Monday, August 18, 2014






The food media are necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I hope that I bring appreciation and sensibility to the table. But the food media’s mission goes beyond that. We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene.

Are rating restaurants purely a question of taste? And within that there lies the matter of ingredients, innovation, style, consistency, service and much more. We place importance on other criterion such as, the wine list, the atmosphere, the setting, the service,  philosophy and obviously, the price.
Good writing furnishes you with enough information and insight to enable you to make informed decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have a good, strong food media — whether you love them or despise them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability.

One of the greatest joys about writing about culinary matters is “unearthing the diamond in the rough”. In my opinion, among the disappointments are discovering restaurants that don’t live up to their reputations, or the complaining owner who has lost interest in the business and the writing is on the wall. Almost as bad is the culinary equivalent of grey: dull at worst, inoffensive at best. Or the one-trick pony — the great restaurant whose menu never changes, and quickly the food becomes stagnant.

Even more disappointing are those hosts/servers who ride on the chef’s laurels and the restaurant’s former accolades, thinking the chef’s/restaurant’s reputation gives them carte blanche to dispense surly, indifferent or poor service to their customers.

Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Every time I return to certain restaurants, it hits me just how much uninterested service irks me and how profoundly irritated its patrons must feel, even when the food is the cream of the crop. Once you have been trained to view things from both a chefs and a restaurateurs perspective it never leaves you. I have devoted most of my working life to both ends of this spectrum.

Reading someone else’s assessment of a restaurant is not necessarily enough for every reader to evaluate a restaurant. The real way to do a restaurant justice is to eat there. These are my opinions and reflect my professional expertise.
119 King Street 519- 675-9995
Chef Dave Lamers and co-owner Rob D’Amico work with local farmers and growers to source products that boast both integrity and flavour and then incorporate these seasonal offerings into Abruzzi’s Italian-provenance-oriented menus. A superior wine list features plenty of exciting consignments. Windows that open to the street make the indoor to outdoor dining experience feel unified.

 Amici Italian Restaurant
350 Dundas Street 519-439-8983
Chef Paul Krohn’s small and attractive Alto Adige-inspired trattoria located in the downtown hotel district serves traditional “rustic” Italian specialties with quality ingredients. The intimate dining room fills up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation. Small seasonal patio.  

 Ben Thanh Viet Thai Restaurant
57 York Street, 519-438-4888
This popular Viet-Thai restaurant boasts many meal-in-a-bowl specialties and vegetarian options at accessible prices. Chefs prepare your meal fresh a la minute with quality ingredients and authentic herbs and spices. The large dining room is an airy, relaxing and casual environment.

 Billy's Downtown Deli
113 Dundas Street 519-679-1970
Jeff and Sandi Harvey’s Billy’s Deli on Dundas Street has been a popular downtown landmark for more than thirty years. For lunch, classic deli offerings like the quintessential Reuben and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. There are always interesting daily blackboard specials designed to entice diners, and these offerings add seasonality to the extensive traditional deli menu. Interesting daily blackboard features. Billy’s has a stellar reputation for its seasonal pies. 

Black Trumpet
523 Richmond Street (South of Kent Street) 519- 850- 1500
Chef Scott Wesseling has a modern-day take on international classics, drawing from local and seasonal ingredients to create his new menu offerings.The expanded lunch menu includes a couple of different burgers, one using bison and the other venison. The restaurant's elegant courtyard patio is on of London's gems.

Blackfriar's Restaurant
46 Blackfriars Street 519 667 4930 Blackfriars Bistro is a deliciously arty bistro with a cheerful persona, knowledgeable servers and a top-notch kitchen. The health conscious, creative and ecelectic seasonal menus are handwritten by restaurateurBetty Heydon. Thiscasual bistro located just west of the Blackfriar's Bridge also features innovative, seasonal blackboard specials daily and a superb Sunday brunch.  

 Blu Duby
32 Covent Market Place 519- 433- 1414
Chef combines comfort food classics with modern European, Asian and Mediterranean twists. This is comfort cuisine in upmarket surroundings with a nod to hip, but not a speck of pretension. Owners Joe and Cheryl Duby feature a well thought out wine list offering a variety of price points.

 Budapest Dining Room & Tavern
348 Dundas Street 519- 439- 3431
The Budapest is a local treasure with red velvet, unintended kitsch and old world charisma. Doyenne Marika Hayek has been delighting patrons with her risqué repartee and dependably great Hungarian specialities in this traditional old- world tavern setting for 56 years. Comfy street side patio. "Of course, you must try the schnitzel or the stuffed veal — the spätzle is also delicious —save room for the palacsinta."

Che Restobar
225 Dundas Street (at Clarence) 519-601-7999
Marvin Rivas has designed an atmosphere that sends exactly the right message about Che: it is sexy and urbane, and casual and spontaneous, but it's personable, too, and the core commitment to authentic cuisine isn't blasé in the least. The menu blends tradition and ingenuity in true Latin American style.

 The Church Key Bistro Pub
476 Richmond Street (across from The Grand Theatre) 519- 936- 0960
This is a top-notch cooking and Chef Michael Anglestad has a repertoire of flavours that are big, brash and rustic but thoroughly cosmopolitan. Pastry Chef Cliff Briden is also at the top of his game. Best of all owners Vanessa and Pete Willis’s haven’t overlooked its roots as a place for locals to meet and imbibe. An intimate outdoor courtyard borders the south side of the building.

 David's Bistro
432 Richmond Street (at Carling) 519- 667- 0535
David Chapman and Chef Elvis Drennan present a solid array of classic French favourites. The dishes are so virtuous, in such a French way it's almost impossible to believe you're not in France. The bistro with its tiny bar, vivacious red walls and black-checked tablecloths is a venerated downtown dining destination. There is a sensibly priced, extensive and ever-changing consignment wine selection and interesting VQA’s.

