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Moving to St. Catharines -- tips?

So in the new year I'll be picking up my Toronto/Mississauga-based life and moving it all about an hour down the QEW.

I'm not asking about restaurants quite so much as just general food-related questions:

First of all: how is the farmer's market? I'm not expecting SLM by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll be right near downtown and I'm really hoping there are some finds to be found there.
In that vein, are there any other hidden gems, grocery-wise, in the downtown area? Any places that consistently have good produce? Any specific place that has nice meat?

There is that monstrous Loblaws Superultramegajumbostore in the superultramegajumbocomplex across the 406, but if there's something better, perhaps an unassuming-looking little store that I wouldn't otherwise notice, I'd love to know about it...

Oh, and... I have this incurable addiction to Vietnamese food. Hoping against hope that I'll have some source for it in the St. Kitts area (I also won't have a car, so that makes travel even more painful...) Any good pho, bun, maybe some nice Chao Tom... *drools*

Thanks in advance. :)

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  1. Oh dear. Poor you.

    Mai Vi and Pho Dau Bo are your go-to places for Viet. Go with low expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised with a dish or two.

    There's also an interesting pan-asian-middle-eastern grocery store beside the mosque on Geneva St. near Welland Ave. next to Pho Dau Bo.

    You will have to be a trailblazer and try out everything you can find within walking distance of your home and then report back.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Food Tourist

      Is you were moving there in the early eighties, you could eat at a good Swiss Restaurant that was about a minute walk from the courthouse. I doubt it's still there, it was called "Heidi".

      1. re: foodyDudey

        Agree with you foodyDudey - Heidi's was great - unfortunately it has closed. Miss the lemon dill shrimps and scallop dish that they had....yum.
        The market - open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday - is great considering the size. They have honey, cheese, chickens, produce, home-made dog biscuits (my dog was very happy this morning), a bakery where a fellow makes his own bagels, fresh flowers, plants etc etc. There's also a booth with home-made chocolates too.
        Antipasto's off Martindale Road is great for home-made italian food, deli, meats etc. They have a hot table for take away, or frozen for you to heat up/bake at home. The lasagna is great.
        Big Marco's, Pow Wow are great for reasonably priced food - Treadwell's in Port Dalhousie for higher end. Wellington Cafe gets good reviews although I've never been. Cat's Caboose in Glenridge Plaza is a local favourite for wings and other pub food.

        1. re: thebutcher

          Great deal at market -- unpasteurized local honey in a bear-shaped bottle, only $4.

          Also yummy authentic hummus and zaatar pita at the middle eastern stand.

    2. Oh my! My recommendation for Vietnamese would be to drive to Hamilton. However, without a car.... Good luck! St. Catharines has a few good restaurants but with the current economic downturn, these are becoming fewer and fewer. I recently drove through downtown St. Kitts and was shocked to see the number of boarded up shops on St. Paul Street. Downtown is becoming a ghost town similar to downtown Brantford or Hamilton's Lister Block. Good luck with your search... you'll need it.

      1. Thanks very much! I figured I might be hoping for too much re: the Vietnamese food, but I'll make sure to take one for the team and try everything I can find -- maybe there'll be a diamond in the (really) rough somewhere!

        Great to know about that grocery store, too -- that's the kind of place that I'd hope would cover some of the more unusual ingredients (that SuperultramegajumboLoblaws wouldn't have.)

        Agreed that downtown is rather sad to walk through... seems like at attempt at "revitalization" is in progress but Lord knows how much good it'll do, when people can buy damn near everything they'd ever need in that big mall.
        The death of the small-town downtown is a painful thing... :/

        3 Replies
        1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

          Downtown has been dying for 20 years but there are still gems going strong. I have always wanted to try Amakara (Japanese restaurant) and would return to Spicy Thai, Touch of India and Sahla Thai to see if they are still decent. Pow Wow and Mon Bijou are also worth checking out. The trick is to go in with low expectations and try to find out what the chef does best NOT what's most popular on the menu.

          1. re: Food Tourist

            Touch of India lives up to its name. (It's watered down.) Too bad Taste of Bombay was closed last weekend. Touch was really crowded - every table was taken at prime time on Saturday night - so food took forever to arrive.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              My parents are really frustrated with the service at Taste of Bombay -- they actually walked out last Friday after being told several menu items were unavailable (fried fish and mustard greens), and that they couldn't make a paratha because they were too busy with the take-out orders.

