There’s a new angle at the historic Little Inn in Bayfield, Ontario. While the bones of the 1800s building still stand strong (albeit a bit delightfully creaky and slanted in places), the Inn now offers two dining choices, upgraded rooms, a beautifully renovated kitchen and a new front desk area, under the ownership of Joanne Oliver, assisted by her team of seasoned hospitality professionals.
Leading the charge of positive change is Michael Potters. Potters is known in Toronto and Prince Edward County culinary circles for his 20-plus years as a farm-to-table champion at places such as Harvest in Picton (rated Top Ten in Canada by enRoute magazine 2006) and Accolade at the Crown Plaza in Toronto. He also was host of a W Network series called Chef Worthy which ran until 2010. While Potters has hung up his apron, his heart remains in the kitchen. At the Little Inn he helped to oversee the quarter-million-dollar renovation and has given guidance to Chef Jamie Crosby. Potters has taken on the role of General Manager after deciding to remain in Bayfield to raise his daughter.
While it might be a bit daunting for Crosby to have Potters keeping an eye on everything from perfect plating on the newly purchased tableware, to producing themed events including a Dinner Jazz series, the young chef is expertly producing a wide variety of complex menu items for two types of dining experiences: traditional fine dining in The Willow Room and casual gastropub service in the Four-in-Hand taproom. Crosby’s dishes include fresh dumplings, chorizo Scotch eggs, Lake Huron pickerel, dry-aged steaks, juniper-spiced duck, and melt-in-your-mouth wild sockeye salmon. His lemon ricotta pancakes with strawberry compote and Metzger bacon might be the best breakfast you can get in Huron county. Crosby interned in Denmark at Noma (ranked best restaurant in the world in 2014, and a perennial top contender for that title). He also interned with Canadian icon Michael Stadtländer in 2013, “where I lived in a trailer in this sheep field to scare away coyotes,” he says, laughing. Now, he returns to the Little Inn where he first worked as a teenager under Joseph Watters. “That was like learning to run before I could walk,” he recalls.
The 28-seat taproom is located in what used to be the parlour at the Inn. Guests can enjoy a more casual meal and some creative cocktails prepared by Oliver’s son, Kyle. For the holiday season he has created “The Grinch” martini — melon liquor provides the perfect shade of lime green. There are 12 taps with eight local craft beers on offer, kept cool through a newly installed custom keg system with insulated hoses. Gone is the 1980’s wallpaper, but the classic fireplace remains, as does a small “snug” in the back of the bar area and a TV room for sports viewing. Every Sunday at 4 p.m. the taproom offers “buck-a-shuck Sunday’s” — oysters on the half shell for a loonie each.
“It’s been great to meet so many of the long-time, returning, guests who have complimented us on what we have done” says Joanne Oliver. “My name is on the title of the Inn but this building belongs to Bayfield. Bayfield has done a wonderful thing in preserving heritage. We won’t have a Starbucks on the corner,” she says proudly. Well, the village doesn’t need one — as a self-described coffee snob, I can personally vouch for the locally roasted Coastal Coffee served in house.
Beyond cocktails, beer and coffee is the wine list, compiled by master sommelier/wine consultant John Szabo. It was nice to have a glass of Keint-He pinot noir from Prince Edward County — obviously another Potters touch.
Guests of the inn are treated to kind attention throughout their stay by restaurant manager Tim Staines. Born and raised in London, Staines returned home from many years of work in exceptional Toronto restaurants to be closer to his family. After bumping into Potters in London (they both are fans of Black George, on Talbot Street) Staines joined the Little Inn team. He clearly delights in his work and his genuine concern for guest service is apparent.
The 16 guest rooms feature new flooring, luxurious linens, new televisions (with Netflix), and some have fireplaces. Clearly, the place is made for a get-away. Many clients return annually. Lake Huron is steps away with public beach access and year-round viewing of the famous sunsets from the benches in Pioneer Park.
Still, it is the talent of Chef Crosby that remains in mind after a visit. “I’m finding a voice now,” he says modestly, after much prodding, while explaining how his dishes are evolving with him. The spectacular pumpkin ravioli, and the sweetness of perfection in his classic mille-feuille, have created memories that will propel desire for a return visit.
The Little Inn offers various packages over the holiday season, with special menus for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Inn is open the remainder of the year, but will close for most of January.
The Little Inn of Bayfield
26 Main Street North, Bayfield
The Four-in-Hand Taproom: 11–11 Daily
The Willow Room: 8–10:30 am; 11:30–2:30; 5:30–9 pm daily
Jane Antoniak is a regular contributor to eatdrink. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations, at King’s University College, London.
Bruce Fyfe regularly contributes photos to eatdrink. He is Librarian, Weldon Library, Western University.