Manitoulin Island recommendations?
I'll be heading up to Manitoulin Island with three other friends for the long weekend. Any recommendations on hidden foodie gems? We'll be driving all around the island, and I'm interested in any places for homestyle baked goods, fresh fish dishes and anything that might be unique to the Island. Thanks.
I've got to be honest: I found slim pickings on Manitoulin Island, which was a real disappointment. I expected to find farmer's markets and cafes and I mainly found chip wagons and not much else. People explained that most visitors dine at their resort or do cookouts at their campgrounds, so there's not much need for restaurants.
For me, it was not a foodie paradise: I hope others have had different experiences.
Excellent homemade blueberry pie not long after you get off the ferry. Food not bad either:
I believe we've found two cute independent cafes further north on our trips to Manitoulin - nothing so special that I would research where & tell you to seek them out, but they do exist. Have also had a decent whitefish meal right near the ferry terminal. There are virtually no chains and lots of local fish. So while it is certainly not a foodie paradise, if you keep your expectations reasonable there is hope.
The best food thing about Manitoulin Island is that you can get Farquhar's ice cream there! It's fantastic stuff.
If you're going up this weekend you'll also want to get your fill of fresh wild blueberries, which are in season. Don't hesitate to buy from the folks you'll find parked at the side of the highway with baskets of berries on their trunks (well, check the berries and makes sure they're not wet and/or overripe). Blueberry pie, blueberry muffin, blueberries and ice cream, blueberry soup, blueberries on their own...
UPDATE: Here's an update from my weekend trip to Manitoulin.
The Chi-Cheemaun ferry serves cafeteria style food which is surprisingly tasty, although nothing special. There is whitefish, chicken/beef pot pies, soup, burgers, tarts, etc - all the usual that you'd expect to find in a cafeteria. I was on a quest to find some good butter tarts and started right on the ferry ride over. The tarts were passable but not up to snuff.
Saturday morning (and the next 2 mornings) we had breakfast at the Timberlane Rustic Lodge where we were staying. The homemade blueberry muffins and cinnamon buns were absolutely delicious. The cook has apparently been at the resort for 15 years, and I hope she releases a recipebook! The rest of the breakfast is your standard choice of eggs, breakfast meats, pancakes, yogurt etc - all served a la carte.
The Civic holiday long weekend is when the annual Wikwemikong pow wow is held, so it is an excellent opportunity to try some native Indian food such as salted pork, Indian tacos, corn soup and scones. The heavens opened up and the angels sang when I stumbled upon a little stall with baked goods and tried the butter tart. Light shortbread-like pastry, toasted top, filling that oozed out with the surprise of a few raisins. Excellent! Best butter tart I have ever had.
Saturday dinner was at Garden's Gate Restaurant (thanks jules)- on highway 542 just off hwy 6. The meal was a slow start; our waitress didn't tell us about the daily specials and didn't take our drink orders, the dinner rolls were cold in the middle - obviously had been microwaved, and the "dill flavoured margarine" was bland. My understanding is that they are catering to vegans by not putting dairy products in the common dishes, but I'm sure there's a more creative and tasty solution that the cook could try.
All entrees come with soup or salad, potatoes or risotto cakes, and veges. Yes - risotto cakes. Indeed, I was wondering what they were too. Turns out, it is risotto formed into a latke shape and lightly fried. The whitefish, salmon and chicken schnitzel dishes that we had were all excellent. The Whitefish was perfectly seasoned (12+ ingredients apparently) and lightly grilled to perfection. The fish was accompanied by yellow string beans topped with a vinegrette and giant snow peas.
To finish off the meal we had 3 desserts chosen from the dessert display at the front of the restaurant. It was very hard to choose from all the tempting selections, but we narrowed it down to a chocolate cheesecake, orange and pineapple cheesecake, and key lime pie. The key lime pie was the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness although the graham crust had too much butter/margarine and turned out oily. The orange pineapple cheesecake was light and fluffy. The pastry chef is definitely the star of the house. In fact, I'd go back just for the desserts. There is also a good selection of loose leaf teas and organic coffee.
The second dinner this weekend was at Carol's and Earl's Restaurant on highway 6 just 2 mins from the ferry in South Baymouth. It's an old-school style diner that boasts home cooked meals, and Earl was keen to point out to us that he used to be a butcher and he makes the burgers etc himself. We started with the hearty Chicken noodle soup - filled with chunks of real chicken and carrots. That was the highlight of the meal. When the hot roast beef sandwiches came out, AK said "Is this roast beef? It doesn't look like beef". MS took a few bites and said "its like hospitable food....its not inedible". In a town with only 2 restaurants and 2 takeout places, I would have expected higher quality. Enough said.
On Monday we sampled a few treats. First was ice cream made right on the Island by local creamery Farquhar's. There's a location in the main intersection in Mindemoya, and it is also sold in other restaurants/convenience stores around the Island. The milkshakes have 4 scoops of ice cream, and the single servings would be a triple anywhere else! Mainly regular flavours, and very creamy.
