Monday, October 24, 2011

The Springs and Chef Andrew Wolwowicz

The Springs

The Springs is London’s newest and highly anticipated gourmet refuge on Springbank Drive, under the creative genius and culinary guidance of Chef Andrew Wolwowicz. The smartly appointed restaurant, housed in a beautifully refurbished church, has been operating since mid-October. We are already hearing rave reviews about Wolwowicz’s interesting menus, listing dishes crafted from local, regional and seasonal ingredients. Wolwowicz’s collaborators local entrepreneurs, Tim and Laura Owen, tell eatdrink that although they were initially hoping for a soft opening, the restaurant has been busy every single night since opening.

The Owens wanted to integrate as much of the original church as they could into the new restaurant, but they realized that the church’s foundation was disintegrating. Instead they levelled the church except for the original front vestibule, and rebuilt the structure from the ground up using 6,000 of the existing yellow bricks. Identical bricks from two houses that were being demolished on Riverside Drive shored up the project. During reconstruction a worker unearthed a time capsule in the northeast corner of the church almost 100 years to the day it had been buried.

The windows in the dining room are proportionally large, letting in light that floods the restaurant exquisitely. The dining room seats 70, the beautifully appointed patio 32 and the downstairs banquet room 40. The wall colours are muted, fresh, organic and natural. A commissioned painting of a tree by artist Jade Brown adds a thought-provoking focal point and ambience to the entrance.

A proponent of the open kitchen, Wolwowicz wanted to put a public face on the people behind the food. “You know it's a good party when you end up in the kitchen” says, Wolwowicz. In collaboration with the Owens, Wolwowicz was instrumental in helping to design every detail of the restaurant and kitchen to create a welcoming and accessible environment. There is an additional prep/pastry kitchen in the basement.

A “local” culinary ambassador with over 20 years of expertise in professional kitchens, Wolwowicz has established himself as a prominent figure in London’s culinary community. Wolwowicz chefs at the full degree of his capability, with finely tuned instincts, skill, dedication, precision, creativity and passion. The Springs are proud to use the finest locally grown products from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices and ethically raised livestock.

The talk around town is about Wolwowicz’s culinary gymnastics: delectable panko-crusted Crab Cakes made with flaky back fin and delicate lump crab meat, and accompanied with a spicy sweet chili sauce. The Wild Mushroom Tart with chorizo and caramelized shallots is otherworldly. Early menu winners include: Pan-Spanked Chicken served in a cast-iron skillet then baked with a fruity extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, pancetta and fresh aromatics and served with a saffron scented cauliflower puree; Cider-glazed Willowgrove Hills Farm’s Pork Tenderloin with an apple-mustard-maple velouté, green apple marmalade and parmesan potato dumplings; and Dijon Braised Rabbit with roasted pear arancini (panko crusted risotto balls).

Wolwowicz regards Monforte Dairy’s artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses as “exceptional.” One of Chef’s preferences is Nica. Comparable to chèvre, it is amplified with lavender and fermented organic garlic flower tops. This delicious cheese shows up on both his Bruschetta Fajioli (white bean puree with seasoned tomatoes), and his Wildwood Greens Duck Salad (medium-rare, pan-roasted, melt- in- your- mouth magret of duck with a medley of crisp seasonal greens, roasted beets, hemp seeds and a citrus-wolfberry vinaigrette). The Espresso and Black Pepper Crusted Venison Loin served with beet, parsnip and celery root frites, chilli arugula salad and a chocolate pomegranate gastrique (classically inspired sweet and sour sauce) is to die for. The Springs is well on its way to being a regional culinary landmark.

310 Springbank Drive; 519-657-1100

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Windsor Eats and Eat Your City

Windsor Eats and Eat Your City

On a recent trip to Windsor with the new Ontario’s Southwest Culinary Tourism Guide ( in hand, I was not surprised by the vibrancy of the culinary culture in Windsor. Here is a bit of an update.

