In the quaint town of Bayfield, modern shops twinkle with Christmas lights draped over their historic facades. Near the end of Main Street, just a stone’s throw from the frigid winter waters of Lake Huron, the Little Inn of Bayfield glows, wrapped in boughs of balsam. As Ontario’s oldest operating inn the warm yellow building has a unique claim to fame, but the historic hardships of travel have been left in the past.
Behind the wreathed wooden door is an establishment of modern day comfort. With an assortment of rooms to choose from, overnight guests may enjoy luxurious amenities such as Tempur-Pedic mattresses, whirlpool tubs, custom-made duvets, gas fireplaces and pricelessly picturesque views.
“I just want guests to feel at home,” says owner Gayle Waters, who states that while the Inn offers modern amenities, attention has been given to preserving the many original elements that have made the Inn a fixture in the community.
With a glance it’s easy to see that Waters has done a fine job of maintaining this dichotomy, while resisting becoming outdated. The Inn is laden with the comfort of every lakeside cottage or grandmother’s house you’ve ever escaped to. It’s a place where tension melts and wood fireplaces burn, pine floors aren’t shy to show their knots and high-ceilings provide for large windows that blur the line between outside and in. It’s no wonder that guests – from individuals, couples and families to rock stars and literary giants – often become repeat customers.
The Inn’s 18-year-strong Four-Diamond rating pairs wonderfully with its 13-year-streak of holding the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, which was granted for the Inn’s impressive cellar of 178 wines representing 150 vineyards. But if you don’t like wine while you dine, you can also choose from over 20 varieties of single malt whiskeys.
Just last year, the Inn was also awarded Huron County Tourism Association’s Tourism Development Award for their commitment to leadership, creative invention, partnership initiative, community impact and excellence in tourism.
According to Waters, local partnerships are actively sought and many of their “stay and play” year-round adventure packages, including winter horseback riding, geocaching, and snowshoeing, have been built around the diversity of offerings in the local economy.
In the kitchen, many local names can be found on the supply list, including Metzger Meat Products, Soiled Reputation, Bayfield Berry Farm, Schilbe maple syrup, Ferguson Apiaries and Out of the Blue Fish.
Since 2009, Chef Joseph Petrinac has kept a careful eye on the ebb and flow of business, while taking the time to get to know the clientele. Referring to one of his favourite quotes by Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” he notes that the key to the restaurant’s success lies in tailoring the menu selection to the guest’s moods and attitudes throughout the season. Whether diners be locals or out-of-towners, the adventurous or comfort driven, there is always something for everyone.
“You need to understand what people expect and what they’re feeling,” he says. “In the spring, people want something bright – but this time of year is nostalgic and reserved.”
The Chef, who has trained and worked in Windsor, France, Spain, Montreal and Toronto, has earned praise from food critics, but keeps the ego in the kitchen in check. Like the Inn itself, he walks the line between perfectionism in his craft and remaining down to earth. It is with a thorough knowledge of what constitutes technical culinary excellence that he grades his mother’s cabbage rolls as the perfect comfort food – though you won’t find them on the menu. What you will find is a plethora of comfort-driven options, including lobster and cepe mushroom ravioli, Hayter’s turkey poutine, braised rabbit ragu and slow roasted half duckling bigarade, all crafted with local ingredients and created with Chef Petrinac’s meticulous attention to detail. “Guests and locals appreciate creativity, but it’s not just about being cute and smart,” he says, noting that “where you take it from matters.”
Chef Petrinac’s twist on the familiar also comes from applying creative cooking techniques, such as using a water bath to create butter poached lobster, and from using unique cuts, such as tender lamb neck. While most of the menu is consistent throughout each season, he admits that from time to time he will add in a change to bolster interest. Certain dishes, however, such as the fish and chips and diver scallops, have become iconic for the establishment and remain on the menu year round.
The versatility of the Inn’s spaces, including two dining rooms (maximum capacity 80 people), a private function room and numerous meeting rooms, has made it a choice venue for hosting a variety of functions, including intimate weddings, private parties, banquets and business meetings.
The five-course, five-wine “Wine and Dine” packages, offered only on certain dates, are very popular and the Inn encourages the public to check the website for some exciting offerings slated to centre around Valentine’s Day and Family Day in February.
If you’re looking to find tradition without pretense, upscale dining without formality, an adventurous escape, or a place to wind down, the Little Inn of Bayfield is pleased to offer it all – only an hour’s drive from London. Whether the road that leads you there is clear, snow-blown, sundrenched or driven only out of curiosity, you may find a new tradition at this peaceful retreat on Ontario’s West Coast. And for those who are worried about winter travelling conditions – on the bright side, you may get lucky enough to be snowed in.
Keep scrolling for a Little Inn recipe!
Little Inn of Bayfield
26 Main St. N., Bayfield
1-800-565-1832 or 519-565-2611
Breakfast: 8 am–10 am
Lunch: 12 noon–2 pm
Dinner: 5 pm–8:30 pm
(some seasonal variation)
TANYA CHOPP is a London-based artist and writer and a proud holder of a BSc. Her work focuses on exploring issues of health and wellness, travel, tourism, the arts – and, of course, the regional culinary scene.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Joseph Petrinac of The Little Inn of Bayfield
2 lbs lobster shells
2½ cups chicken stock or shrimp stock or lobster stock
2 shallots; sliced
2 leek whites; sliced
½ fennel bulb; sliced
4 vine tomatoes; chopped
2 garlic cloves; minced
1 bay leaf
6 white peppercorns
2 tsp xanthan gum
3 star anise
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ cup cognac
pastis or pernod to taste
2 cups white wine
1 orange; peeled and juice reserved
½ cup olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh tarragon
1. In a large pot, crush the lobster shells.
2. Saute the vegetables and lobster shells in olive oil until lightly caramelized, add the chopped tomatoes, star anise, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaf and white peppercorns.
3. Add the brandy and flambé. Deglaze with the white wine and reserved orange juice, reduce by half. Pour in chicken or shrimp stock, add orange peel, thyme and tarragon, then simmer these ingredients for 45 minutes. Strain the stock and set it aside.
4. Return stock to a clean pot, adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. When the stock has begun to boil, whisk in the xanthan gum a little at a time until a sauce-like consistency has been achieved. Simmer the bisque at medium heat, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add pastis/pernod to taste and adjust finally seasoning.
5. Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche or whipped double cream.