D and I would like to publicly say in this space, that we are lousy at keeping in touch with friends that have moved away. We declare that we are going to try harder and change our ways but then, time keeps slipping, slipping, slipping into the future… I suppose it could be considered a good thing that we live in the moment and do not try to hold onto or recreate times gone by. Happily, many of our out of town friends do a better job of staying connected with us, than we do of them. Other times, we encounter loved ones who are just as inadequate in this area as we are. This creates major regret on our part. The last two points are absolutely true of our friend Perry Johnston who owns the Stone Road Grille in Niagara on the Lake with his wife Heidi.
We had been recently informed by mutual acquaintances about Perry’s stellar success in the restaurant business. The food, as you will learn is assembled from the best ingredients that the community has to offer but even more so, the hospitality was big and boisterous like we are familiar with on the prairies. Perry spies his guests from behind the bar where he is helping out, then he bounds for the door to embrace you with bear hugs and kisses. We thought that this greeting was reserved for us being old friends, but oh no, everyone familiar to him and almost everyone was on this evening, received the same warmth.
We read the accolades that are posted in the hallway of his establishment, to see that the rumours were absolutely true. Perry and Heidi loved to spend weekends in Niagara-on-the Lake and when Heidi called it quits to her career as a flight attendant, they made their dream, a reality. I absolutely know that D and I are especially intrigued by our friends’ story because we have talked about doing exactly this, many, many times and have never had the guts to take the big step.
The food was exquisite, I mean absolutely sublime. Unfortunately, I had taken so many photos of the vineyards of wine country that afternoon that my battery had run down and then catastrophe struck (for a travelling food blogger at any rate), when I realized that my charger was on the fritz as well. We made due with an IPhone but these photos absolutely do not do the food justice. Post script, the next morning I was on my way to St. Catharine’s to pick up a brand new charger.
We started with a charcuterie of in house prepared and cured meats including saucisson sec, chicken liver mousse, pistachio mortadella, maple smoked ham , pimento espalette pork crackling and wild boar croquette. Every bite was complex and satisfying. We especially enjoyed the melt in your mouth ham and the slightly gamey croquette offset by a delicate crispy coating.
I had carried a hankering for pasta with me from home and wanted a smaller entrée so that I could keep pace with the pleasures yet to come, so I selected the house-made linguini, tossed with pepperoncini, basil and Stone Road’s own pancetta. The dish perfectly heralded the oncoming fall with husky and deep spicy tones.
D neglected to share a taste of his pan-seared halibut because it was consumed too quickly. I do recall his exclamations as he did so. Also on Stone Road’s autumn menu were a local farm’s pasteurized chicken with roasted cashew and zucchini curry in addition to a local lamb in the form of braised lamb ravioli offset by a spicy North African Merquez sausage.
By this time we had switched gears towards dessert: a chocolate tart topped with marshmallow and ice cream, both made in house.
The last of the Niagara fruit harvest was lovingly crafted into sorbets of blackberry, blueberry, golden plum and raspberry. The perfect way to end a perfect evening. But, we were far from done. First we got a tour of the kitchen so that we could congratulate the chef in person for our wonderful fare. We witnessed how every conceivable space is utilized for in-house preparations in a self-sustaining manner. The fresh scraps are even collected to be become feed for the pigs that will eventually “pull their last shift” as Perry puts it, in their restaurant.
We were so impressed with the camaraderie amongst the staff, fostered I am sure by Perry and Heidi themselves. Perry has included a special opportunity on the bottom of his Niagara only wine list so that you can thank his staff in a meaningful way, by purchasing a six-pack for the kitchen. When the staff had made their way home, we lingered, listening to Sinatra tunes and absorbing every nuance we could about Perry’s passion for the vinters, produce growers and farmers of his little corner of paradise.
Perry is definitely a person that you want to spend time with and we were reticent to leave, not knowing when we would be together again. Perry gave us a special salute as we drove out of the parking lot. If you are ever in Niagara-on-the-Lake and I absolutely encourage you to go, visit the Grille marked by the name “Rest” on the outside of the building and ask Perry about it.
Kath’s quote: “To make people who have no appetite eat, to make the wit of those who have it sparkle, to enable those who want these qualities to find them — this is the supreme science of a gastronome-host.” Lucien Tendret (1825-1896)
To you Perry, we wish you love-that is all.