        2. Thanks!

          Any recs on general groceries (I'm thinking meat and produce mostly) -- how is the farmer's market?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

            My parents recommend Pilgrim Meats for local and organic high-end meats, Oriental Food Mart on St. Paul Street; Taste of Bombay on Court Street for most authentic Indian food (no liquor licence) instead of the two on St. Paul Street which tend to be blander; and Dinh Dinh asian market beside Pho Dau Bo (one block away from the mosque middle eastern shop). They also like The Office (same chef as Pow Wow) and Stella's on James St. -- great lunch specials.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              i dont know if i would consider Pilgrims at all "High-End"...Drug Free Meat is their thing...not organic per-se. Better than Zhers but not in the Sanagans/Heathly Butcher realm (Toronto). they stock the basics, beef, chicken, pork, turkey. I have NEVER seen lamb, or any other poutry.

              1. re: Food Tourist

                I wanted to check out Zam Zam grocery on Geneva Street near Church Street but didn't get a chance - their sign advertises Bulgarian cheese.

            2. I lived there 8 years ago as a student, also didn't have a car which is a pain to get to anywhere since buses aren't that frequent.

              Back when I was there, there's only one Asian grocery store, should be the same one other people mentioned.

              The only restaurant we students like to go to is Fresco's, they have roast beef sundays and big bowls of caeser salad... it was better than the cafeteria stuff.

              1. Thanks, everybody! I'm really looking forward to the market most of all -- and very, very glad to know my options in terms of non-big-box grocery options. Looking forward to guinea-pigging some of the Vietnamese options, too (though I think I'll make sure to go have one more Toronto pho feast before the final move. ;) )

                1. My mother lives in St. Catharines, so I'm there periodically, and have a few ideas that might strike your fancy. I haven't found much of note downtown, as others said, and also haven't really found much in the way of restaurants that I'd recommend. However, as you probably know, you'll be close to lots and lots of wineries and farmers in the area. Especially in the summer, you'll find decent and fun food and drink in and around the wineries.

                  Also, there's all kinds of good local produce to be found at the market, or even just at the farm stands themselves during the growing season. Beyond that, you probably know about the Olson's store in St. Davids. They've got lots of interesting stuff there, and both Anna and Michael are around from time to time, and they could give you lots of good recommendations for places to go in the area.

                  On this topic - my mother's knives are desperately dull, and we don't know of any good knife sharpeners in St. Catharines - can anyone help us out? Thanks!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: meathead2

                    Thanks for the tips! Great to know about the knife sharpeners, too.

                    You're right about the stigma -- every time I tell someone I'm moving down there, I get one of two responses: either a grimace and a "Why?" (rather unenlightened of them!) or their face lights up and they go "Oh man! St. Kitts! Party town! Haha, I remember this one time..."

                    Leaves me quite unsure of what exactly to expect. ;)

                  2. Can anyone recommend a cheap to reasonably priced breakfast/brunch place on a Saturday? Doesn't have to be anything fancy as long as the food is satisfying and good value for what's paid.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LTL

                      The Fortis on Queenston Street is well known. It is typical diner fare.

                      1. re: LTL

                        Oh man my favorite greasy spoon breakfast place is the Lancer on Hartzel Rd. I miss this place so much. Could never find a place that does potatoes as well in Toronto and for at that price. (must stop drooling as I type about this)

                      2. Well maybe I am somewhat biased because I live in St. Catharines but I don't think the situation is as bleak as others are making it out to be! Yes the downtown is in desperate need of a makeover but there are still some great places to eat (and yes I have traveled and eaten outside of this region so I do have something to compare to!).

                        I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the market. No it isn't the SLM but there is a good variety and the product is consistently good.

                        Since you are living downtown I will mention some of the places there that are worth trying.

                        You mention you like Vietnamese, Mai Vi is the best in the area. I don't believe you have to go in with lowered expectations either, the food there is consistently fresh, hot and very tasty. I would easily recommend that restaurant to anyone. The pho is also very good.

                        There is also "Toi" on Queen St. It is owned by the same person as Mai Vi but it is more of an asian tapas places. Presentation was good, food also tasty.

