Food Champion: Chef James Eddington of Eddington’s of Exeter

Written by Bryan Lavery

Whenever I go out to dine, I generally seek out establishments whose chefs champion farmers, small-scale producers and food artisans. Restaurateurs and chefs who procure and feature local ingredients and products that are responsibly sourced are always at the top of my list. I was particularly interested in Eddington’s of Exeter because of chef/owner James Eddington’s long-standing reputation as a champion of food tourism in Huron County, and his participation in the Feast On™ program. For over two decades Eddington has displayed a dedicated focus to personalized service, seasonally-inspired menus and a value-driven customer experience.

This elegant mansion on Main Street is home to Eddington‘s of Exeter

Feast ON™ has stringent guidelines and one can be assured that any restaurant with this certification has been well scrutinized. Feast ON™ is the criteria-based certification program designed to promote, market, and protect the authenticity of foodservice operators whose specific attributes qualify their commitment to local food. The program is designed to raise the profile of restaurants that advocate Ontario food and beverages, and share principles that are in sync with the Feast ON™ mandate. The program uses verification and enforcement mechanisms to maintain its integrity. Since launching the Feast On™ program in 2014 the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA) has continued growing, evolving, and improving the program. (OCTA is a not-for-profit devoted to connecting tastemakers, sharing their stories and developing authentic food tourism.)

The tri-level deck offers space to enjoy outdoor dining

Head out of town to Exeter where chef/owner James Eddington and sous chef Lori Debrouwer prepare locally-sourced ingredients at Eddington’s of Exeter. This is contemporary, casual fine dining with a rustic charm. The yellow brick Italianate-style mansion on Main Street stands out with its decorative bracket eaves, large bay windows and well-manicured lawn with mature maple trees. Eddington’s occupies the original Carling homestead (built in the 1870s), a designated historical landmark. The house has been updated throughout the years with two extensive renovations, an additional 20-seat dining room and a tri-level seasonal deck for up to 60 people that is shaded with umbrellas for alfresco drinking and dining. The restaurant features twelve-foot ceilings both upstairs and down, well-spaced tables with lots of elbow room, and warm tones with a contemporary ambience bordering on elegant.

Exeter, located close to Lake Huron, London and Stratford has all the amenities of a big city and the warmth of a small village. Exonian’s have a reputation for possessing plenty of community spirit. Eddington grew up in the community of Thamesford located east of London in Zorra Township. He moved to Exeter 20 years ago when he started the restaurant and now states, “I can honestly say it feels like home and that just feels good.”

Steamed Perch

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is Lake Huron pickerel. In the absence of pickerel, there is often fresh perch in season. On a recent visit we drank peach sangria made with white wine and fresh fruit, followed by a selection of Italian-themed tapas which were presented on a wooden board. There were perfectly braised beef rib with sweet and sour cherry jam and runny cambozola cheese on a crostini; sweet honey-pitted dates stuffed with blue cheese and pecans and wrapped in prosciutto with a smear of fig jam; skewers of cherry tomatoes and cubed bocconcini cheese with fresh basil leaves and a splash of balsamic glaze; and blue crab fritters with Arborio rice, remoulade and lemon. We followed that with sticky honey and sriracha crispy chicken served with slaw in a waffle cone. At dinner the menu has such requisites as Breaded Herb of Chicken with brie and caramelized apples, and Lamb Shanks with Dijon-mint red pepper glaze. Few foods have left the global impact that ramen has on the food scene; a savoury broth with braised

Tomato & White Bean Vegetable Ragout: zucchini, cauliflower & corn fritters, micro greens (vegan and gluten-free)

pork shoulder, noodles, soft poached egg, scallions, vegetables and cilantro pay homage to the obsession. Large, broad pappardelle noodles are served simply with a rustic, chunky tomato sauce with red peppers, carrots, broccoli, parmesan and Asiago cheese without too much dressing up. Tomato and local white bean vegetable ragout is served with zucchini, cauliflower, micro greens and crisp fritters with luscious corn interiors. For dessert there is carrot cake, apple bread pudding, white chocolate and lemon cheesecake and pecan pie. There is a good flourless chocolate cake and an impressive iced crème brûlée cake that shouts quality ingredients.

Eddington literally fell in love with the sound of the restaurant business. As a young teen he visited a friend who worked as a dishwasher at a local fine dining establishment and waited for him to finish his shift. “Like a symphony of sounds the dining room sang with a rumble of laughter, the clinking of glasses and ambiance of live music. The kitchen was alive with a chef barking orders, the screaming sizzle of hot pans and the adrenalin rush of a full house. That was the moment everything changed. The next morning I dug out my Sunday best and shined my shoes and walked in with my resume. After much consideration, the owners hired me as host/busboy. I had my foot in the door and the rest is history,” he recounted.

Tapas — choices might include these selections: Honey Pitted Date with blue cheese, pecan, prosciutto, cipolline onion & fig jam; Crostini with braised beef rib, sweet & sour cherry jam & cambozola cheese; Sweet Mini Heirloom Tomato with bocconcini cheese, fresh basil & balsamic glaze (gluten-free option); Blue Crab Fritter with arborio rice, remoulade & lemon

Locally-sourced food has been a driving force at Eddington’s of Exeter. “We are blessed to be living in such an agriculturally rich area of the world,” states Eddington. He has 25 acres located on the shores of Lake Huron and farms 16 acres of corn, white beans and wheat in rotation. On other lands he has extensive gardens where he grows over 25 varieties of fruits and vegetables. The property has unique plantings alongside fruit trees with an extensive trail system with its own labyrinth. When Chef purchased the farm it was run down and over-grown, but he spent the last couple of years bringing it back to life and ensuring the longevity of the buildings. There is a small apple orchard and fresh kiwi fruit, blood peaches and quince (ingredients that are showing up more frequently on Ontario farm-to-table menus). There is a pumpkin and squash patch melded into the headlands. This past year he converted an old art studio into a working greenhouse so he could stagger seed planting in March and April to start all the vegetables that are grown on the property. Eddington’s favourite seasonal ingredients are those that are at their peak of freshness at any given time. Fresh off of the vine, picked from the tree, foraged from the forest or dug up from the earth.

Eddington’s of Exeter
527 Main Street, Exeter

About the author

Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink Food Editor and Writer at Large Bryan Lavery brings years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurant owner and consultant. Always on the lookout for the stories that Eatdrink should be telling, he helps shape the magazine both under his byline and behind the scenes.