By MARCELLA DEVINCENZO
A foodie adventure is always a great reason to travel. The pretty waterfront Victorian town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, at the heel of Ontario’s greenbelt, has a wealth of wonderful restaurants and shops that make use of local produce and wineries—especially during the autumn harvest. There is a lot you can learn from a city just by the food and the people who create the dishes.
Get the map.
1. Arrive in Niagara-on-the-Lake in time for lunch, kicking off your mini-break in the heart of Niagara’s wine country at—where else?—a winery. Peller Estates makes liberal use of fresh, local ingredients in its elegant brunch (weekends only) and à la carte and four-course tasting-menu lunches: all with wine pairings if you so desire. On the menu for fall: eggs Benedict with icewine hollandaise, truffled seared lake trout, heritage beef tartar, Ontario-raised lamb chop.
2. On a full stomach, visit Queen Street to get a feel for the town. Small interesting shops line the street. Stop in at Greaves where you can find delectable jams and marmalades made from local fruit (rhubarb-ginger, currant, cherry and more), the Niagara Apothecary, which has a 19th-century tonic to alleviate every ailment (from nerves to whooping cough), the self-explanatory Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, plus tea shops, a hat shop, and Cheese Secrets, the place to find real cheese curds for your homemade poutine.
If you’re feeling a little or a lot peckish before dinner, sample some gelato at Nina’s Gelateria & Pastry Shop. You’ll have tons of delicious flavours to choose from, such as rich chocolate or delectable pistachio.
3. Dinner in Niagara is special. Treadwell is a restaurant that prides itself on farm-to-table cuisine using all local ingredients, and even has a local supplier of something as non-Canadian as soya sauce. You’ll fall for the food and the location, on the waterfront in Port Dalhousie, 25 km north of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Chef Stephen Treadwell is charming and eager to talk about his restaurant and dishes.
4. The next morning, head to Balzac’s, by far the best local brew for coffee connoisseurs: the maple syrup latte should not be missed. The cozy French-inspired ambiance and coffee aromas filling invite a leisurely linger over a paper and croissant.
5. If you haven’t already indulged in something sweet at Balzac’s (or even if you have), get in the car and head to Willow Cakes and Pastries for a cinnamon bun breakfast treat.
6. Motor on to Kurtz Orchards Shop where you can spend hours browsing the aisles and picking up some interesting blends of chutneys, sauces and baked goods (their chocolate chip cookies are perfection). The grounds are quite lovely so take some time to enjoy the little bridge and pond.
7. For lunch, head to the Stone Road Grille, known as the “local’s restaurant”. Don’t look for a sign out front—you’ll never find it. When you see “REST” written boldly at the side of the road, you know you’re there. The food is delicious, the dishes—such as chanterelle-and-corn risotto—incorporate local ingredients and the chef makes sure creativity is added to every dish. Maple cotton candy was a recent dessert option. The place itself is great eye candy with its dark red walls and eclectic paintings.
8. A mid-afternoon snack is a must before heading out. Stop by The Pie Plate—everything looks and is absolutely divine. Favourites are the peach, apple and combination fruit pies. The staff is passionate about their product and happy to describe every pie.
Niagara-on-the-Lake may be the bed-and-breakfast capital of Canada. Try Dietsch’s Empty Nest, where owners Natasha and Paul are welcoming hosts. You’ll feel right at home. If their three rooms are booked, it’s hard to go wrong with one of the B&Bs that have earned a place among the Historic Bed-and-Breakfasts of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a collection of beautiful inns built before 1850 and all within walking distance of downtown.
Driving is the best way to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake (trains and buses only serve nearby towns of Niagara Falls and St. Catharines). Once you arrive, take a bike tour; it’s a great way to enjoy the beauty of the town with its cute shops and vineyards.