The Early Bird
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483
Gregg and Justin Wolfe’s Early Bird is King and Talbot’s red-hot, retro diner with casual farm-to-table cooking. The Early Bird has a quirky charm and a hotchpotch menu of updated retro diner classics and new generation comfort foods. Signature dishes include: the king-sized “turducken club” sandwich made with turkey, chicken and duck, perogies, and Montreal smoked meat that is made on site. Save room for the bacon-fried pickles. These are dishes with real soul. You can’t get much more hip-but-earthy than the Early Bird Diner. Check out the seasonal patio

 Five Fortune Culture Restaurant
368 Richmond Street 226-667-9873
Wen Bei Li's Chinese Five Fortune Culture Restaurant is located at the southeast corner of Richmond and King Street. This is not the formulaic Chinese restaurant serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Taishanese and rural Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients. The cuisine as prepared by Jie Liang and interpreted by Wenbei is, "Pure Chinese" a combination of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou influences. The five good fortunes are: wealth, health, longevity, love, and virtue. Try the congee.

Garlic's of London
481 Richmond Street (beside The Grand Theatre) 519- 432- 4092
Proponents of farm-to-table cuisine, Owner Edo Pehji, Manager Emma Pratt, Chef Chad Stewart and their culinary team offer intelligent and ethically informed menu choices. Garlic’s combines all the elements of a perennial favourite - as delicious, affordable, top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using seasonal and high quality ingredients.

Icarus Resto Bar
519 Richmond Street (near Dufferin Avenue)
Zack Agathos’s new open- kitchen places an emphasis on modern casual dining with both a Greek flavour and flare. The restaurant is in its fledgling days.

Idlewyld Inn - 519 432 5554
A local landmark since 1878, Idlewyld Inn & Spa combines the elegance of a bygone era with all the modern amenities sophisticated travellers have come to expect from a luxury hotel. 

 La Casa Ristorante
117 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market) 519- 434-2272
Chef Scott Sanderson’s menus are rooted in the authentic Italian tradition. All the classics of Italian culinary canon are on the virtuous menu —prepared from scratch with skill. Consistency and familiarity are the hallmarks of the La Casa culinary experience. Signature dishes like: risotto al salto, house-made angel hair pasta with sautéed shrimp and lobster tagliolini are masterworks.

Marienbad Restaurant
122 Carling Street (at Talbot) 519- 679- 9940
For forty years the Marienbad has brought the European dining culture to downtown in a casual atmosphere. The kitchen evokes eastern and central Europe with its skill for that perfect marriage of sweet and sour time-honoured specialties. There is an exceptional steak tartare and a variety of signature schnitzels.  A black iron fence, flower boxes, and comfortable tables with festive umbrellas add charm to the inviting side walk patio.

 Massey's Fine Indian Cuisine
174 King Street (near Richmond) 519-672-2989
Chef/owner of Patison Massey and his partner and spouse Anisha, seem to be always on hand. Chef shows his expertise with his dazzling way with spices bestowing and building flavors to great effect. A variety of vegetarian offerings and classic favourites like: smoky-spiced baingan patiala, everything tandoori, butter chicken, nann, and various exotic accompaniments.

Michael’s on-the-Thames
1 York Street (at the bridge) 519- 672- 0111  
For thirty years and counting, Michael’s on-the-Thames has been regarded as London’s ‘celebration destination’ and for good reason. Owner-operator Brian Stewart, general manager Joelle Lees, executive Chef Denis Clavette and their polished staff gives its patrons what they want, consistently. The restaurant has been smartly refurbished to create a renewed sense of comfort and well-being.

Milos' Craft Beer Emporium
This is London’s premier craft beer destination, owned and operated by renowned publican Milos Kral. Chef Matt Reijnen prepares menus that reflect their farm-to-table commitment and passion for everything local. Kral offers 23 micros on tap with excellent style variation. Craft beer enthusiasts have made this local landmark part of Ontario’s rich craft beer culture. Seasonal patio.

 The Morrissey House
359 Dundas Street 519-204-9220
Publican Marc Serré’s Morrissey House with its unique selection of beers and innovative pub food is a welcoming, warm and cozy local. Chef Andrew Harris offers a menu that is comfortable and accessible but with a twist. Almost everything is mad in house from scratch. There is al fresco dining on their popular 60-seat patio.

Organic Works Bakery
222 Wellington Street, www.organicworksbakery
Peter Cuddy's Organic Works Bakery is a stylish café and certified organic and allergen-free bakery located in the heart of SoHo. Specializing in recipes made with organic, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan ingredients. 

Raja Fine Indian Cuisine
428 Clarence St. (North of Dundas) 519-601-7252
The Raja serves fine Indian cuisine in refined and elegant surroundings by a knowledgeable, deferential and well-trained staff. The dining room has character and sophistication with its marble floors, deep red painted walls and white accents. 

 Rock au Taco
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483
The latest brain wave of the Wolfe brothers, Rock au Taco located next door to the Early Bird Diner is serving up delicious and authentic tacos and Mexican cuisine, ice cold cervezas, and smooth tequila. This is gourmet inspired street food and classic comfort-club grub.

The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street  519-719-7675
Community-focused, local, sustainable and responsible are the words used to describe the Root Cellar’s philosophy. Chef Dani Gruden-Murphy procures his ingredients from food grown and produced within a 45-minute radius of London. Breads and baking are crafted from Arva Flour Mill wheat. The Root Cellar will soon become London’s first co-operatively owned nanobrewery of its kind and will offer the beer on tap in the café.

The Springs
310 Springbank Drive; 519-657-1100
Chef Andrew Wolwowicz cooks at the full degree of his capability, with finely tuned instincts, skill, dedication, precision, creativity and passion. The Springs proudly use the finest locally grown products from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices and ethically-raised livestock.

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi
118 Dundas Street 519- 601-8276
Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.

