Farm Show and continues with Yorkville: The Musical, Garrison’s Garage, Prairie Nurse and Falling: A Wake.
Jane Antoniak is a regular contributor to eatdrink. She is also the Manger, Communications & Media Relations for King’s University College at Western in London.
Part II Bistro photos by Painted Black Studio (www.paintedblackstudio.ca)