Road Trips & Travel

Road Trip Redux: A Dozen Years of Discovery and Celebration

Chris McDonell
Written by Chris McDonell

After a dozen years of publishing this magazine, it struck me that a roundup of my favourite Road Trip stories would be an appropriate way to show off some of our stellar writers and the amazing destinations that we’ve covered. In theory, this was a great idea. In reality, as I waded through the archives on our website, it became clear to me that this roundup wouldn’t serve our readers without some editing. It is the nature of the culinary industry that excellent businesses come and go, and sometimes this happens within months of our writing about a destination. The first good news, I saw in my overview of Eatdrink Road Trip stories, is that the vast majority of the hotspots we’ve written about remain alive and well and worthy of celebration. I have excerpted a great deal of the original text. The other good news is that these destinations have become even more exciting with the addition of new businesses. You’ll find some of those listed here, as well as links to the original stories that remain worthy of your attention. Here’s an enticing handful of great destinations. Enjoy.

Elgin County
eatdrink.ca/an-authentic-taste-of-elgin-county/ by Bryan Lavery, July 2016

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 …

Nestled in the heart of Port Stanley, Kettle Creek 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. 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 …

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.” [Update: Enjoy new sidewalk patio seating!]

Port Stanley’s Solo on Main 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. 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… There are pickerel and perch, Lake Erie staples, either pan fried or breaded. The culinary experience succeeds on many levels. 

Just off the main beach in Port Stanley, The Windjammer Inn 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. 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. 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. [Update: Now Feast ON-certified!]

Update: A new hotspot in Port Stanley, Two Forks, features a “beachy chic” decor, complemented by a gorgeous patio and chef’s garden…. Small plates, designed for sharing, are made with local ingredients from scratch. You’ll find freshly shucked live oysters right at the bar, local wine on tap, craft beer flights and handcrafted cocktails. (Eatdrink #78, July 2019).

The blooms were harvested a little later this summer, but Steed & Company remains worthy of a side trip to charming Sparta. “Lavender is the same family as mint,” noted Suzanne Steed to Eatdrink writer Tanya Chopp (Eatdrink #76, March 2019). “If you look at a lavender spike, it’s square — and if you look at a mint stem, it’s square also. We’re familiar with mint’s strong flavour, and lavender’s strength is similar. However, lavender has the ability to really enhance flavours. We have a raspberry-strawberry preserve, and lavender picks up the raspberry and helps it pop. It also enhances the flavour of our dark chocolate, and the vanilla in our ice cream. It’s remarkable in that way: it enhances whatever you use it with, but adds a floral note.” Steed & Co. remains open until Christmas.

Chatham-Kent
eatdrink.ca/festivals-food-and-fun/ by Darin Cook, November 2016

Early Acres Estate Winery’s reds, whites, and blushes [there are even a couple of wine blends with local fruit on offer] have collectively garnered 21 awards for the winery since opening in 2012. Located just outside Chatham, Early Acres holds monthly summer events with local entertainment on its country estate. [Update: Their Cabernet Francs may have made the biggest impression to date.]

If you extend your visit into more than a day trip, Retro Suites Hotel at the corner of King and William Street is the place you want to spend the night. Even if this is your only stop in Chatham, spending a night here is worth it for the architecture and décor alone. This boutique hotel, with 52 individually-themed suites, was honoured with TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award in the Best Hotels section in all of Canada in 2015.

When dinner rolls around, here are a few downtown hot spots. On the street level of Retro Suites, with an atmosphere matching the hotel, The Chilled Cork is a funky restaurant where Chef Leona Williamson cranks out exquisite contemporary dishes from the kitchen. 

A short walk down King Street, Mamma Maria’s Ristorante has become the area’s best Italian experience. The old world ambience feels as Italian as the food tastes. “Boasting a large menu with a variety of selection to whet every appetite, along with an extensive wine list, the menu provides for a food experience that is second to none.”

Beyond the downtown core, Spice & Curry located on Kiel Drive, is the city’s best-kept secret. It’s run by business partners Shelly Sakhuja and Chef Gurmeet Singh. Chef cheerfully toils in the kitchen sending out the aroma of simmering sauces with spices roasted and ground from scratch. Shelly works the front of house, pleasantly greeting and seating guests and delivering steaming bowls of curry and baskets of still-warn Naan bread. You cannot go wrong with any menu options, especially the Tikka Masala and Madras dishes, which Chef will adjust to your preferred heat level.

Parks Blueberries on Highway 2 lets you turn farm work into fun by partaking in the pick-your-own option on 50 acres of fields. Aside from freshly-picked blueberries, the country store is full of preserves, kitchen supplies, and handcrafts. You will also want to sample the blueberry-filled baked goods. Taking that southbound drive further, you will reach the fishing village of Erieau where Bayside Brew Pub provides craft beer and wood-fired pizzas in a perfect setting overlooking Lake Erie. The pizzas are the crowd favourite and Bayside also throws a twist on other pub food like Chicken Wings from the Fire, and Beer Battered Onion Rings.