T.G`s Addis Ababa
265 Dundas Street 519-4334222
Dining at chef T.G. Haile`s Addis Ababa is characterized by the ritual of breaking injera (the traditional yeast-risen flatbread which is spongy in texture, crèpe-like in appearance with sourdough tanginess) and sharing food from a communal platter signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire. The modest restaurant is tucked away off-the-beaten-track in an unassuming brick building the south side of Dundas Street near the corner of Burwell and Maitland.
Thaifoon Restaurant
120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot) 519- 850- 1222

Thaifoon sets itself apart with bang-on aromatic specialties from the Thai culinary canon and with their keen eye for detail and presentation. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, upbeat soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes.

TOOK  (The Only on King)

172 King Street, 519 936 2064
Possessing a superior grasp on the tenets of terroir and sustainability, chef/owner Paul Harding’s cooking is faultless. The Only on King, with its farm-to-table philosophy and culinary repertoire is a master class in modern comfort cooking. The daily changing menu is unique by London standards and something that few chefs/restaurateurs would be in a position to execute with the kind of success that Harding has achieved.

The River Room Café and Private Dining
Museum London, Ridout Street N. 519 850 2287
Panoramic views and the tailored simplicity and elegance of the River Room make it breathtaking.  Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s kitchen has a deserved reputation for the quality of the ingredients and the knowledgeable and expressive exuberance of the preparations. Open Tues.–Fri., from 11 am. to 4 pm. and Sunday for Brunch.

The Tasting Room
383 Richmond Street 519- 438- 6262
Menus are a  mix of current trends and updated classics. Lively tapas bars were the inspiration for this restaurant for this popular hotspot.  Small plates are the main focus and the list is extensive. Wine tasting flights are divided into four, 2-ounce glasses of red or white.

True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino
789 Dundas Street 519 433 0909
Luis Rivas and Elsa Garcia and family continue to wow guests by providing flavour and ambiance at their new and much larger restaurant. The kitchen offers up a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros: sunny-side up eggs with homemade sauce and locally sourced beans and tortillas. Handmade pupusas are a specialty and are mad with rice or corn flour tortillas. Central American offerings include, burritos, tacquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales.

Unique Food Attitudes
697 Dundas Street 519 649 2225
Barbara Czyz`s  chic storefront bistro in the Old East Village has been an instant success due to its modern European sensibility, changing chalkboard menu offerings, fabulous food, and warm and attentive vibe. The bistro with its black slate counters, chrome accents, comfortable seating and sidewalk tables with umbrellas continues to draw clients from all over the city. House specialties include Goulash and potato pancakes, krokiety (crepes) and red borsch made from beets, bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew), slow cooked cabbage rolls and tender peirogi with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. One day our charming and hospitable server Beata recommended the szavlotka (delicious apple cake) and we have been converts to Czyz’s baking since

Waldo's on King Bistro and Wine Bar
130 King Street (Covent Garden Market) 519 433 6161
Mark Kitching’s kitchen brigade offer definitive bistro-style selections. There's a comforting trajectory with this kind of reliable fare, dependably good appetizers to a fresh spin on classic entrée favourites. This is where you will find the best “organic” burger and Caesar salad in town. Great outdoor patio.

Willie’s Café
731 Wellington St; 519-433-9027

Ian Kennard’s Willie’s Café has been a revered London lunch hot-spot for 19 years. Chef Gail Rains is a culinary dynamo who combines efficient professionalism with friendly repartee in the small open kitchen. Menu items include over a dozen different sandwiches and wraps, along with a variety of soups, salads and other house specialties. Everything is made in-house and from scratch.  They have built a reputation as caterers and their fresh and healthy fare is delivered to your office at an affordable price. Set price, set menu dinner the last Friday of the month and a good Saturday brunch. 

Zen Gardens
344 Dundas Street (at Waterloo) 519-433-6688
Zen Garden’s creative kitchen serves the best healthy vegetarian meals that you can imagine, in an upscale, tranquil atmosphere.

Some of  favourite patios -

Bertoldi’s Trattoria

Bertoldi’s Trattoria, from the Difruschia brothers, Dino and Bob, of McGinnis Landing fame has a well-appointed rooftop patio that gives patrons a great view of the denizens on Richmond Row. The patio with seating for 100 resembles an Italian garden replete with hanging baskets and colourful umbrellas. On cooler evenings, an infrared heating system lends the patio a warm glow. On sunny days, a misting system helps cool things down without getting patrons wet. There is a full menu of Italian-inspired choices for diners. 519-438-4343, 650 Richmond St.
Fellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini
Fellini Koolini’s Italian CuisiniFellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini, and its sibling restaurant, The Runt Club, operate twin patios on a charming backstreet just off Richmond Row. Fellini Koolini’s is uber- restaurateur, Mike Smith’s tongue-in-cheek homage to the surreal Italian director. Railings are intertwined with grape vines and the terracotta pots filled with bread sticks lend a touch of Italian kitsch. Menu favourites include a seemingly endless selection of high-brow - lowbrow creations: pastas, thin crust pizza, steamed mussels, calamari, steaks, etc.(519-642-2300, 153 Albert St.)
The Runt Club
Next door is a larger patio at The Runt Club, a typical pub, but offering the Fellini’s menu. The terrace has sleek contemporary stainless chairs and tables and plenty of shade from mature trees, festooned with twinkle lights in the evening. A very popular watering hole. (519-642-2300, 155 Albert St .)
Mythic Grill
Also on Albert Street, you’ll find the Mythic Grill. The quaint restaurant is known for its traditional Greek cuisine that is both well-made and fresh. The patio seats 20. There is a small fountain, greenery and nice shade. The calamari rocks. (519-433-0230, 179 Albert St .)

