The new Ashwood Inn on the edge of Bayfield is a perfect fall get-away destination, providing guests with an affordable option for an evening of dancing, drinking, dining and relaxing before the return of winter. There are newly renovated rooms, access to the beach to watch the Lake Huron sunset, an impressive live music calendar and, in the Bourbon Bar, 32 bourbons on the list.
The Ashwood was opened this past June by Kristen Harrett, Pete Meades and Robert Macfie. Harrett owns the Deer Park Lodge rental cottages across the highway (hence the beach access for Ashwood guests); Meades is a long-time Bayfield music booker; Macfie is Harrett’s personal partner and he “basically built the place,” say Harrett and Chef Rob Whyte.
Why the name? Last fall 22 mature ash trees that had been under attack by the emerald ash borer had to be removed from the Deer Park Lodge property. Harrett had the wood kiln-dried and repurposed it for the new Inn. It’s evident in the restaurant and bar, as part of the tables and bar top, in the guest room bathrooms as vanity tops, and most noticeably at the front desk, which is made from a 120-year-old ash log from the largest tree on her property. You can see where the emerald ash borer has dug through the wood leaving a disturbing, yet oddly artistic, design.
Renovations also included adding a performance area with a sound system, allowing the restaurant and bourbon bar areas to function as an intimate concert venue. Meade has already booked some good Canadian and international acts including Olenka, Chris Cresswell of the Flatliners, The Grapes of Wrath, and Doug Paisley. There is a separate fee for the concerts. Many guests book dinner and concert.
With the consumption of bourbon growing rapidly (bourbon production jumped more than 70 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to data from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association), staying to enjoy the cocktails is a plus. There is some delicious bourbon-based mixology going on. We tried the dangerously good Supersonic — bourbon (or vodka if preferred) with Chambord, lime juice, simple syrup and lemon twist. For the classic types the Don Draper is a must. It is a double shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon poured onto a giant ice cube ball, garnished with bourbon-soaked cherries. This drink comes with the hilarious prop of a package of candy cigarettes. Fans of Mad Men will adore it. For a saucier drink try the Ultimate Ashwood Caesar with a full king crab leg to munch on. The bar also serves a limited selection of wines and beers. Really, you won’t go thirsty!
Chef Whyte comes to the Ashwood as a 10-year member of the Bayfield community. He purchased a cottage in the area and has worked at The Black Dog and at The Red Pump Inn — both highly respected venues on Bayfield’s main street. Whyte is also a part-time instructor at the Humber College culinary program in Toronto. “I like to do things in the kitchen that have been forgotten, or you don’t see anymore,” he says explaining a menu that includes such classics as Southern Fried Chicken Breast (a Saturday night special), and ratatouille with arancini (stuffed and coated riceballs), which is a spectacular dish full of flavour and very satisfying, as is the lamb burger stuffed with sundried tomatoes, goat cheese and dressed with tzatziki and tomato jam which chef serves with the unusual, yet interestingly good, chick pea fries. Vegetarians will want to order those on their own! As well, the beet salad topped with frisée (aka curly endive) and herbed goat cheese alongside a crostini is really yummy. We tried to duplicate it at home later but couldn’t manage the frisée, which is why it is so special to go out and enjoy the talents of chefs such as Whyte. Some of the foods served at the Ashwood are regionally-sourced. Pork products, for instance, come from The Whole Pig in Dashwood.
He doesn’t slow down at dessert. Bringing us back to the bourbon theme is a bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and, on occasion, sticky toffee pudding with bourbon glaze, both really good alongside a speciality coffee, after watching the sunset.
“The foundation of this new venture is our staff,” says Harrett proudly. “They have great ideas for yoga retreats, a Blues/Jazz Festival and the bourbon concept is really big with the 25- to 40-year-old age set. With us here now, combined with what places like The Little Inn, Black Dog are offering, Bayfield has a genuine expression of different places that are helping the area gain interest from travellers.”
The Ashwood Inn, Restaurant & Bourbon Bar
34777 Bayfield River Road, Bayfield
LUNCH: Wednesday–Sunday 11am–3pm
DINNER: Nightly from 5pm
BRUNCH: Saturday and Sunday
Jane Antoniak is a roving culinary travel writer for eatdrink who has now developed a taste for bourbon. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College.
Bruce Fyfe is a Librarian at Weldon, Western University. He enjoyed photographing and sampling the Don Draper along with Duck Two Ways at The Ashwood.