THESE SOUTHERN ONTARIO RESTAURANTS PROVE THAT TORONTONIANS AREN’T THE ONLY ONES WHO APPRECIATE A GOOD MEAL
Torontonians tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about food and drink. And why wouldn’t we? This city’s collection of restaurants, cafés, snack spots and cocktail bars is arguably both the most varied and highest quality in the country. That said, the culinary borders of Canada do extend beyond Toronto’s city limits: Montreal and Vancouver are also renowned foodie towns, and closer to home, Southern Ontario hot spots like the Niagara and Muskoka regions, Stratford, and Prince Edward County also cater to discerning tastes. But you needn’t take our word for it. Hop in your car and discover these road trip–worthy Ontario restaurants for yourself.
THE DRAKE DEVONSHIRE INN, Wellington
201 km from downtown Toronto
There are those who bemoan the slow but steady Toronto-fication of Prince Edward County, the idyllic Lake Ontario headland halfway between Hogtown and Bytown (i.e. Ottawa). Particularly over the last half-decade, the County—and in particular its communities of Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton—has hosted an increasingly large number of young, hip, urban transplants seeking an escape from the concrete jungle, yet who nevertheless expect some of the comforts of the big city. The Drake Devonshire is the most prominent of these amenities. But the property, from the owners of Toronto’s best-known boutique hotel-slash-cultural hot spot, is nothing if not respectful of its low-key surroundings: its dining room boasts a beautiful, unobstructed view of the lake, and chef Matt DeMille’s myriad menus (breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch and mid-afternoon snacks) draw from the region’s abundance of ingredients. Open-mic performances every Tuesday evening introduce even more local flavour.
54 km from downtown Toronto
Although it’s a few years removed from its period of highest prominence (a number of major media outlets, including the Toronto Star and Toronto Life, gave Blacktree sterling reviews back in 2011), chef-owner Matteo Paonessa’s now 10-year-old restaurant remains a standard-bearer for artful eating across the Golden Horseshoe. Cosmopolitan in outlook, Paonessa’s menu, modified from month to month, makes a show of uniting intriguing ingredients and unexpected flavours in highly stylized preparations (the chef’s Instagram account is an orgy of “plating” porn). These dishes don’t come cheap, but it’s hard to quibble when what you’re buying is so creative, beautiful and, above all, tasty.
THE RED RABBIT, Stratford
149 km from downtown Toronto
Stratford, Ontario isn’t only the home of North America’s largest Shakespearean festival and the world’s most notorious ne’er-do-well-pop-star-cum-evangelical Christian (i.e. Justin Bieber), it’s also home to an acclaimed chef school, whose alumni include Cory Vitiello, Carl Heinrich and Rocco Agostino, respectively chef-owners at Toronto’s The Harbord Room, Richmond Station and Pizzeria Libretto mini-chain. Closer to home, the institution also produced Sean Collins, head chef and co-proprietor of the recently opened Red Rabbit, a community restaurant that not only dishes easy-to-love local fare, but is also dedicated to paying its staff a living wage (which, unfortunately, is not always a given in the restaurant industry). The Red Rabbit’s communal vibe of course extends to its sourcing practices, which favour area producers like Church Hill Farm and Soiled Reputation, and the menu itself—a collection of shareable, seasonal, bistro-style offerings that could include the likes of brussels sprouts with pulled duck confit, roasted squash farro risotto, and sous vide hanger steak with wild arugula and miso butter.
BRUCE WINE BAR, Thornbury
172 km from downtown Toronto
An urbane retreat within a rural roadhouse, this labour of love from owners Jennifer and Steven Vipond demonstrates that sophisticated food and drinks are as welcome in small towns as they are in big cities. Per its name, wine is the main attraction at this relaxed establishment: Jennifer is a certified sommelier and has assembled a list that balances Old- and New World vintages, with an emphasis on Canadian bottles from, for the most part, smaller-batch wineries. But chef Shaun Edmonstone’s cooking earns favour, too, with dishes ranging from wild leek fettuccine and smoked venison meatballs to Neapolitan pizzas to a board of excellent Ontario cheeses. The wine bar becomes a community hub on Sundays thanks to its contemporary brunch, and on Friday nights, when the upstairs dining room hosts live musical performances.
