NOTL or PEC?
I have a birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, and it's falling on a weekend, so I was thinking about renting a car and taking a couple of friends on a day trip to do some wine tasting/have a nice meal in either NOTL or Prince Edward County. I've visited some wineries in both areas, but haven't done a whole lot in the way of eating, and most of the places I've seen come up as recommendations are a little on the pricey side for this crowd - for instance, I'd have no problem buying myself dinner at Stone Road Grill, but my friends are broke graduate students, will insist on paying my way, and I'd rather go somewhere where I won't feel guilty having dessert or another glass of wine. As a reference point, last year, we went to Beerbistro, and I didn't feel too guilty about that.
I'm kind of leaning towards PEC at the moment, since I haven't spent as much time there, but that means I'm even more lost in terms of deciding where to eat. :)
So, where would you go to have a nice, low-key birthday outing with good food and wine?
Thanks all for your suggestions - I just wanted to report back to let you know how it went. We did, in fact go to PEC - one of the reasons I opted for that area over Niagara is because whenever I visit the latter I seem to get into this manic mode of trying to get to as many places as humanly possible because there are so many wineries packed in so close to each other. I like that PEC has fewer wineries, in little clusters with just enough distance apart to relax and enjoy the scenery. We managed to get to about five, which is more than enough to exhaust my palate for one day anyway. For the most part, the wine was enjoyable (but didn't exactly blow me away - very little Ontario wine does anyway), but the tasting rooms were also basically empty so we were able to relax and chat with the staff at each place, which is always nice. I was fairly impressed with Closson Chase - they only had one wine available for tasting (an oaked Chardonnay) - I'm not sure it was worth the price tag, but it was just a very nice, well-balanced wine for snuggling up with on a chilly night. I'd be inclined to go back when they're not sold out of everything and try some of their other offerings. They only grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which seems wise given the climate. I'd love to see more wineries limit themselves to what they can grow the best, rather than trying to be everything to everybody.
As far as the food goes, we stopped at Currah's for lunch (which, BTW, is significantly cheaper at lunchtime than it is at dinner - just the price range I was looking for). I had the black cod, which was simply prepared and solid. The atmosphere was nice for a gloomy, rainy day as well - cozy, warm, good hospitality from our waitress. I managed to work in a stop at Black River Cheese for a much-needed squeaky curd fix, and we made our way back to the Waring House after all of the wineries closed for the day. There was a hockey bet that needed to be settled (our group consisted of two Leafs fans and two Canucks fans), so we parked ourselves in the Barley Room to watch the game and have a couple of beers from the Barley Days Brewery. Unfortunately, they were out of the dark ale, but I thought the pale ale was quite good. Definitely something I'll add to my rotation for stocking at home.
All in all, it made for a great day trip and a very nice way to celebrate 10 years of drinking legally. :) Thanks for the help, gang!
Both Currah's and Portabella, mentioned above, are decent choices in Prince Edward County, though - if you're price-sensitive - I've found them to be in roughly the same price class as the aforementioned Stone Road Grille in Niagara on the Lake, where the food is somewhat more imaginative. Let me add a third choice in PEC, however, by listing the pub (it's precise name escapes me a the moment) at the Waring House, on the western edge of Picton. It's Picton's version, I suppose, of your esteemed BeerBistro. A lively, friendly, comfortable spot, popular with locals, with a wide-ranging menu, surprisingly good cooking so long as they don't try to get too fancy - and slightly cheaper than the other two PEC restos mentioned. Lots of beers on tap or by the bottle, and a wine list with some affordable selections by the glass or half-liter. Most PEC wines, which are understandably featured in just about every resto in the county, are, I find, startingly priced for the quality on offer, but every joint - mindful that not everyone is a free-spending tourist from Toronto - usually has a few more modest PEC choices that are perfectly drinkable and affordable, even for graduate students.
I have found the wine in PEC to be under whelming. Their viines are just too young. But if wine isn't a huge component for you, PEC is v. nice. I personally would go to NOTL but if you find SRG too exp. try Tony DeLuca's new pizza/pasta joint or the Epicurean on Queen St. Both not exp. And the wines are far superior.
Given the constraints I'd go with PEC. You can even find reasonably priced accommodations there if you decide daytripping, wine tasting, then night driving to be too much for one day.
As for reasonably priced restos you might try either Portabella or Currah's. They're practically across the street from each other so it would take you about a nanosecond to look at both and decide which one your group likes better.