Windemere  Café 
Located at Windermere Manor, the Windermere Café has a charming patio that is a delightful extension of the café and is situated in a truly distinctive natural setting. Breeze through French doors onto the stone floor and you are seated at tables nestled among tall spruce trees. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Sunday brunch. (519-858-5866, 200 Collip Circle )
Katana Kafe and Grill
The staff is professional and attentive; the cuisine receives raves, and the dining experience top-notch. The restaurant maybe off the beaten path, being located near the airport, but it offers a spectacular view . Perfect for plane spotters and aeronautical aficionados with its patio located next to the tarmac. The food is excellent and one of few places that offers a weekend breakfast. Reservations are recommended. (519-455-9005, 2530 Blair Rd. )

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Apple Pie Trail: Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Culinary Road Trip

Apple Pie Trail

Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Culinary Road Trip


On an annual culinary road trip last week, a scenic drive through the towns and hamlets along the Georgian Bay coastline, through the remarkable Beaver Valley, and along the top of the Niagara Escarpment brought us past Georgian Hills Vineyard. Unknowingly, we had decided to follow a similar route to that of the Blue Mountain Apple Pie Trail. A year round culinary route, the trail winds through the apple and pear growing country from just east of Owen Sound to Collingwood offering a top-notch culinary adventure. Over the last six years, the trail has expanded by offering travellers a diverse complement of agricultural and culinary partners, tours, events and experiential adventures that focus on Ontario's apple orchard country. The trail connects 37 stops for local apple-inspired products and fare, including restaurants, orchards, food merchants, breweries and wineries. A winner of Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, the trail also received Tourism Ontario's Culinary Experience Award in 2012.

Georgian Hills Vineyard
At the Georgian Hills Vineyard our hospitable and intelligent hosts, Vanessa and Joel and talked to us about the winemakers and explained that combination of the Niagara Escarpment’s unique terroir of soils and the microclimate created by the proximity to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay's moderating effects produces favourable grape growing conditions and the area has been designated “an emerging wine region” by the Wine Council of Ontario. We were impressed by the depth of knowledge of our hosts and the amount of time they dedicated to speaking about the wine-making process and the region's terroir.

Our wine and local food tasting experience was exceptional; we sampled several varietals that included a Perry, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Unoaked Chardonnay, Marachel Foch and a Vidal: Frozen on the Vine. We retreated to the terrace with glasses of Riesling and a superbly presented platter of cheeses and charcuterie to comfortable chairs facing the vineyard. The vineyard contains 12 acres and has the vidal grapes that create ice wine. Georgian Hills, which is partly owned by Murray Puddicombe of Stoney Ridge Winery in Niagara, makes its own form of sweet dessert wine called Frozen to the Core, created from peaches and apples.

Tasting room hours are Wednesday through Sun from 12 – 5 pm. You can contact Georgian Hills by visiting their website or calling at 519-599-2255.

Beaver Valley Cidery
Our next stop was the Beaver Valley Cidery, where hard ciders are crafted in small batches from select varieties of heritage apples grown in their own orchard or supplied by local Georgian Bay growers. The restored century barn has been converted into a cidery and tasting room. Co-owner Judy Cornwell told us, that they kept the barn's foundation, and post and beams, replacing the cladding, floor and roof. The tasting room and the outdoor gardens are stunning. Two types of hand-crafted ciders can be tasted and paired with a plate of artisanal cheeses.

Open May to December, Thursday to Sunday 11-6 pm
235853 Beaver Valley Rd (Grey Rd 13), Kimberley  416 464 9213

The Cheese Gallery
Casey Thomson's Cheese Gallery on the main street in Thornbury is a cheese shop in a gallery setting showcasing the talent of local artisans who craft local foods, beverages and art. We usually visit the Cheese Gallery several times a year.This unique experience offers a licensed tasting bar with cozy seating, charcuterie and a truly dazzling array of artisan cheeses. Open year round, daily. 11 Bruce St. South, Thornbury; 519 599-6699

Bruce wine bar kitchen
Bruce wine bar is a scratch kitchen, featuring farm-to-table menus which showcase local and regional products. Dine on traditional Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas (funghi, artisan salumi, fennel sausage etc), salads and sandwiches downstairs in The Kitchen, or head upstairs to the Wine Bar for an array of fine wines, spirits and craft beer, shared plates and charcuterie. Think, smoked local whitefish fritters or beef striploin tartare with sous vide duck egg yolk. The Bruce wine bar follows sustainable principles.They are also Ocean Wise partners.There is live music on Friday nights. Open daily July & August, lunch & dinner; closed Mondays September to June. Highly recommended.

8 Bruce Street South, Thornbury; (alley behind TD Bank) 519 599-1122

Coffin Ridge Winery
Situated along a long gravel concession road north-west of Meaford, Coffin Ridge is a surprise for the uninitiated. On my first visit several years ago, I remarked on its similarity to the Italian countryside with the slope of the hills facing towards the sun and Georgian Bay. The contemporary tasting bar and room opens to an elevated deck overlooking Georgian Bay and the striking vineyards. We were told that winter hardy grape varieties flourish here with hybrids like L’Acadie Blanc and Marquette.

Grey County’s first winery produces quality, small-batch wine made primarily from hand-planted, hand-picked grapes that thrive in the Grey County’s clay soil and frigid climate.The three signature wines; Into the Light WhiteBack From the Dead Red and Resurrection Rosé, express the region’s terroir.

On previous visits to Coffin Ridge we have retreated to the deck for a glass of wine and their vintner's plate made up of locally baked breads, honey, chocolate and cheeses which are paired with the wine you have selected. We arrived just before 5 pm and were told the kitchen was closed. After a few minutes they offered the sumptuous picnic in the photograph below.
Open daily 11- 6 pm  Friday nights until 9 pm; May – December;
Open Thursday – Sunday 12- 5 pm January to April.
599448 2nd Concession North, Annan; 519 371-9565

The Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail
Travelling the quiet country roads of the Blue Mountains you can savour the sweet aroma of apple blossoms; ripening fruit in the summer; brilliant pallete of autumn colours and crisp ski hills in the winter No matter what time of year you visit, the Apple Pie Trail is truly a year round culinary destination.

The Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail was awarded best Ontario Tourism Culinary Experience Award at the Ontario Tourism Summit in Hamilton, Ontario in 2011. This year the culinary trail added six new stops, including the Northwinds Brewhouse and Eatery, and Bonnie Dorgelo Jewellery and Paintings in Collingwood; Twist Martini Restaurant and Bar and Booster Juice in the Blue Mountain Village; and the aforementioned Bruce Wine Bar in Thornbury; and the Beaver Valley Cidery. To find out more about  the experience, visit:

We also stopped at the hospitable Kimberly General Store for some provisions and a delicious sandwich. Check out the video below.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quality, Craft and Discerning Taste at the River Room and Rhino Bakery at Museum London

Quality, Craft and Discerning Taste at the River Room and Rhino Bakery at Museum London


North Moore Catering was born out of a longing while owner Jess Jazey-Spoelstra was working at Walkers in Tribeca in Manhattan.  Disenchanted with the catering at her wedding, Jazey-Spoelstra had an epiphany and decided to launch a catering company instead of a restaurant. She and husband Harmen and general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden, set about building North Moore’s status as one of the city’s foremost caterers almost entirely on word-of-mouth.

Jazey-Spoelstra is a natural communicator with her finger on the culinary pulse. Like any effective entrepreneur, she has a particular charisma and an innate gift for training and mentoring skilled staff that can communicate her vision and deliver it with finesse.
When Jazey-Spolestra was offered the restaurant space at Museum London for the River Room, she and Harmen were initially reluctant. However, the room and the facilities were the proper fit for a caterer with the Jess’s entrepreneurial vision and creative talents. The River Room quickly became a success.
Her latest project is the upscale Rhino Lounge Bakery and Coffee Shop in the premises previously occupied by the gift shop at Museum London. The café is named after Tom Benner’s White Rhino sculpture that has stood watch on the grounds of the museum since 1987. There are strategically placed patio tables on the well -manicured front lawn and guests are also be able to sit by the beautiful pond on the west side of the Museum.

Jazey-Spolestra has a sophisticated design sensibility which is reflected in all her projects. It is about delivering elegance and the attention to detail. Smoky crystal chandeliers with dozens of multifaceted hanging crystals and custom-made black leather banquettes set the tenor. The space is designed to be multi-functional which will allow it to be repurposed for special and private events.

The in-house scratch bakery showcases pâtissièrie, cakes, pies, croissants, handmade doughnuts and hand-rolled bagels. Pastry chef Michele Lenhardt’s chic dessert offerings include: Goat cheese cheesecake, cherry and lemon tarts and her signature chocolate pâté. The café is licenced and the kitchen turns out grab and go sandwiches, paninis, charcuterie and there are plans to make tapas available on Thursday nights.
Jazey-Spoelstra focuses on providing innovative and cutting edge food experiences combined with extraordinary service which is her hallmark. She does not source products from the standard food suppliers but instead Jazey-Spoelstra selects each food item to ensure quality and freshness at each event.
She has a penchant for adding her own signature style by re-imagining food styles and cultures and says, “Quality has always been my number one priority, even if it means that my prices are higher than some competitors. At caterings, we still cook all the food fresh on site with a portable kitchen.  Everything is made from scratch and if we can't keep our standards because of budget constraints or venue constraints, then we won't do the event.”

Most of the ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, but some iconic staples such as smoked salmon, caviar, bagels and cream cheese, are express-shipped by courier from the famed Russ and Daughters in New York. This is a testament to her desire to bring nothing but the best to the table for her clients.

Last May, Jazey-Spoelstra invited me to the River Room to sample Russ & Daughters hand-sliced smoked salmon which is only available once a year (the year prior it wasn’t available at all). The cold- smoked Gaspé Nova is a primal experience due to the combination of the fattiness of the fish and the mild smokiness. She served this delicacy with double hand- whipped, eat-it-by-the-spoonful, scallion-cream cheese and proper hand-made chewy bagels. We also sampled the complex and sensual mouth feel of Osetra caviar from sustainably raised Californian sturgeon. On another occasion she invited me to sample some new dishes. Well, nobody in this city does bone marrow the way the River Room does – oh, the deep and satisfying pleasure of eating pure rich hot bone marrow.

And, speaking of Russ and Daughters, Jazey-Spoelstra told me about an independent documentary called The Sturgeon Queens. The documentary’s recent release is timed to coincide with Russ & Daughters centennial this year.
The documentary features an extensive interview with two of the original daughters for whom the lox and herring emporium was named. 100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and her sister 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman both share anecdotes that encapsulate the Jewish immigrant experience: “hard work, humor, romance, and a little tsuris.”  Other participants include the 4th generation family members who operate the shop today. The film also features Herman Vargas, aka “The Artistic Slicer,” longtime employee, now manager, who represents the new wave of immigrants behind the Russ & Daughters counter.

North Moore caters cocktail parties, weddings, post wedding brunches, dinners at your home, corporate events or any occasion a caterer is required. Catering events have included cocktail parties with guest lists totaling 1500 as well as intimate dinner parties. 

“We are a full service catering company that takes care of the rentals, linen selection, floral, decor, backdrops, head table decor, wedding cakes and favours.  We assist with timeline, floor plan and planning. We take great pride in everything we do and do our best to ensure every event is perfect,” says, general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden.

The River Room and Private Dining at Museum London REDUX


Art and food have always been synonymous. Restaurants located in museums have a loyal client base – patrons of the arts typically appreciate fine cuisine.  I have always had a special affinity for the London Museum and this particular room. In the last few years I have had some of my best dining experiences at the River Room.

The River Room and Private Dining, inside Museum London, has banks of tinted windows with the best views in the city. The windows overlook artist Ron Benner’s garden installation project, “As the Crow Flies,” as well as the Forks of the Thames and old courthouse. The River Room is a superb lunch spot that has put Museum London back on the local culinary map.

The space, which has had a checkered past in its thirty years of operation and had been closed since the demise of On the Forks in November 2010, now has the clubby ambience of a Manhattan restaurant, with its casual, tailored décor and New York brashness. This is the latest venture by Jess Jazey-Spoelstra and Harmen Spoelstra, co-owners of North Moore Catering. 