A block to the north on hwy 551 is Mum's Restaurant and Bakery. There is a display case of baked goods at the front of the restaurant. The carrot cake, chocolate cake and butter tart were good. I'd recommend grabbing some treats from there if you want to picnic on the Island.
Our final meal was at the takeout joing right across from the ferry - I can't remember the name of it. It's an unassuming place with just a takeout window and a few patio benches, but the food is superior to what you might expect. We got delicious meatball subs with seemingly homemade meatballs and a healthy dose of veges. Folks around us loved the pizzas. Along with subs and pizzas, they also serve fries and hot dogs.
So I agree with brendastarlet that there are slim pickings for good food on the island. However, if you do find yourself there, then aim to try the island specialties: raisin tarts/pies, native Indian food, hawberries and whitefish.
I think I am taking it personally that you didn't have blueberry pie at the Garden Gate ;) Glad you enjoyed your meal all the same. I hadn't remembered they served margerine but they should at least offer a choice. How were the risotto cakes?
I forgot about the ferry food, which as you say is suprisingly decent, and cheap too...I think I had cabbage rolls, real mashed potatoes and corn (frozen) for $7.95. And the fact they have whitefish is great. The staff were also very helpful & pleasant, offering to carry my extra tray.
In general I agree it is best to modify one's big city expectations, but good simple food can be had, perhaps better than on the Bruce Peninsula where it can be hard to find wild blueberries or whitefish (I mean after 5 years' cottaging I know where to get it, but it's sadly in short supply at the restaurants in Wiarton, Sauble, etc).
Glad you had fun on the island.
Had I seen this sooner I would have directed you to Farquhar's and the Wiki (as its known to Northerners) pow wow as well. In my opinion, nothing tops Farquhar's ice cream (except Haagen Dazs). Too bad we can't get it here in TO.
The butter tarts are also the best-glad you enjoyed and experienced what many people here in TO do not. Butter tarts and a pow wow. Good times.
I'm sorry I didn't get to this before your weekend away, but it sounds like you did mostly okay! My parents live on the island, and my Mom is an excellent cook, so I will pass on her recommendations.
Unfortunately my absolute favourite restaurant on the island is closed this summer; the Rocky Raccoon Cafe in Gore Bay. They also had locations in Dyers Bay and Wiarton, but I think none of them are open now.
The Little School House restaurant in Providence Bay is excellent - I believe it's listed in "Where to Eat in Canada". I've also heard good things about the restaurant at the inn in Meldrum Bay, although I haven't eaten there myself.
We only ate at Abby's in May 2012 as all our meals were at our centre in Espanola. Abby's did a banquet buffet style lunch with corn soup, venison stew, bannock and bread pudding. It looks like a wedding venue banquet hall (small) so I'm sure they are used to catering to group events. Overall the food was quite good and tasty, the corn soup was best and the amount of food was generous.
re: Food Tourist
Funny, I just got back from the island yesterday, and I heard that the owner of Abby's unfortunately suffered a heart attack recently. Not sure what that means for the restaurant.
As for Rocky Raccoon, not that we've discussed it since 2008... it opened up again this summer (2012) just south of Tobermory, but my mother went and said it's terrible compared to the "good old days" in Gore Bay.
I have to plug the School House restaurant in Providence Bay again; I ate there this summer and it was a highlight of my trip. I also ate at the Garden's Gate last fall but didn't really enjoy it. The fish was good but the side dishes were definitely nowhere near Chowish.
From a family member who frequents the island and whos palate I trust :-)
We found a place called the “Happy Moose” located in the town of Mindemoya, which is basically at the heart of the island.
It’s a cute little Ma & Pa kind of place that had some inside seating as well as plenty of picnic tables on the outside.
It had a surprisingly extensive menu; burgers, sausages, perogies, schnitzels, pizza, donairs, salads, many things.
My wife and I ordered their schnitzel specials while our kids ordered a pizza to share between them.
The taste and quality of the food was really good and the portions were definitely larger than average.
We saw some of the things that other people were ordering and it looked really good as well.
If you’re planning to eat on the island this should definitely be on your list.
It’s located on Hwy 551, on the north side of this little town (right by the Manitoulin Inn and Mindemoya Hospital).
Brief report from my latest trip...
Anchor Inn in Little Current. Seemed to be the only place serving dinner past 7pm on a Friday, and therefore very busy and slow. Waited half an hour for grilled cheese sandwiches and whitefish tacos. My expectations were not high for the tacos (just hoping for decent fish and veg, not authentic flavours) but the fish nuggets seemed to be mostly batter and were overdone. The promised cilantro was missing. Nice garden salads, standard commercial dressing options.
Went to the little weekly farmer's market the next morning - not much actual produce, good baked goods and preserves that included some local & wild ingredients.
Tried the meatball sub and pizza by the South Baymouth Ferry. Very salty, no veg, not impressive... but hot and filling when you're stuck in the ferry lineup.
Farquhar's ice cream - I think local products are always worth a try so have at it, but the flavours didn't do it for me - basic quality.
I notice the ferry no longer serves white fish dinner.