County Bounty: Culinary Adventures in Huron County

Written by Jane Antoniak

You could call a food and beverage road trip through Huron County crop touring at its finest. If you love to cruise the two-lane back roads while snacking and sipping your way around the region then the new Taste of Huron — Taste Your Own Adventure awaits. This self-guided tour features $5 samples at nearly 30 places. You choose how many samples you want and you can pre-purchase online vouchers for items ranging from honey, jam, cheese, and pastry to coffee, wine and apple cider. There are also restaurants with hot food samples including perch, pastries and tapas. Or, you can drop in on local producers for everything from garlic herb mixes to pork chops and porkerettes.

Beach Street Station

If you want to do a tasting tour of the town of Goderich there is a five-stop package that includes samples of perch at Beach Street Station — the converted heritage railway station now situated on the Goderich main beach. Open for lunch and dinner, the vaulted ceilings and 1907 architecture create interesting ambiance, but the large patio overlooking the beach is also very inviting.

Cait’s Café

You might grab a locally-roasted coffee and a pastry at the fabulous Cait’s Café on the square. Cait and husband Spencer Vail are dedicated to using local products, especially from Huron County, and have been Feast ON-certified. The buttery croissants might be enough on their own, but only get better with a thick slice of Metzger’s bacon or a slice of a local organic tomato. Cait’s the baker and Spencer, who served as executive chef at nearby Benmiller Inn for six years, calls his cooking style “Progressive Canadian.” Check out what’s fresh that day.

Enjoy a refreshing beer tasting from Square Brew near the YMCA. Just down the road outside Goderich, you’ll find the Maitland Market, where you can pick up some fresh Ontario produce, organic and pasture-raised meats, locally made cheese and organic and free run eggs.

Samuel’s Hotel

Another stop on the Goderich tour might include lunch, dinner or just a great dessert at Samuel’s Hotel, situated a few kilometres from Goderich in Salford. This boutique hotel offers wonderful amenities, with a private patio and fireplace in every room, and house-made gourmet cupcakes in the lobby. Daytrippers are welcomed too, and the lunch and dinner menus include a strong list of nearby suppliers, including local beers and wines. Check out the inspiring dine-and-stay packages available.

Culbert’s Bakery

While in Goderich you shouldn’t miss a crème-filled donut at Culbert’s Bakery. It is not on the tour but well worth a stop. The bakery typically sells out early on weekends.

For a sit-down meal to celebrate a special occasion or for a break from the road, Thyme on 21 offers lovely lunches and dinners in a historic home just off the square on Highway 21. Family-owned and operated, this special place believes in full service with an easy country pace. It is consistently rated a top place to dine in Goderich.

Shopbike Coffee Roasters

For those who want the country roads experience, the Highway 21 five-stop tour is a fun way to cruise the coast of beautiful Lake Huron. It would be ideal to start this tour in Bayfield at Shopbike Coffee Roasters, where the sample is a bag of Fair Trade coffee to take home. However, check out the amazing gelato while you’re there too. Fourteen fresh flavours and counting …

Take a scoop of gelato or a take-out cup of coffee for the road and head to Zehr’s Country Market, about five kilometres south, where your sample is a two-pack of pork chops. Obviously, that goes in the cooler! What you really want for the road trip from Zehr’s is a warm and sticky Chelsea bun and a butter tart. Heck, take a half dozen of each! The pies are also fabulous. If you are there for a long weekend, a good tip is to order the pies ahead of time. In season, the market also sells fruits and vegetables along with a full line of meats fresh and frozen. Note, this market is closed on Sundays.

Bad Apple Brewing Co

The rest of the Highway 21 tasting tour takes you further south for apple-based beers at Bad Apple Brewing Co/Ingram’s Apple Orchard, and then for some salty goodness in the form of pork pepperettes at The Whole Pig in Dashwood, just off the highway. While in Dashwood you may also want top pop into Hayter’s Farm for some turkey products, so bring that cooler! Another pro tip: Hayter’s is also the local LCBO outlet.

As you wind your way back to Bayfield, pop into the Bayfield Berry Farm for your sample of jam to take home. In season, you can also pick up fruits and vegetables.

Staying the night in Bayfield is always a treat and there are more options in the village than ever before. After decades in the hospitality business, Harry Israel sold The Red Pump Inn to a local investor who has, in turn, leased it out to a

Lake House of Bayfield

entrepreneurial family, the Wallaces. Graham Wallace has run a few businesses in Bayfield including the Charles Street Market. His sister Jennifer runs the cute gift shop Hive. Wallace and his partner Chef Cody McWhirter are well along in the process of converting The Red Pump into The Lake House of Bayfield. The location offers seven spacious guest rooms, some with their own balconies overlooking main street and all outfitted with antique furnishings. As well, there is now a spa onsite and overnight packages include spa, dining and golf at a nearby course. A small conference space is available for meetings. Wallace is clearly thrilled to be taking over the reins of a landmark location. “There’s a lot of history and character in this place,” he says. “We have taken it from fine dining to a lot more casual.”