The charismatic Jess Jazey-Spoelstra is a culinary dynamo, a true restaurateur and the city’s premiere caterer. When Jazey-Spoelstra was offered the restaurant space at Museum London, she was initially reluctant. However, the room and the facilities at Museum London are a natural fit for a caterer with Jazey-Spoelstra’s flair, vision and experience. Jazey-Spoelstra has built a reputation quickly as the city’s premiere caterer, almost entirely on word-of-mouth from a glittering retinue of well-heeled clients.

Like any successful caterer/restaurateur, she has a particular je ne sais quoi and an innate talent for picking and mentoring professional staff who can communicate her vision and deliver it with aplomb and finesse. Hers is an impressive achievement.

The venue was refurbished (including the old curved ceiling) and elegantly tailored and renewed to host special events. The setting is stylish and relaxed, the colour scheme is warm and inviting, the textural elements are glass, leather and crisp white linen, and the glassware is Reidel. The dining room has seating for 85 patrons and has an attractive curved bar with faux white leather stools at the entrance. The walls are lined with beautiful photos that pay homage to Jazey-Spoelstra’s days in New York. The River Room’s inspiration, as with most things related to Jazey-Spoelstra’s culinary endeavours, harkens back to the time (2001-2007) when she worked in Tribeca in Manhattan.

The restaurant is located in Museum London and just steps away from the Budweiser Gardens, Covent Garden Market, and the downtown dining and shopping district. It attracts the local who’s who, lawyers and judges, the ladies who lunch, and the culinary set, despite some of its less conventional attributes. It has quickly become the brunch hot spot. Yes, there are glass ketchup bottles and high-quality jars of hot mustard on the tables.

Jazey-Spoelstra’s hands-on culinary philosophy is to create exceptional food at reasonable prices. The menu has over a dozen dishes on offer on the brunch prix fixe menu, including sublime Eggs Benedict with perfectly poached eggs and delicious hollandaise; classic Cobb Salad with grilled chicken, crisp bacon, blue cheese, hard-boiled egg, chopped tomato and cucumbers; Brioche French Toast of the Day; and Prime Rib Beef Hash, with peppers, onions, potatoes and prime rib, topped with two soft-boiled eggs and accompanied by signature greens.

Brunch is served with a basket of warm mini-muffins and fresh-baked, melt-in-the-mouth cheddar scones, as well as coffee or tea and your choice of a glass of red or white wine, mimosa, Caesar, bloody Mary, screwdriver or domestic beer.

Everything on the lunch menu is prepared in-house from scratch. Spolestra is always on top of her game. Signature features include handmade pasta, such as gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, and hand-pressed tagliatelle.  We have had the opportunity to sample all three: perfectly executed ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola and porcini (not on the menu) was other worldly, tagliatelle with lemon was deliciously understated, and pumpkin ravioli with chestnut sage cream was sublimely delicate.

Signature Seafood Crêpes, with crab, shrimp, scallops and cognac cream, Quiche (Jess’s mother’s recipe with Michele Lenhardt’s pastry), and New York-style deli sandwiches, all accompanied by a spectacularly composed signature side salad, round out the menu. The pastrami Reuben sandwich is quintessential New York deli, with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and crispy dills. The Cobb Salad (Los Angeles's Brown Derby closed its doors long ago, but this classic salad, invented in 1937 by the restaurant's owner) is classic. On one visit, pot pie with braised duck, okra and Andouille sausage is a delicious riff on the definitive gumbo preparation.

I have attended events where mouth-watering passed hors d’ oeuvres included: Dijon crusted lamb lollipops, smoked salmon gaufrettes on home-made potato chips; colossal black tiger shrimp shooters; mini yorkies with sliced beef tenderloin and a selection of miniature desserts.

The desserts are prepared by über-pastry chef Michele Lenhardt (former co-owner of Black Walnut Café and pastry chef at the AGO). Lenhardt’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cherry Tart and Lemon Tart are all classics. Chocolate Pâté is rave-worthy, as is Semifreddo. Lenhardt brings River Room’s signature Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee dessert to a whole new level. The made-to-order apple fritters are served hot, with caramel dipping sauce. Beignets (deep-fried choux paste) are served hot, with bacon fudge and vanilla cream. If you are a connoisseur of classic pastry and dessert, you have come to the right place – Lenhardt is unparalleled in the city and consistently brings dessert offerings to a whole new level.

The black-uniformed servers are welcoming and enthusiastic, as well as being professional, attentive and knowledgeable. They are among the finest in the city. The service adds to the experience.

The River Room is also open in the evenings for private dining, weddings, dinner parties, cocktail parties, holiday parties, and business dinners.

The River Room cafe is open Tues.–Fri., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday for Brunch.  

                   Open for lunch, brunch and dinner during Londonlicious.  

Museum London, Ridout Street North, London, (519) 850-2287

Where To Eat in Stratford, Ontario: A Too Brief Guide

This is for archival purposes. Please read my updated blog post: Look What's Happening in the Stratford Restaurant Scene for 2015 Season


I recently attended the 7th Annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. It was an exceptional experience again this year. What draws me time and time again to Stratford — besides world class theatre and the fact that it is a great walking and biking town is the city’s vitality as an agriculture and culinary hub. Start you're walking tour of the downtown at the historic 12-sided red-brick City Hall built in 1899. Stroll the leafy streets and browse the charming shops as you explore the captivating town which exudes natural beauty. Stratford is full of stimulating and niche specialty shops situated on its heritage streetscapes or off the beaten path on side streets. The town has attractive outdoor gardens flanking the banks of the Avon River. Among the city’s culinary assets is the presence of the venerated Stratford Chefs School, where students work with local culinary luminaries and chefs from across Canada and around the world. Culinary pros and alumni have stayed on in Stratford, adding innovation and prestige to the local culinary scene. The Stratford Chef School is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