Update: Sons of Kent Craft Brewing Company is downtown Chatham’s destination craft brewery. Their 8 Track XPA (5.7% ABV, 55 IBU) has garnered special notice in this magazine and elsewhere for its strong citrus aromas, pleasant bitterness and smooth, balanced mouthfeel. Producing premium beer using traditional methods and modern ingredients, Sons of Kent has an on-site tasting room, event space, a bottleshop, live entertainment, and a kitchen striving to let “your senses run riot … using local, seasonal ingredients to prepare fun, shareable items to pair with our large selection of craft beers.” Look for the kick-butt Reuben sandwich with Schinkles’ corned beef, dijon, and fried swiss on Pinnel’s rye and everchanging daily and weekly specials. 

Huron County
eatdrink.ca/county-bounty-culinary-adventures-in-huron-county/ by Jane Antoniak, July 2018

You could call a food and beverage road trip through Huron County crop touring at its finest … You might want to start your tour in Exeter, a half-hour north of London. Eddington’s of Exeter, a Feast ON-certified restaurant run by Chef James Eddington, offers a true taste of Huron in a heritage building with a welcoming three-season patio. Chef literally bought the farm: 25 acres on Lake Huron provide the freshest of ingredients, and he’s having his own beers brewed to his high-quality specifications. 

Beach Street Station is a 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.

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. [Update: This remains Goderich’s only brewery. Enjoy an interesting beer in a friendly, welcoming space, or grab some to go.

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.

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.

While in Goderich you shouldn’t miss a crème-filled donut at Culbert’s Bakery. It is 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.

For those who want the country roads experience, Highway 21 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 you get Fair Trade coffee or amazing gelato. Fourteen fresh flavours and counting …

Further south, try the delicious apple-based beers at Bad Apple Brewing Co. and 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! 

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 … The Lake House of Bayfield 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, and a lovely backyard patio. “There’s a lot of history and character in this place,” says co-owner Graham Wallace. “We have taken it from fine dining to a lot more casual.” Co-owner Chef Cody McWhirter has created a tasty 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. 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. 

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. 

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 [Update: Hessenland’s boutique vineyard, Schatz Winery, has now produced their first bottles!] 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. 

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.

Cowbell Brewing Co., Huron’s award-winning destination craft brewery in Blyth, 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. [Update: Cowbell remains popular! Reservations strongly suggested. See our story from January: eatdrink.ca/winning-together-cowbell-brewing-co-craft-beer-that-rings-true] 

Update: White Squirrel Golf Club has emerged as another interesting dining locale off Highway 21. Open to golfers as well as just to those looking for a bite, there’s a newly renovated clubhouse (soon to be joined by a new pro shop) and an inviting seasonal patio. The year-round restaurant/bar focusses on local ingredients, and is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Grand Bend sits just over the Huron County border in Lambton County. Worth noting are two longtime Eatdrink favourites, Schoolhouse Restaurant, run by Chef Gus Merkies, and F.I.N.E. A Restaurant, owned by Chef Erryn Sheppard. Chef Gus has opened a new Teacher’s Lounge on the lower level, perfect for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. This is a great spot for weekend breakfasts and lunch and dinner with a family-friendly menu with interesting local twists. F.I.N.E. is more about, no surprise, fine dining, with Chef Ben Sandwith anchoring the kitchen with Chef Erryn. Check out our story from last May (eatdrink.ca/ mighty-f-i-n-e-for-fifteen-years-f-i-n-e-a-restaurant-in-grand-bend).

Note: Last issue, Bryan Lavery wrote about his more recent trip to Bayfield. Check it out at: eatdrink.ca/a-guide-to-bayfield-what-where-and-why

Stratford & Perth County

On the one hand, Stratford is so integral to Eatdrink that it sometimes seems like an oxymoron to describe a visit as a Road Trip. There are too many Stratford-based stories to begin to cite them here, but Bryan Lavery took a dedicated visit to Perth County that remains a highlight for me.

eatdrink.ca/a-perth-county-adventure/ by Bryan Lavery, November 2016

Recently I participated in a tour of Perth County with Cathy Rehberg from Stratford Tourism Alliance (STA) and Agatha Podgorski from the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. They know how to set the benchmark of industry best practice for culinary tourism.

We toured the new home of the Stratford Chefs School on Ontario Street while it was still under construction. [Update: Now open! Check stratfordchef.com for the impressive list of events.] Double storefront units are being repurposed into teaching kitchens and a 50-seat restaurant with a great street presence. The new facility allows the school to merge its teaching operations into one campus, and makes it feasible to add an additional semester in the summer months. Stratford Chef School is not only known for producing great chefs but also entrepreneurs.

The next leg of the tour included stops and tastings at the Black Swan Brewing Company on Downie Street. We moved on to Downie Street Burgers where we sampled the signature poutine with bacon and tomato jam and St. Albert cheese curds covered in gravy. Here we also quaffed a pint of Black Swan’s Berliner Weisse.