Thankfully, Wallace and McWhirter have kept the lovely backyard patio open. McWhirter has created a tasty patio menu. The Baron Burger is a real treat. It features smoked bacon from The Whole Pig on a succulent burger patty of fresh ground brisket and chuck beef. Also packed inside the brioche bun is smoked cheddar cheese and fresh vegetable toppings. McWhirter previously cooked at the popular DaVinci Ristorante, which is now closed after a long and successful run. There are two local beers on tap from River Road Brewing and Hops in Bayfield (the Zesty Farmer Pale Ale offers a citrus freshness) and a pilsner from Stone House Brewing Co. in nearby Varna. A lunch and dinner menu is in the works for the summer months.

The Ashwood Bourbon Bar

Bayfield accom­mo­­dations are also available at The Little Inn, a historic venue very popular with wedding groups and couples looking for a getaway. Arguably, it has the most lovely breakfast service in the county. Near town is The Ashwood Inn with affordable motel-style rooms which include beach access to their sister property across the highway. Within the inn, The Ashwood Bourbon Bar offers an inviting contemporary dining dinner menu with plenty of interesting shareables and hearty mains and, as advertised, an exceptional bar.

South of Bayfield on Highway 21 at St. Joseph is the Hessenland Country Inn. The Inn has five acres of groomed gardens, an emerging vineyard and a outdoor pool with indoor hot tub spa. If you happen to stay over on a Thursday evening in July or August you can enjoy the Mongolian Grill. This popular summertime tradition gives guests the chance to create their own combination plates of fish, seafood, meats and vegetables which are grilled outdoors by Chef Frank Ihrig and his staff. Indoors, there is live music and additional foods including spätzle, salad and desserts. The meal comes with a glass of wine or beer.

The Black Dog Pub & Bistro

If you are staying the night, no stop-over in Bayfield is complete without popping into neighbourhood pubs The Black Dog Pub & Bistro and The Albion Hotel. Just look for the line-ups. Yes, you can bring your dog to the patio at the Black Dog. While there, the enthusiastic bar staff will make you an outstanding Caesar or suggest one of the 20 beers on tap. You also can tap into the knowledge banks of owner Ted McIntosh, an expert in the field of single malt whiskeys. The food is equally stellar with such filling offerings as the Southern Pickle Fried Chicken Sandwich and six impressive burgers.

Cowbell Brewing Co.

Another way to enjoy Tastes of Huron is via an escorted tour bus/van operated by Tour the Shore. The company is owned by Brad Oke of Grand Bend, the man behind Smackwater Jack’s Taphouse. Guests can take a half-day or full-day tour of Taste of Huron experiences and other venues that specialize in beer, wine, spirts and food while letting someone else do the driving. A variety of tours visit some of the local breweries (15) and wineries (3). The company won a Southwestern Ontario Tourism Innovation Award and was named the Grand Bend Entrepreneur of the Year for 2017. New this year is the PedalPub Patio Beer Tour in Grand Bend. In groups of 8–16 people, a guide and driver helps you navigate to a variety of local tastings while you get a little exercise. Fun!

Queen’s Bakery

If you are making this a Huron County weekend, great afternoon or evening entertainment will be found at the Blyth Festival. Original Canadian plays run in repertoire all summer. For a truly Canadian theatre experience, check out The New Canadian Curling Club by Mark Crawford. [See our theatre column in this issue for more details.] If you time it right, you could also enjoy a country supper in Blyth. The little town of Blyth includes some surprisingly wonderful dining options. Just across the street from the theatre, Part II Bistro presents sophisticated local farm-to-table dining in a charming space. The restaurant has been so warmly received that a second location opened this winter in Goderich. Queen’s Bakery, next door, features light lunches such as sandwiches and fresh salads, along with delectable treats baked on site. Cowbell Brewing Co., a new destination craft brewery, features a beautiful restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a retail store, and entertainment spaces. Long anticipated, Cowbell has attracted excited crowds since it opened.

About the author

Jane Antoniak

Jane Antoniak is a longtime contributor to Eatdrink, sharing her passion for food, drink, travel and the arts through her writing, while always connecting with the people she meets along the way. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations, at King’s University College in London.