Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Food Day Canada: Celebrating Canadian Food and Drink

Anita Stewart

Food Day Canada (FDC) is an annual mid-summer celebration, always held on the Saturday of the August long weekend, when we share Canada’s rich culinary heritage and our delicious northern bounty. FDC will be held this year on Saturday, July 30th. “It is a chance for all Canadians to join hands in one massive celebration in praise of our farmers and fishers; our chefs and researchers…and, above all, our home cooks,” says, founder Anita Stewart.

TOOK (The Only on King) celebrates its favourite area farmers and producers with a “Food Day Canada” menu. It runs Tuesday July 14th–Saturday August 1st and is $35.00 for a delicious three-course menu. 

Abruzzi is partnering up with Growing Chefs! for Food Day Canada. Chef Dave Lamers is offering a three-course menu from July 18 to 30th, which will feature all the local suppliers and farmers’ he collaborates with every day. For each guest that orders the Food Day Canada menu, Abruzzi will donate $5.00 to Growing Chefs! Chef Lamers believes in engagement between, farmers, chefs and the general public. He thinks it’s a great way to give back to the community. Growing Chefs! educates children, families, and community members about nutrition, sustainability and healthy food systems by providing programs, seminars, and workshops to promote local and healthy eating. “It’s a great way for us to come together and celebrate all things Canadian, we get to showcase the farmers, artisans and suppliers that work so hard to supply us with the best ingredients possible, says chef Lamers, “and I think Food Day Canada brings awareness to people about what amazing local/Canadian ingredients we all have available to us, and it will remind people to look at labels, ask questions and source out local/Canadian ingredients as much as possible.” http://fooddaycanada.ca/events/abruzzi-london-ontario/

Chef Arron Carley

Chef Arron Carley at The Bruce will be preparing a six-course tasting menu that weekend that will feature wild Canadian Flavours.

The Bruce: Food Day Canada Menu

Tomato: Fuzzy Peach Tomato, Nasturtium, Wild Garlic & Colt’s Foot Vinaigrette, Charred Tomato Puree

2014 Adamo Riesling, ‘Wismer Vineyard, Foxcroft Block’, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Squash: Summer Squash, Smoked Patty Pan, Hemp, Heirloom Basil, Wild Mustard

2012 Nyarai Cellars Viognier, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Perch On Spadina: Ontario Lake Perch, Smoked Sagamite, Fermented Pigweed, Sea Buckthorn Crème

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay, ‘The Rusty Shed’, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Spuds In Dirt: Cedar & Ale Compressed Marble Potatoes, Peanut & Sumac Soil, Celtic Blue Reserve, Cowder, Ramp Powder, Beef Fat Sponge, Torched Herb Jus

2012 13th Street Gamay Noir, ‘Sandstone’, Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Gin & Juice: Cucumber & Ungava Gin

Boileau Venison: Charcoal Yellow Beets, Smoked Carrot Puree, Reindeer Moss, Chantrelle Mushrooms in Spruce Butter, Wild Licorice Root Jus

2012 Rennie Estate Merlot, ‘Scarpata’ Beamsville Bench, Ontario

The Road To Gunn’s Hill: Milk, Curd’s, Whey, Young & Old 5 Brothers Cheese

2011 Rosewood Estates Dry Mead ‘Harvest Gold’, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Woodruff Split:  Sweet Woodruff Mousse, Sassafras Savarin, Roasted Cocoa, Chantilly, Candied Heartnuts, Ontario Cherries

NV Southbrook Framboise, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Last year Ontario had the richest showing on Food Day Canada  with great menus from London’s Abruzzi and Stratford’s The Red Rabbit, which both received Food Day Canada Good Food Innovation Awards. Other restaurants participating include Eric Boyar's sixthirtynine in Woodstock, Mercer Hall Kitchen Hotel in Stratford, Langdon Hall in Cambridge and Jonathon Gushue's The Berlin in Kitchener. www.fooddaycanada.ca   

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Relaunch of Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel in Stratford


Photos by Terry Manzo Used by Permission 

The relaunched Mercer Hall has changed its name to Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel. Mercer bills itself as a one-stop location to explore the world of craft beer and one of the best beer bars in Ontario. They offer fifteen draft lines, Stratford’s only cask engine, and have crafted a rotating list of over 120 brands including international award-winners, and hard to find one-offs that rotate very quickly. Over half the bottles are Ontario brews. 

Alex Kastner, Director of Food and Beverage, at both Mercer Hall and The Prune Restaurant,  started his career in 2005, as a runner at the former Church Restaurant. He has his finger firmly placed on the Stratford culinary pulse. “There are so many Stratford restaurants that have excellent wine lists,” says Kastner, “Yet there was no one in Stratford who really tapped into the pulse of the craft beer movement in Ontario. There really is something for everyone when it comes to drinking beer.” 