 Savour Stratford has effectively supported Stratford and Perth County’s position as one of Ontario’s most unique and distinctive culinary regions. Collaborating and fostering individual relationships with  area farmers, artisans, chefs and the Stratford Chefs School to reinforce the awareness of sustainable agriculture and the local terroir has helped to create a culinary identity truly characteristic of the area. A visit to Stratford for a few days has always been a perfect for a culinary getaway. You can experience Stratford’s and Perth County’s terroir at restaurants, cafés, food specialty shops, farmers’ markets, tutored tastings, epicurean treks and culinary walking tours. A stopover in the area is not complete without a stay in one of the many hospitable inns or bed and breakfasts.
 Stratford boasts a large number of agricultural resources and has been nurturing a local culinary heritage since 1832. Stratford Farmers’ Market is the year round market operating since 1855 at the Stratford Rotary Complex Agriplex.. 353 McCarthy Rd., Stratford. 7 am—12 pm every Saturday. The producer-based Farmers' and Artisans' Sunday Market returns to the historic Market Square behind Stratford’s City Hall each May. It is definitely worth a visit.

Stratford offers a charming group of independent cafés which are part grab-and-go, part bakery, and part casual dine-in restaurant. Baristas in Stratford know how to pull a proper espresso. The quest of coffee drinkers for artisanal, small hand-batched roasts with diverse flavour profiles is unmatched.  Anne Campion’s Revel Café off the market square featuring Las Chicas Del Café and Slave to the Grind Stratford's quirky espresso bar - owned and democratically operated by Your Local Market Co-operative, are among my top picks for an outstanding caffeinated experience.
 If your tastes run to the uber cool gadgets, gewgaws and gizmos or retro-inspired confectionery, be sure to visit the Small-Mart General Mercantile, a unique and delightful contemporary take on the old-style general store that has just relocated. Great places to grab a picnic lunch include: Janet Ashworth’s At The County Food Company on Erie Street. Ashworth’s philosophy is a simple concept: Seasonal local ingredients, gifted chefs, innovative selections and affordable dining. Pick and choose from a range of irresistible entrées and salads.

Chef Yva Santini’s Italian kitchen at Taverna Pazzo brings a new sensibility to Stratford’s main corner. Sustainable seafood such as oysters, crab and lobster make up the heart of this season’s menu, and are joined by house-made pastas and gnocchi, and locally-sourced meats and produce. Check out the recently opened Pazzo Bambino next door for lighter fare and delicious grab-to-go options. Chef Sirka Sie is the talent behind the stunning food (and delectable zeppole) in the Pazzo Bambino. Co-owner Jeffrey Leney tells us that the new Pazzo Bambino, located in the former Pazzo Bakery, is essentially a food shop serving pizzas, sandwiches, antipasti, salads, Italian sweets, espresso drinks and focaccia with a focus on take-out. There are 30 seats for those who wish to dine in. Designer Ron Nuhn took the former bakery concept and blew it up, creating an operatic ambience and an exciting space.

 Monforte on Wellington
 If you like ethical farm-to-table dining that won’t break the bank; Monforte on Wellington is the hands-down winner. The kitchen has developed a synergy between the local terroir and the diner, no doubt, inspired by Monforte Dairy founder and cheesemaker, Ruth Klahsen, whose deep-rooted affection for all things sustainable, local and artisanal seems to continue to both fortify and nourish her creative drive and innovative entrepreneurism. The restaurant is a casual seasonally –inspired osteria featuring an ever-changing selection of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and pastas, salads, soups, preserves, pickles and other signature specialties, prepared by Monforte’s culinary team. The restaurant is BYOW with a corkage fee of $15.00, or if you order a glass of VQA wine they might bring you a full bottle and charge you for what you drink. There is an area at the front entrance that retails Monforte cheeses and other interesting jarred goods- to- go. The kitchen is open to the dining room and there is a passageway beside the kitchen that leads to a 35-seat courtyard with umbrellaed tables for al fresco dining.

 The Restaurant at The Bruce
 The newly built and handsomely appointed 25-room Bruce Hotel, set on six and a half acres of property and a short walk from the Festival Theatre, is the third hospitality undertaking for Birmingham. The restaurant and the hotel are named after her father, Bruce, a former president of the Bank of Nova Scotia who passed away in 2010.
 Word has it that Birmingham wooed Stratford culinary luminaries and owners of Bijou, Aaron and Bronwyn Linley, to join her at The Bruce. Aaron is the Executive Chef and Bronwyn is Food and Beverage Manager. Aaron’s resume comprises sous chef positions at Rundles in Stratford, Scaramouche in Toronto, Maple Bistro in Halifax with Chef Michael Smith, and chef at Le Nouveau Parigo in Toronto. Bronwyn’s pastry chef and sommelier experience includes Stratford’s Pazzo and Down the Street, Pan Chancho bakery in Kingston and pastry chef at Maple Bistro and Biff’s in Toronto. Returning to Stratford in 2001, the Linley’s opened Bijou. What has made Chef Linley’s cooking unforgettable is the brilliance of his regionally-sourced ingredients paired with multi-cultural elements. For many years his culinary opus at Bijou was the standard for inspired, locally-procured food in Stratford. The Restaurant at The Bruce is positioned to be a contender in the uppermost tier of Stratford fine dining: the venerable Neil Baxter at Rundles and the enigmatic Bryan Steele at The Prune, (which, sadly, is closed for lunch this season), both have restaurant pedigrees that run deeper than Linley’s. 
There are two rooms that comprise The Restaurant and entry is through the clubby lounge. The dining rooms are white linen, chic and understated with square-backed upholstered chairs and settees. This is contemporary elegance and indeed Linley’s menus are loaded with ingredients that term evokes. Chef has dispensed with the main-course concept and offers a small-plates menu at dinner. Lunch is à la carte. There is an expectation of a particular level of care in a restaurant befitting a well-run luxury hotel. Among the hotel’s amenities are a gym and an indoor pool. (Rooms are $500.00 and “petit” suites are $650.00 per night and include a sumptuous prix fixe breakfast. Some have private courtyards.)
Chef Linley describes his cuisine as “Nouveau Ontario,” using French technique and ethnic influences “applied to the good things of this province.” The menu is prix fixe, offering two Beginnings and Dessert for $58.00, one Beginning and Middle for $58.00, or a Beginning, Middle and Dessert for $68.00. This arrangement is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously and later, there is a respite. There is also a 5 course tasting menu available after 7:30 pm for $80.00 per person, and only available to an entire table. The Lounge offers a separate menu.