It’s time to celebrate Windsor’s and Essex’s culinary community. From August 1 to August 7, 2011, you can visit any Eat Your City participating restaurant and indulge in a prix-fixe 3-course meal at lunch or dinner. Each participating restaurant will offer a unique Eat Your City menu. The menus will showcase the diversity of dining choices in Windsor and around Essex County. The prix-fixe menus are priced per person and do not include beverages, taxes or gratuities. Here are three participating restaurants that offer local, seasonal fare and are committed supporting local farmers and culinary tourism :

Rino’s Kitchen
Located within The House (formerly the Nesbitt Inn), Chef Rino Bortolin offers a full neighbourhood café menu that changes daily. The focus is on high quality, seasonal and local ingredients and supporting area growers. Specialty items prepared by Bortolin are also offered for sale. There is a beautiful outdoor patio.
131 Elliot Street, Windsor

Jack’s Gastropub & Inn 31
Jack’s Gastropub is the evolution of a 20-year career in hospitality. Family owned and operated by Trevor and Kim Loop since 1989, the restaurant features signature burgers and other pub-inspired house specialities, with an “only local” wine list. The owners take pride in sourcing local produce, fish and meats for the menus, which change to provide patrons with the best seasonal offerings from both Essex County and other regional producers.
31 Division Street South, Kingsville

Caldwell's Grant
Chef Laura Clarke-Giberson, largely self- taught and cooking for over 15 years, sharpened her culinary skills in many area restaurants. Her culinary philosophy is "less is more," and simple seasonings and careful preparation let flavours shine through. Caldwell's Grant, steak and seafood specialists, sources food products as close to home as possible, partnering with farmers who have a commitment to ethical practices and supporting responsible and sustainable fishing practices
269 Dalhousie Street, Amherstburg is the official culinary guide to Windsor and Essex County. Get information on wineries, farms, restaurants and culinary attractions. Browse through listings to view hours of operations, location, make on-line reservations.

Multicultural Windsor-Essex enjoys a temperate climate, a vibrant economy, and plenty for the culinary tourist. As the southernmost point in all of Canada, Essex County and Pelee Island are at the same latitude as northern California. People flock from around the world to view the stunning bird migrations at Point Pelee, Carolinian Canada’s only National Park -- and the perfect place for a picnic. Lush farmlands and vineyards make this one of the most agriculturally productive counties in the country, and Essex County farmers are proud of their heritage and their 200-year-plus ties to the land. Windsor offers culturally diverse communities, richly ethnic neighbourhoods, and an extensive riverfront parks system, with over 215 parks and 3,000 acres of naturalized and formal gardens, and dining opportunities abound.

Over 400 restaurants in Windsor and Essex County reflect virtually every major culinary tradition, including a diversity of Italian, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, and Halal options. An unusually large number of eateries in Windsor include the enclave of fine restaurants on Erie Street’s restaurant row -- Little Italy or the “Via Italia” -- also home to some of the city’s best shopping. Browse kitchenware shops and grocery stores, savour regionally-inspired Italian cuisine at one of many ristorantes or trattorias, or just sit and relax while sipping an espresso at an outdoor cafe.

WindsorEats Wine Trail Ride
Join WindsorEats on a leisurely guided cycle tour and experience the tastes, sights and sounds of Essex County. You’ll be able to sip the local wine and learn about the regions award winning wineries. Participants on our Wine Trail Ride visit 2-3 wineries on each ride and are then treated to a local meal made with products from Essex County.

Saturday August 20, 2011
Saturday September 17, 2011
Saturday October 15, 2011

Also, scroll down to see my posts about Motor City Burger and Taste Bud Bistro.

Janine Bratt’s Taste Bud Bistro at the Art Gallery of Windsor

Janine Bratt’s Taste Bud Bistro at the Art Gallery of Windsor

Located inside the Art Gallery of Windsor, entry to this delightful riverfront bistro is accessible from the front without entering the gallery. There is an outdoor patio with comfortable wrought iron chairs for al fresco dining, and 14 foot windows inside the restaurant that also highlight a stellar view of the Detroit skyline. The dining room is minimalist with comfortable black chairs with white-clad tables that create an attractive domino effect against a dramatic raspberry coloured wall. The wall is enhanced by a blackboard featuring the menu. On the tables are small pitchers of perfect pink hydrangea blooms.

Chef/owner Janine Bratt, a 2006 graduate of the Stratford Chef School and a former chef at Caldwell's Grant in her hometown of Amherstburg. Bratt spent three seasons refining her skills at Rundles in Stratford. Bratt also spent time at Oliveto in Oakland, California; The Sooke Harbour House in Sooke; Fresco Restaurant in Kelowna; Café Boulud in New York City and Capo Restaurant in Calgary.

Bratt initially opened Taste Bud Food which features catering for small to large parties, as well as ready-to-heat lunches and dinners in the heart of Walkerville in 2009, and the Taste Bud Bistro was conceptualized the following year.