The interior of the restaurant has been refurbished to project a casual more accessible ambiance. Katner has added some communal tables that they hope will help foster a sense of community and conviviality. In a conscious decision to eliminate any trappings of fine dining the service staff now wear jeans and custom t-shirts. The service is casual, upbeat and friendly.

Kastner said, "They decided to get away from the prix fixe menu that they felt ticked the locals off. The prix fixe menu is a Stratford tradition." It is an arrangement that is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where dining theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously and later, there is a lull and the menu offerings become less restrictive. The new vision is a focused effort to make the restaurant more accessible in terms of food and drink. They want the locals to feel welcome year round.

The casual brasserie-style ambiance is essentially inspired by the izakaya, the informal Japanese beer pubs that Chef Ryan O’Donnell encountered during his travels in Japan.
Chef’s collaborative well thought out menus feature items that are meant to be shared communally and are perfect for the lively, dynamic atmosphere. “We wanted to create an experience that can be tailored to a variety of experiences,” says O’Donnell. The all-day menu is divided into categories: fresh salads, small plates, medium plates, substantials, fried chicken & wings, sides, burgers & bowls and desserts.

O’Donnell’s cuisine finds its roots in Stratford foraged cuisine and fine dining and he is known for incorporating Ontario ingredients into cultural dishes. The new 40 plus item menu (which includes some interesting sides and condiments) has Asian culinary influences and underpinnings. Featured items change often to reflect local and seasonal ingredients.

Some interesting cultural interpretations include Mercer’s Tonkatsu pork schnitzel coated in panko breadcrumbs; chicken karrage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with lemon togarashi mayo; improbably delicious steamed pork buns with spicy aioli, cilantro pickled onions, carrots ribbons and lime; and spätzle ramen with braised pork belly and soy egg. Barbecued pulled pork rice bowl with kimchi sauerkraut; and grilled whole sardine with scallions and wasabi mustard.

There are also pig tails with chili potato salad, in homage to the Huron-Perth Germanic heritage with buttered biscuits and baked beans.

Pastry chef Simon Briggs who is an instructor alongside O’Donnell at Stratford Chefs School is also part of the high functioning 18 member kitchen team. Chocolate ice cream with dehydrated chocolate cake, chocolate sauce, salted coco nibs and seabuckthorn berries is a current dessert offering.

Comfortable, cosmopolitan guest rooms that have had a recent face-lift are located above the restaurant.The restaurant is a member of the Feast ON program that has helped to identify culinary champions committed to showcasing Ontario grown and produced food and drink.


"From local heritage pork to boasting ethically-farmed or sustainable line-caught West coast seafood they support farmers, fishermen and artisans in Perth County and across Canada."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Solo on Main is Port Stanley's New Hot Spot


Solo on Main is a family run business with chef Lauren Van Dixhoorn at the helm, twin brother Paul on the bar and working the floor, and their sister Lyndsay, handling the restaurant’s business affairs. Port Stanley's new culinary hot spot is located in the heritage home previously occupied by the former Mickey’s Boathouse. 

In seasonable weather there is a beautifully appointed patio and front porch that offers alfresco seating and great harbour views. Inside, there is a smart walnut bar in the lounge which is topped with quartz and has comfortable seats. The tasteful white linen dining room with its original hardwood floors is decorated in warm gray tones.

The cooking at Solo on Main is refined and the presentation modern and accessible. Van Dixhoorn and sous chef Brooke Cowitz are both alumnus of Niagara College's Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The pair worked together later at Queen’s Landing.

The steelhead smoked trout frites are inspired with scallions, crème fraiche, crispy shallots and Guinness hollandaise - a fresh take on poutine. The classic bones and toast is roasted marrow bone with salt chimichurri and garlic rubbed bread.

Grilled calamari with pickled chili, fried garlic, chopped peanuts and soy caramel was delicious but the kitchen had challenges keeping the dish warm so they changed it. In its latest incarnation the calamari is being served puttanesca-style made up of anchovies, garlic, capers, tomatoes and chili peppers with preserved lemon and black olives.

There is a modern Italian flavour to the "Solo and Share Plates" menu, which is available all day, offering items like Nduja (spreadable pork sausage) crostini, ricotta and wild leek agnolotti (now out of season and replaced with a house-made pappardelle dish), mozzarella arancini and a daily risotto. At lunch there is also a breaded and deep fried provolone sandwich.

The evening menu  features roast chicken, flank steak with chimichurri, and pan roasted tenderloin with shallot anchovy compound butter. There is battered or pan-fried pickerel and perch available at lunch and dinner.

The white wine list has 5 Ontario offerings but the red wine list is bereft of VQA’s or local wineries, but with several good American choices on hand. There are 4 craft beers, a cider, 2 drafts and several bottled beers to choose from.

These are very early days. The fledgling restaurant opened in mid-May and is showing tremendous potential as a culinary destination. 

187 Main St. Port Stanley, 226 658 0999

Tues-Sun  11-11pm