 Mercer Hall 
The restaurant at Mercer Hall Inn offers chef-inspired artisanal food and drink featuring local cuisine, Ontario focused wines and house-infused cocktails. Mercer Hall was recently included in the 2014 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada, as determined by a roster of chefs, food industry professionals, connoisseurs, and travel and food writers. Lead by chefs Tim Larsen and Sean Collins  the culinary duo draws its inspiration from a local, seasonal items with quality ingredients sourced in Quebec, both Canadian coasts and the best of Europe. The menu is primarily Ontario focused with a European sensibility. The hospitable Jesse Larsen, an alumnus from the Conestoga College Hospitality program who also happens to be married to Tim, runs front of the house. 
Regional specialities and local ingredients abound on the Mercer Hall menus and include addictive house-made salumi and other gourmet charcuterie which are found on the ploughman’s board at lunch and the charcuterie board on both the "Nosh" menu and the evening prix fixe. After all, Perth County pork is legendary. This is the home of the Pork Congress. A charming wooden bread board of classic air-dried cured meats include: thin slices of perfect fat-to-meat coppa (pig’s head), paper-thin slices of Andalucían-inspired loma (pork loin), and Churchill Farms distinctively flavoured prosciutto. The charcuterie is accompanied by pickled vegetables, piccalilli, shavings of Montforte Dairy’s Toscano pecorino and a sous vide egg. When the perfectly cooked egg is punctured with a fork it releases a river of perfect protein-rich golden liquid. Other pork products on the menu include Fred and Ingrid De Martines’ succulent Tamworth pork belly confit served with braised chard, broth and pickled mustard seed. There is also roasted Marrow bone served with crostini and butcher’s salad.
Signature dishes together with contemporary interpretations of classics have resulted in a varied menu of tastes, temperatures, textures and influences. Mercer Mac and Cheese is a combination of cheddar and parmigiano infused béchamel, cornbread crumble, onion marmalade. Colonel Collins' Fried Chicken for two: boneless thighs, southern style kale, cornbread, apple and cabbage slaw with Mercer house-made hot sauce, gravy and house-cut fries. 108 Ontario Street; 519 271-1888

 Bijou Restaurant
 The entrance to Bijou is hidden in plain view behind a block of Wellington Street buildings with ivy-covered brick walls located in a laneway off the Erie Street’s municipal parking lot, next to the Queen’s Hotel. There is an iron gate and a canopied black door at the front entrance of the restaurant. The exterior sign is an unobtrusive copper and metal graphic. Bijou’s inconspicuousness is part of its allure. 
Bijou’s culinary philosophy embraces the ideology of local and seasonal; however, the kitchen puts its own characteristic stamp on the ever-changing chalkboard menu. The Bijou culinary oeuvre may be representative of the local terroir, but Asian, French and Italian culinary influences, which involve techniques as well as ingredients, redefine convention. The kitchen shines when it is expressing the nuances of the local terroir. 
The food at Bijou is modern, never predictable, and the offerings evolve to highlight seasonal ingredients and the best local food procurement available. The restaurant provides a good “local” taste experience. The restaurant was an early proponent of cultivating personal relationships with farmers and suppliers and showcasing Perth County products and ingredients. 105 Erie Street; 519.273.5000;

 The Prune 
Three chic rooms in a heritage home overlooking a courtyard provide a sublime setting for one of the consistently best dining experiences in the city. Chefs Bryan Steele and Ryan O`Donnell serve up contemporary seasonally -inspired cuisine. Menu items celebrate local and regional producers and growers. The influences of disparate world cuisines alongside traditional French recipes create interesting juxtapositions designed to enrich and enliven your dining experience. An intelligent wine program showcases boutique vintages from local and international growers. In the aim of broadening Chef Steele's cooking style to a larger audience, the Prune is featuring a new prixe fixe menu with a lower, more accessible price point and an expanded selection of offerings. It is their intention to continue to maintain the standard of high quality that the Prune has been renowned for the past 34 years. May to October 151 Albert Street; 519.271.5052

 Little Red’s Pub and Eatery in St Mary’s: Chris and Mary Woolf have returned to St. Marys, at 159 Queen Street. Little Red’s Pub and Eatery opened in mid- February. Chris and Mary Woolf always made a sojourn to the former Woolfy’s well worth the drive. The Woolf’s have been true pioneers when it comes to supporting culinary regionalism: dedicated and loyal supporters of the area’s farmers, artisans, sustainable and organic producers for two decades. Chris was re-interpreting culture-specific culinary specialties with homegrown ingredients long before the term “local” became part of our culinary lexicon.  www.little

The Savour Stratford Maple Trail is the third in Stratford’s culinary trail offers. This self-guided tour presents 10 maple-inspired stops with offerings that range from aged maple balsamic vinegar, to a maple-smoked bacon BLT and a maple chai latte. If you are looking for chocolate there is a Chocolate Trail—a self-guided tour of local sweet and savoury treats much like the maple trail or bacon and ale trail. You can purchase a pass in person at the Stratford Tourism Alliance. The $25 pass includes tickets that entitle you to choose 6 of the 20 stops you would like to visit. Be sure to stop at Chocolate Barr’s Candies, Rheo Thompson, and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Chocolate Barrs has relocated from 136 Ontario Street to 55 George Street West (formerly The Sun Room restaurant).