72 km from downtown Toronto
Cooking couple Fraser Macfarlane and Georgina Mitropoulos opened their contemporary French restaurant just outside of Hamilton back in 2010. Almost immediately it was named one of Canada’s best new restaurants by En Route magazine (and placed among the GTA’s hottest spots by Toronto Life). Perhaps this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Both chefs, after all, cut their teeth at Toronto’s long-favoured Scaramouche, plus a number of Michelin-starred spots in Europe. These days Macfarlane continues to turn out beautifully composed dishes that particularly highlight seasonally available produce. (Winter visitors take note: he’s a wiz with root vegetables.) Mitropoulos runs the formal but unfussy heritage-house dining room with aplomb. Recently the pair opened a second reason to travel to Steeltown—Brux House boasts craft beer and upscale European pub fare for those seeking a slightly more easygoing experience.
EIGENSINN FARM, Singhampton
141 km from downtown Toronto
A legend of the slow food movement, chef Michael Stadtländer has nurtured a love of the land in some of Canada’s top chefs (a number of notable toques have worked with Stadtländer over the years) and innumerable foodies, who continue to flock to his renowned Eigensinn Farm. Like a homespun version of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (in fact, the south-of-Collingwood spot predates Dan Barber’s upstate New York operation), the establishment takes the field-to-fork philosophy to its natural conclusion, resulting in a tasting menu composed of organic, non-GMO ingredients and products grown and harvested almost entirely on site. Pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits and a variety of free-range fowl are among the farm’s livestock; there’s also a sizeable garden, apiary, maple sugar bush, and ample woods for foraged fare. Fish, for the most part, come from Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. The incredibly intimate, $300-a-head experience must be booked well in advance, but it’s well worth the effort. Alternatively, for a sort of Eigensinn-lite meal, try nearby Haisai, overseen by Stadtländer’s son, Hermann, and chef Min Young Lee. Generally open on weekends (though you’re advised to verify hours before making the trek), the casual restaurant offers a small à la carte menu of wood-fired pizzas, dim sum-style bites and other dishes highlighting Ontario’s agricultural bounty.
RAVINE VINEYARD ESTATE WINERY, St. David’s Bench
122 km from downtown Toronto
One of the Niagara region’s most lauded boutique wineries is a destination for oenophiles and epicureans thanks to its charming restaurant. Overseen by chef-proprietor Paul Harber (whose resume includes a stint at the aforementioned Eigensinn Farm) and executive chef Ross Midgley, the farmhouse-style spot serves up wine-country fare made with fresh-from-the-field ingredients: the restaurant raises its own Berkshire pigs, grows its own organic vegetables and bakes its own bread. Whatever’s not available on-site is sourced from area farmers. Naturally, the rustic dishes, ranging from soy-braised pork belly to line-caught ling cod, not only stand on their own merits, but they also showcase the food-friendliness of Ravine Vineyard’s celebrated wines.
132 km from downtown Toronto
Originally a Port Dalhousie mainstay, in 2013 this restaurant, owned by father-and-son team Stephen and James Treadwell, relocated to the heart Niagara-on-the-Lake. Despite the move, it remains one of the region’s must-visit destinations. From the open kitchen chef Stephen and his team turn out simple dishes (highlighting local and Canadian-sourced ingredients, of course) that nevertheless feature intriguing combinations of flavours and textures. Sommelier James’s significant wine program focuses on Niagara vintages, but a handful of distinguished international bottles are also available. Indeed, the drink offerings are so well liked that the restaurant also maintains a separate wine bar, where guests can enjoy varied flights and by-the-glass options.
LANGDON HALL, Cambridge
103 km from downtown Toronto
The most traditional fine-dining room on this list, the restaurant at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa spares no expense in placing its patrons in the proverbial lap of luxury. The century-old, hundred-acre estate is well known as one of Ontario’s classiest getaways; the eating experience overseen by executive chef Jason Bangerter is a big reason why. The creative, seasonal menus (for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch and afternoon tea, not to mention to chef’s multi-course tasting option) focus on local provenance, using cultivated and wild ingredients from the inn’s fertile grounds, plus products from area farmers, foragers and food artisans. Combine that with a 1,000-label international wine list, congenial yet discreet servers and classic, white-tablecloth ambience, and you have a special-occasion dining experience that evokes the bygone (but oft yearned-for) elegance of Downton Abbey.
197 km from downtown Toronto
Though its dining room has a Mediterranean vibe, Riverwalk is a Muskokan restaurant through and through. Located within a historic mill, chef David Friesen’s popular establishment overlooks Bracebridge Falls and features a sun-drenched waterside patio during the warmer months. It also offers an excellent platform for the cottage country’s finest ingredients, in dishes like crackling skin chicken with whipped potatoes and grilled veg, mushroom gnocchi, and braised beef short rib with house-made linguine.