Taste Bud Bistro crafts innovative dishes using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients from Essex County farms and producers. “Customers love when I can come out and talk to them about their meal and about the farmers, and artisans that contributed,” says Bratt. The restaurant’s casual fine dining menu consists of a minimum of 25% locally sourced ingredients. Bratt’s chooses local products because of their superior freshness, quality and flavour. Bratt also places importance in supporting the local economy.

On a recent visit to the Bistro our charismatic server, Lauren, suggested a seasonal salad of raspberries, baby spinach, goat cheese and pecans. Also on offer was a delicious salad of white beans, crisp green beans, arugula and sweet cherry tomatoes.

Pickerel Nicoise is served with a julienne of potatoes, green beans and diced tomatoes. The pickerel was perfectly cooked in a lemon scented tempura batter that did not mask the delicate flavour of the fish. Vegan summer rolls were fresh and served with a gelatinous and fiery sweet chili sauce and accompanied with fresh mint picked from Bratt’s father’s herb garden.

There is a page dedicated to local vintages on the wine list, and we chose a crisp and elegant, CREW (Colchester Ridge Estates Winery) Sauvignon Blanc 2009 VQA, from Lake Erie’s North Shore on Lauren’s recommendation.

For dessert the chocolate mousse was stellar, served with Chantilly cream and toasted walnuts. House-made lavender ice cream was fragrant, subtly floral and refreshing. A frozen mint-lime cheesecake served with warm rum sauce was perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

The coffee is superior. The service was attentive, gracious and warm.

401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor, in the Art Gallery of Windsor
519 560 3665

The lunch menu is served from 11am till 3pm Wednesday through Sunday. The dinner menu is served from 5pm-9pm Thursday and Friday evenings. The Bistro is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Modernist Gourmet Burger at Motor Burger in Windsor

The Modernist Gourmet Burger at Motor Burger

This high-energy, gourmet hamburger hot-spot is a departure for Little Italy or “Via Italia”, (Erie Street East’s restaurant row), and perhaps even more poignant because it replaced the ultra-sleek, sophisticated and highly touted Noi, that closed in late 2009. “There was a time you had to fight for a table at Noi – but the recession sent a chill through Windsor’s Little Italy.”

Never ones to rest on their culinary laurels, savvy restaurateurs and business partners Jay Souillere and Gino Geusale responded to the change in Windsor’s lingering economic climate. They re-imagined the Noi premises and conceptualized the chic and funky, cow and car décor- themed Motor Burger. The fresh and original take on a contemporary burger joint was fashioned as a survival plan to the recession, and an intentional way to pay homage to Windsor’s automobile industry. The result was a stream-lined operation with a recession-friendly, gourmet menu that appeals to a broader demographic. Since its inception Motor Burger has garnered rave reviews and developed a dedicated following. On a recent hot summer Saturday night the restaurant was packed with devotees. The restaurant is family-friendly.

There is an open-kitchen at the back of the dining room that adds additional excitement to the ambience. Our engaging servers, Summer and Kelly were both down-to-earth, intelligent and hospitable. Another friendly server informs us, “last December, in an effort to go green, Motor Burger stopped serving imported bottled waters. Instead they installed a reverse osmosis system, which dispenses both regular and sparkling waters. Immediately we knew we were in good hands.

To start, a delicious salad of local watermelon, blueberries, peppery arugula, minced pear and zucchini, Kalamata olives and pickled red onion was both refreshing and seasonal. Spring rolls in phyllo pastry with a spicy chorizo-chili and smoked cheese were another hit.

The SMART Veg-Engine burger was designed to be a vegetarian’s nirvana, made with a patty of mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, corn, butter beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, garlic, curry and cilantro.

Other less common ingredients, such as Kobe beef brisket, or a minced shrimp burger with chilies, garlic, coconut milk and avocado and mango salsa are on offer. There is also a ground Ahi-tuna burger with sesame oil. Souillere who is the executive chef tells me that the hot ticket this summer is the Firebird: Ground fresh chicken with Serrano chilies, topped with a four pepper medley, Muenster cheese and red-hot crispy onions.

If you prefer something less modernist, they also list a signature Motor Burger. French fries are thin, home-cut and ordered al a carte. Sides include: sweet potato fries, poutine, onion rings and coleslaw. Dessert was a rich dark chocolate cake infused with heat and reminiscent of a molten soufflé.

The bar prepares a perfect martini with proper olives and offers a selection of themed milkshakes (spiked and non-alcoholic) and signature cocktails. A modest wine list features only one local red and one local white wine and a number of international selections.