Next on the itinerary was Mike Heisz’s distillery, Junction 56, located in the former Pounder Brothers Building beside the Cambria Street railway tracks. We toured the distillery and tasted Heisz’s award-wining vodka, gin, and signature moonshine. You can stop by for a taste and a tour Saturdays at 11 am and while you are there you can purchase some locally crafted spirits for the holiday season …

Every Stratford restaurant worth its salt has owners and chefs dedicated to a balance of principles and procedures in an effort to offer a memorable and hospitable dining experience. Some restaurants and accommodators do this much better than others. Mercer Kitchen + Beer Hall + Hotel features items that are meant to be shared communally and reflect Mercer’s passions for the craft beer movement, and for building community. Chef prepared a multi-course tasting for our party showcasing his gastronomic oeuvre. The menu itself is an education on Perth County food procurement and is designed to appeal to the local community as well as visitors. 

We began our second day at Anne Campion’s Revel, located in a former feed store off Stratford’s Market Square. Its tagline is “independent coffee for a revolution.” This community hub includes a custom-made communal table where we assembled for coffee and samples of delicious in-house baking. 

The next part of our trip was through gently rolling landscape dotted with farms on the outskirts of the historic stone town of St. Marys. Here lies the pastoral 50-acre Transvaal Farm. Cindy Taylor and husband Scott McLauchlan are the epitome of hospitality and provide an informative agritourism experience. Besides meeting “the girls,” a bevy of Rhode Island Reds, the main elements of this adventure are a tour of the farm property by Scott McLaughlan, a lavish farm-to-table breakfast prepared by Cindy at the guest house, and a tour of the small-scale artisan goat cheese plant operated by Cindy’s brother, owner and cheesemaker of C’estbon Cheese Limited, George Taylor.

Operations at C’estbon began as a retirement project for Taylor 16 years ago when he swapped a flock of sheep for a herd of Toggenburg and La Mancha goats. George began crafting small-batch cheese using only the milk from his own herd to create his proprietary C’estbon chèvre. In time, George relocated his goats to a neighbouring farm. The goat milk is now delivered from a local producer, Hewitt’s Dairy. True artisanal cheese can’t be mass-produced and is limited in quantity with specific characteristics deemed to be specialty in nature. Not a single item leaves C’estbon without George’s thumbprint on it.

Stonetown Cheese on Perth County Line 8 (Kirkton Road) was our next stop. Stonetown is a purveyor of Swiss mountain-style cheeses, hand-crafted by master cheesemaker Ramon Eberle. Using unpasteurized milk from farmers Hans and Jolanda Weber’s herd of Holsteins, Eberle creates three types of cheese. We are given a tour through the state-of-the-art milk receiving area, where the milk is brought to be processed and is heat-treated to 65° Celsius. The goal of using raw milk is to keep the cheese as natural as possible, so that it ripens nicely and the flavours improve with maturation. In another area the cheese curds are stirred, separated from the whey and pressed into wheels before they are brined. There are three very large and impressive maturation rooms for the aging of the cheese. The trio of stunning cheeses and other local products are available to buy on-site at the farm store. I highly recommend a visit for cheese lovers.

There were additional stops at McCully’s Hill Farm and Market for a tour of the bush in a horse-drawn wagon and an overview of the maple syrup processing facilities, and at The Best Little Pork Shoppe in Shakespeare.

It is certainly invigorating to explore the bucolic countryside in and around Perth County. Drop by the Stratford Tourism Alliance for culinary tours of another kind. Self-guided Bacon & Ale Trail and Chocolate Trail tours are available all year round and tickets are available at the Stratford Tourism Alliance. There is also a seasonal Maple Trail to look forward to in March and April.

[Update: The original story referenced a great spot in St. Marys, now closed, that is now home to Harris Electric Eatery. Chef Jordy Carr reached back into the building’s history, when it was home to Harris Electric until 1979. Carr embraces a farm-to-table approach, making everything in house, from preserves to smoked meats and charcuterie. Chef’s goal is to have “something for everyone” with great sandwiches and burgers, salads and perhaps steak frites or a creative take on Asian and Latino cuisines. Leave room for dessert! 

Space does not permit details of some of the other invigorating Road Trip stories that come to mind. Sue Sutherland-Wood took two memorable road trips for us this year, one to Elora and a more recent one to Essex County. I encourage you to revisit those with us online. In fact, we’ve had a number of interesting visits to Essex, including visits to Windsor, Pelee Island, and deep dives into the EPIC wine region. 

Some of our stories in this column have been into the USA, from Buffalo to Cleveland to Frankenmuth. Kym Wolfe made memorable travels to Niagara-on-the-Lake and Prince Edward County for us. Bryan Lavery gave us insider looks at Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Paris ON. Wherever you’re heading, I encourage you to run a quick search at eatdrink.ca. Happy Trails!

 

About the author

Chris McDonell

Chris McDonell

Eatdrink founder and publisher Chris McDonell brings integrity and a widely diverse background in publishing to the task of making Eatdrink a vital part of the food and drink scene in Southwestern Ontario.