In the quiet town of Exeter, just 50 kilometers north of London, the last sounds of summer are fading against a backdrop of still September air. Crickets drone, water cascades softly in MacNaughton Park, and if you listen very closely, you can almost hear the trees taking their last breath of green, before exhaling into a vibrant plethora of yellows, oranges and reds.
Sure, you can watch autumn unfurl in London – but why not celebrate the changing of the seasons with a leisurely 30-minute drive through the scenic farmlands that line Highway 4, and enjoy a relaxing lunch or dinner at Eddington’s of Exeter?
As you enter the town, you can’t miss it. The yellow brick mansion at 527 Main Street stands out — a gentle limestone giant sitting on a well-manicured lawn on the west side of the street. Eddington’s, which is owned by Chef James Eddington, now occupies the 1870’s Carling homestead, which used to be home to the Carling family (yes, the Carling’s of the Carling brewery).
Enter through the welcoming red door and you’ll find yourself with a choice — to be seated at one of the well-placed tables that Chef Eddington has arranged with intention of creating flow and privacy, or head upstairs to the old parlor for a drink, and old-time ambiance.
It’s easy to see why Chef Eddington tumbled head over heels into a 17-year-strong love affair with the location, after only one peek through the yawning window of the then vacant building.
Today, the restaurant’s reputation for fresh, seasonal and diverse offerings has breathed life into the space once more. Though Eddington’s is technically listed as casual fine dining, more descriptively, it is a destination to aim for if you are searching for an establishment that provides class without pretense.
It’s been updated throughout the years, most recently with a 60-seat patio, a new fireplace and wine rack, and the addition of a 20-seat dining room that brings the restaurant’s total indoor capacity to 80.
As for the philosophy behind the continental fare, Chef Eddington has built his business on the belief that when you support the community — whether through buying from local farmers, or through philanthropy — the community will lend its support back to you. Eddington’s extensive list of local suppliers can be found on the restaurant’s website, and many of the farms are only within a few kilometers radius of the restaurant itself. Hayter’s Turkey, Masse’s Fruit and Vegetables, Coastal Coffee Company, Jennard Cheese, and Stirling Creamery are only a few of the businesses that Eddington purchases from.
But beyond the sense of community, Eddington recognizes that nourishing local roots offers other tangible benefits.
“The quality of the product, knowing where it is from, and the relationship that we have with the farmers and the producers are all important,” he says. “I think the customers can taste the difference, and I know I can see the difference cooking it.”
A small garden plot in the backyard of the restaurant, as well as several herbs stashed in outdoor containers, also supply the kitchen, and when the growing season runs out, Eddington can rely on many of the items that have been pickled and canned.
Thanks to the experience and influence of working alongside several great chefs, Eddington prides himself in employing several old school cooking techniques, including making all of the restaurant’s stock. And in the name of ensuring that the menu stays dietary-restrictions friendly, all roux and white sauces are made with gluten-free flour.
But Eddington doesn’t take all the credit. “We have a great team and I think that’s been a part of our success. We have 10 staff members and right now I have Neil Hayward and Lori De Brouwer in the back helping me cook. Neil’s been here now for eight or nine months and he’s doing a great job. Laurie actually ran her own catering business, prior to this, so she’s very knowledgeable on all parts of the business.”
Certainly, customers are finding what they like. The restaurant has regulars, whom Chef Eddington recalls with pride. While the menu changes with the seasons, several staples remain for their popularity, such as the chicken appleby — a breaded, herb-crusted chicken with Brie cheese and apples.
Many locals and visitors alike get their first taste of Eddington’s via theatre and dining packages, or are enticed by the restaurant’s many promotions and theme nights.
“This fall we may host an Ontario whiskey pairing, or some live music nights,” says Eddington. “Thursdays we do our gourmet pizza nights and we often host wine nights. We have the license that allows us to cork a bottle of wine so you can take it home, sit in your hot tub and finish it if you’d like.”
For those looking to stay in the know on upcoming promotions, there’s an e-clients section on Eddington’s website where patrons can sign up for discounts and be provided first opportunity for reservations.
This autumn, there are sure to be menu changes and events worth watching for. The harvest season offers the most diverse opportunity to explore the region’s bounty — and affords Eddington the opportunity to create the best comfort food in this cozy small town atmosphere that offers its own unique ambiance.
“I love being able to present food that’s fresh and that’s local and it’s good,” he says. “Not to knock on big cities, but when you come here, you’re getting an experience that you won’t get in a larger centre. You don’t have to be in a big city to create big things.”
Eddington’s of Exeter
527 Main Street, Exeter
Tuesday – Friday
11 AM – 2 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
4:30 PM – 9 PM
Tanya Chopp is London writer and strategic editor who loves writing on several ‘f’ word topics, including food, fitness, and fun things to do around town. Employed by day in health care communications, Chopp writes so that the great stories of everyday people find their medium and meet their audience.