Motor Burger is innovative has lots of finesse and both substance and style.

888 Erie St E
Windsor, ON ,
519 252 8004

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Southwest Ontario Local Food Connection and Taste it! Gala - Round-up!

The Local Food Connection — Yes, We Have No Bananas

The Southwest Ontario Local Food Connection: Farmer / Food Buyer Networking Event and Taste it! Gala were an unprecedented success. The well-attended event, many months in the planning, exceeded expectations and identified many future opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in both the agricultural and culinary communities.

This present era is, both sadly and ironically, characterized by an alarming ignorance about agriculture, environment and the standardization of our food products. The Local Food Connection was intended in part, to counteract this problem and shine a light on farmers and producers and the availability of local products.

Representatives of restaurants, culinary retail, educational institutions and other institutions talked about what they like to buy and the challenges of sourcing local products. This networking event successfully showcased the region and helped further define the area as a whole, while building awareness about our agricultural and culinary identity.

The steering committee was a collaboration of a number of chefs, farmers, individuals and businesses interested in promoting and featuring local food, and educating the public about taste. The targeted audience included consumers, local producers and businesses engaged in the hospitality, culinary tourism, food retail, food service and food distributing industries. Word of mouth brought out many culinary luminaries from surrounding counties and from across the province.

The event was held in the Old East Village at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market in the historic Confederation Building. This was also an opportunity to launch a Local Flavour Initiative supported by the Old East Village B.I.A and the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. Ironically, until the Farmers’ Market opened in the Old East Village in 2006, the area had been identified as “a food desert” in a study conducted by Dr. Jason Gilliland. A food desert is generally defined as a socially distressed neighbourhood with low-average home incomes and poor access to healthy food.

The networking portion of the event commenced early morning (while vendors were setting up), bringing together a synergy of like-minded people dedicated and passionate about agriculture and food.

Lunch was comprised of Szabo Farms’ Maple Roasted Pork Loin and a tasting bar of salads, Ontario cheeses and artisanal breads that featured local and organic produce, condiments, pulses and culinary inspiration. Sourced locally, ingredients were provided by: On the Move Organics, Sleger’s Greenhouses, Pfennings, Steve Rounds Family Farm, Jantzi’s Cheese, and Flair Bakery. The lunch was catered by Savvy Chef owner and market vendor Scott Carrothers. And to wash it all down, Jeff Pastorious from On the Move Organics supplied fresh, organic, hand-juiced vegetable and wheatgrass shooters.

After lunch, the event became an open forum for networking and was followed by a roster of “local foods” guest speakers. On hand to lend support and talk about London’s emerging Culinary Tourism initiative was Rebecca Le Heup, Executive Director of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Le Heup spoke about Ontario Culinary Tourism – Discover What’s on your Table. Other speakers included Innovations in Agri-Food: What is on the Horizon? by John Kelly, Vice President, Erie Innovation and Commercialization; Local Sustainable and Organic Food – An Emerging Opportunity by Chris Trussell, Partner Services Manager, Local Food Plus; Challenges Of Being Unconventional in a Conventional Society – How To Start Down a Path of Having Local on Your Menu by Chef Kristian Crossen, Braise Food & Wine; and Filling in the Middle, hosted by the 100 Mile Market.

More than sixty-five vendors and sponsors attended the networking event to find potential clients and form friendships and business relationships. Some of the farmers and producers participating included Klondyke Farms, Heeman Green Houses and Strawberry Farm, Burdan’s Red Cat Farm Bakery, Ryckman’s Farms, Stratford Tea Leaves, Everything Tea, Wayne’s Gourmet Popcorn, Kinedhan Maple Syrup, The Corn Crib, August Harvest, Sovereign Farms, Erbcroft Farms, and The Whole Pig. These participants volunteered a brief synopsis of their operations, then spoke at greater length about what they produced to the buyers who mingled. This resulted in a heightened awareness of the availability and variety of local products.

Sponsors, representatives and key stakeholders from the local culinary community included: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, National Farmers Union, Western Fair Association, Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, Savour Stratford, Savour Elgin, Middlesex County, Tourism London, Slow Food, Growing Chefs, Oxford County Workplace and Training, Local Food Plus, 100 Mile Market,
Elgin St.Thomas Health, eatdrink magazine and many more.

The daytime networking event was followed by a Gala Taste of Southwest Ontario Foods Reception from 5 to 9 p.m. on the second floor of the market in the Fire Roasted Coffee Roastery.

