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Main Street Niagara

November21

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On this visit to the Niagara on the Lake, we loved the culinary and wine scenes but did not have any opportunity to take part in the other significant reason for visiting the area- the Shaw Festival.

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As enthralling as wine country is, the town of Niagara on the Lake is just as breathtaking.  From the exquisitely preserved Victorian architecture…

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to the gardens and main street plantings.

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We were absolutely enthralled by everything that the community had to offer.  In all honesty, we were also pleasantly surprised that there is such a beautiful vacation spot in the province just next door to our own.  We are constantly scouring on line sites for affordable prices to Europe when a mini vacation is right here combining the vineyards of France, Italian and Germany with the quaint villages of Great Britain.  The theatre scene is like the bonus cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

Kath’s quote: “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”-George Bernard Shaw

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Love-that is all.

Ravine Vineyard Restaurant, Niagara on the Lake, ON

November12

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I spent the morning running errands in St. Catharines, while D took a beer tour of the Oast House Brewers.  By the time we reconnected it was time for lunch and to start our vineyard tours.  Lucky for us, we had been briefed by friend Perry of Stone Road Grille that Ravine Vineyard Restaurant would be just to our liking.  No surprise-he was absolutely right.

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I loved the homey, farm-style ambience and the food was exceptional.

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We perused the menu and could have ordered a half dozens dishes.  We loved everything we saw and had a very difficult time making up our minds.  Knowing that we had an entire day of nibbling and sipping ahead, we decided on sharing a Margherita pizza.  In our opinion, if you want to judge a good kitchen and a great pizza, order this variety.  The ingredients are basic and simple but when handled with expertise, the results are divine.  The crust was light and crispy but firm enough to support the sparkling tomato sauce and rich bufala cheese.  Slivers of fresh basil and a glistening olive oil, crowned the creation.  The ingredients literally danced in your mouth and it is not surprising when you study more about the chefs of the establishment.  “We are among the few self standing restaurants that bake our own bread, raise our own pigs, grow our own certified organic vegetables while pairing our meals with the guidance and discriminating palate of a wine maker.”  We had enjoyed a bottle of their fine Merlot the evening before and took another one home in our specially wrapped case of the best that the region had to offer, so we did not indulge with lunch.  Instead we tried another couple of the exceptional craft beer from the region.

Ravine Vineyard Bistro on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote:  “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” Dave Barry

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Love-that is all.

 

The Riverbend Inn and Vineyards-Niagara on the Lake, ON

November8

I was never one of those travel deal seekers.  Sure, when we had our dates for our annual sojourn to Isla Mujeres, I would shop around and try to get the best flight deal.  But the dates that we travelled always took top priority as well as staying in a place we knew in a neighbourhood we were familiar with on the island. My sister-in-law on the other hand is a travel deal guru and this how it came to be that we were whisked away to Ireland, a couple of springs ago.  In truth, we didn’t even know that we wanted to go to Ireland!  But it was touted as being one of those once in a lifetime deals and so it was.  Since that time, I too have subscribed to the Travel Zoo weekly newsletter with hopes that one day the stars will align and we will take that dream vacation to Prague, the Azores or Scotland.  In the mean time though, Travel Zoo proved to be serendipitous when we were planning a short vacation to Niagara on the Lake.  D actually did the booking and so I am not as familiar with the details as he, but as I understand it, we got a 2 night stay where each night was less than the other properties that we were investigating AND morning breakfasts, vineyard tours, a gift certificate towards an evening meal in the dining room and a departure gift of two bottles of wine.  For a modest fee, D upgraded us to a superior room and ensured that we enjoyed a full hot breakfast as opposed to the basic one.  Here is one little travel tidbit that I have learned with Travel Zoo-their upgrades all represent the same great value as their basic offers, so consider them.  In Ireland we changed our arrival city from Dublin to Shannon, went from a midsize to a full size car and switched from manual to automatic shift.  These affordable add ons, made a lovely vacation into an extraordinary one.

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Still, when we book a deal on line we are skeptical that there is going to be some fine print that we didn’t scrutinize and we try to protect ourselves from disappointment.  When we drove up to the Riverbend Inn that afternoon, we knew that we had nothing to fear.