The criteria for farmer/chef participation were that the tasting(s) had to be authentic and comprised of entirely local ingredients that showcase both chef and farmer/producer. Many of our area’s local chefs who met the “local food criteria” participated. It was an opportunity to showcase their creations for chefs, farmers, culinary artisans, and producers who strive to meet and exceed expectations by sourcing and offering local Ontario foods and beverages.
Local event planner and caterer Robbin Azzopardi was integral in coordinating the success of the evening’s festivities. Out-of-town guest chefs included Montforte Dairy’s owner/lead cheesemaker, Ruth Klahsen, who was on hand with a delicious sampling of her renowned sheep and goat’s milk cheeses; Chef Rene Delfraniers from Stratford, who served a Monforte Cheese Panna Cotta; and Chef Kim Saunders from the Windjammer Inn in Port Stanley, who dazzled us with delicious Lake Erie Pickerel Cakes. Christi Masse and Will Gaynor from Crust Catering and Bakery joined Chef Saunders and supplied the delicious bread.

A number of London chefs participated in the event. Chef Kristain Crossen from Braise Food and Wine provided a delicious Blanbrook Farms Bison Carpaccio with Buffalo Milk Mozzarella and a spectacular Heirloom Potato and Mushroom Terrine., The potatoes supplied by farmers Marcus and Jesse Koeing’s Klondyke Farms in Dashwood.

Chef Tim D’Sousa from the Idelwyld Inn served Caudles Catch Smoked White Fish with White Fish Roe and Ingersoll Crème Fraîche, as well as Walnut Hills Farms Crispy Pork Belly with Toasted Barley, Beet Puree and Anton Kozlicks Mustard.

Chef Yam Gurung from Momo’s at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market served his signature Nepalese-inspired dumplings. The pork was sourced from Szabo Farms and the dumplings were handmade with Arva Mill Flour.

Chef Steve James from the London Training Centre wowed us with a deconstructed “BLT” – slow-braised Asian-style Pork Belly, Tomato Sambal Salsa, and Antony John’s Soiled Reputation Wild Arugula on local breadsmith Penelope Holt’s handcrafted organic bread.

Chef Andrew Wolwowitcz, from the soon-to-be-open Springs Restaurant, sourced all his ingredients at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, including local pork and beef from Anthony at Farmgate Market; Korn Spitz (bread) from Flair Bakery; and Maitake, Black Trumpets and Sea Asparagus from Marc’s Mushrooms and Wild Harvest.

Chef Chris Chitty from the Delta Armouries served Wild Mushroom Ravioli and Fresh Rolls. All Chitty’s ingredients were sourced from the 100 Mile Market. For dessert, he prepared a velvety Pot au Crème with chocolate from The Chocolate Factory.

Luis Riva from True Taco prepared Chorizo and Barbocoa Tacos made with locally sourced beef and pork from Calvin Kuepfer of County Style Meats in Wellesley. The artisan corn tortillas were sourced in Alymer, Ontario.

Chef Korthof served St. Marys’ C’est Bon’s soft unripened goat cheese (from a herd of 200 purebred Toggenburg and La Mancha goats) on puff pastry with Norfolk County Matsu apples. Chef also proffered homemade profiteroles with Fair-trade Habitual roasted-chocolate lavender mousse.

Chef Sonita Bird from the Blackshire Pub served her signature Local Lamb Stew accompanied with Stratford Pilsner.

Chef Danijel Markovich from Kantina Cafe served local Chicken Salad on Arva Mills whole wheat bread, Maple Syrup Panna Cotta, and Sable Breton Crumbles with local sweet potatoes.

Every region of the world offers up delicious culinary treasures. Roquefort has its creamy sharp blue, Champagne its bubbly, Parma its Prosciutto and Parmigiano its cheese.
In Canada, we have Peterborough County’s Red Fife Wheat, Annapolis Valley’s Gravenstein Apple, Montreal’s eponymous melon, Quebec’s Canadienne Cow, First Nations’ Herring Spawn on Kelp, and the Prairies’ Great Plains Bison. Here in Southwest Ontario, we are rich with culinary tourism and agri-tourism resources, but could benefit from a stronger regional identity. And culinary treasures here in Southwest Ontario? We have Lake Erie yellow perch for starters. But, yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today. We’ve string beans and onions. Cabbages and scallions. All sorts of fruit and say, we have an old-fashioned to-mah-to…

Bryan Lavery is a well-known chef, food writer, culinary and agri-tourism tourism proponent.