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Our home for the next few days was a historic mansion with a fascinating history.

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The late afternoon sun was pouring through the terrace doors as we arrived to see our lovely room.  With a fireplace in the corner and a gorgeous view of vineyards next door, we were well pleased.

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We poured out a bottle of fine wine and lingered in the warm sun.  Wi fi was available on the terrace, so we were content to get caught up on the world and life at home.

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We saw directly below us that there was a verandah where friends were meeting for a glass of wine and small plates and we made a note of it for the next evening.  In the mean time, we had made arrangements to visit old friends who owned the Old Stone Road Grille that evening.

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We spied these chairs at the edge of the rows of grapes and concluded that we would not leave the area without spending some time perched there.

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Our beautifully appointed room and adjoining bathroom were luxurious and that evening after an incredible dinner, we slept like babies.

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Had we stayed longer or the weather had turned out to be not as fair, I could have imagined myself reading and sipping tea in the number of cozy sitting areas that dotted the inn.

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These were our views of sunset the next evening.

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The dining room and terrace that we had spied the evening before was equally charming and the food was exceptional.  The chef “draws fresh inspiration from each passing season while using local specialties. Enjoy farm to table freshness from our herb and vegetable garden located just outside our kitchen doors.”  Indeed, it was all true.

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This was a sample of our full breakfast-a bacon, cheddar and brussel sprout omelet.  D was so thrilled with his basic bacon and egg breakfast that he ordered exactly the same thing, two days in a row.

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Later that evening after a day of nibbling and sipping, we were tuckered out and wanted just a quick bite before retiring to catch the football game on TV.  The mussels of course were not local but they tasted as they might have been with enhancements of local wine and herbs.

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Our special indulgence was the slow roasted bbq pork sliders.  The mild yet pleasantly salty meat was made sublime when the fat melted with it on our tongues.  Oh my.

Riverbend Inn on Urbanspoon

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Later that evening we made our way to these chairs in the dark.  We sipped another glass of the region’s fine wines and contemplated that this inn in this area was like being in rural France or Germany without the cost or jet-lag of a trans-Atlantic crossing, in fact in the province right next door to our own.  We marveled anew at all the amazing places we have yet to visit in Canada.

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On the morning of our departure, the weather had turned and rain was on the way.  This was my last glimpse of all that the Riverbend Inn had to offer.

Kath’s quote: “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.”-Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Love-that is all.

 

Stone Road Grille a.k.a. Rest, Niagara on the Lake, ON

November1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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By this time we had switched gears towards dessert: a chocolate tart topped with marshmallow and ice cream, both made in house.

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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.

Stone Road Grille on Urbanspoon

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.

 

What Else We Saw in Stratford

October28

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Stratford, ON boasts quaint, historic, charming architecture, reminiscent of our time in the UK.

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The city is well planned in a beautiful natural setting, so you are always a moments walk to green space.

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We were very fortunate to get tickets to two plays for the Stratford Festival: Fiddler on the Roof and The Merchant of Venice.  Both works highlighted the brilliant talent of Scott Wentworth and to see him perform in such diverse pieces in the same day, left us over stimulated and quite frankly, exhausted.  We could only imagine how the renowned actor must have felt himself.  We have seen Fiddler many times before and consider it one of our top five favourite musicals.  We declared that the Stratford rendition was the most spectacular and moving rendition that we have ever experienced.

In spite of the fact that I studied Shakespeare while at university, I had never read, nor seen The Merchant before.  I dutifully studied the synopsis many times over, so as to be able to follow the intricate plot lines.  In the end, I was still shaken by the story and Stratford’s decision to set the tale between the 20th century world wars in Italy, rattled me even more so.  The topic was in no way pleasant for me to absorb, but I admire and respect that the Festival had the courage to stage it.

When you are next in the Toronto GTA, do yourself a favour and make the trek to Stratford.  The culinary scene, artistic community, architecture and natural surroundings, make you proud to be a Canadian and you will save yourself thousands by not having to travel over an ocean, to get a sense of the United Kingdom.

Kath’s quote: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” -William Shakespeare

Love-that is all.

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