                        The Spotted Calf on King (across from Market Square) is also worth trying. More of a bistro with a good chef and ever changing menu. They make use of the market across the street for most ingredients and everything is made in house.

                        Amakara Japanese on Geneva is great.

                        Carlos Cantina on St. Paul is good for comfort mexican. Not necessarily mind blowing but again, most things are home made.

                        Others have mentioned Wellington Court, been around a long time, always popular.

                        Sahla Thai (St. Paul St.) and Spicy Thai (Queen St.) are both fine although nothing exceptional on the menu.

                        There is a new thai place on Queenston St. near the hospital, Chang Noi's. Haven't tried it yet but heard it is pretty good.

                        There are a few others downtown as well but I haven't tried them so don't want to comment. Hopefully with the new arts centre that is being built things will start to pick up.

                        Without a car your shopping options are pretty limited as the transit in this area is terrible but in Fonthill there is a Mennonite butcher called "The Good Shepherd". Meat is all drug free and quality is great. The people that own it are exceptional and they are constantly cooking product for you to sample. If you go they only take cash. There is also Lakeland Game Meats on St. Paul St. West. If you are looking for anything unusual she usually has it or can get it but she also has beef, chicken and pork. Only place in the area I have found Berkshire pork. It is open Tues-Sat from 12-5.

                        As I am writing this more and more places are popping into my head but that should get you started (haven't even touched on the wineries!). I'm the first to admit the city looks pretty terrible right now, and that at first glance you might be wondering what you got yourself into, but the region really does have a lot to offer if you can get past the boarded up places downtown!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: frais

                          Thanks so much for the well-thought-out post! I'm in the process of moving right now and I'm definitely excited to try as many of these places as my budget allows. I'm pretty psyched to be exploring a new city and hopefully landing on a few hidden gems. :)

                          1. re: frais

                            I grew up in St. Catharines and still visit frequently. There's lots of good food to eat!

                            I do most of my shopping at Farmer's Barn and at Whitty's in the summer (this place is really terrific! Try the pies). In the summer I often sneak in a few extra visits so I can buy the terrific fresh produce available at these places.

                            I agree with a lot of the restaurant ideas, but I'll add my two cents - especially because you'll be downtown and this will be a quick walk. Strega is great for healthy and interesting italian style food. The menu is a bit limited in that they have only sandwiches, soups, salads and pasta, but they are all really good and well priced. The spotted calf and pow wow are other downtown favourites mentioned by other people. I also think that the pad thai at Spicy thai is better than what you get at most places in Toronto (no horrible ketchup sauce here!). Bansaree for Indian food and Vaughns for middle eastern are also great. Vaughns is CHEAP too.

                            Once you find your way around, you'll see there's a lot of terrific food to enjoy. Good luck with your move!

                            1. re: frais

                              Noticed Chang Noi yesterday driving along Queenston...their huge sign reads "Authentic Thai" so that must mean: a) it's not, or b) we all need to rush over there and try it and report back asap!


                              1. re: Food Tourist

                                Been meaning to go there forever and finally did today -- really great stuff. Everything we had -- salad rolls, papaya salad, panang curry, tom yum and pad Thai -- was fantastic -- but the tom yum and pad Thai were particularly good (had the "authentic" versions of both (as opposed to the other ones on the menu that aren't designated as such... I assume the others are more "americanized" versions.) A world of difference from the commercialized pad Thai that's so pervasive.

                                Highly recommended!

                                1. re: Food Tourist

                                  Went last week. BLAND. Reviewed it on Urbanspoon. The "cashew chicken" was more like orange chicken. Everything was so flavourless.

                                  1. re: Mama_B

                                    I completely agree with the poor review of Chang Noi. We got $100 worth of takeout and ate it immediately, and hated every single dish! Such a waste of money. Tasteless, boring, below mediocre quality.

                                2. Couple of comments about the market in St. Catharines. I actually think that it is pretty decent. There is a butcher from Fort Erie that offers great meat (although not cheap I always found worth it) Don't remember the name of the place but the owner/butcher guy is named Chris. Try the flatten chicken and the sausages.

                                  I actually like going to the St. Catharines market better then the SLM. I know that the SLM is huge and has more variety. But I find that in St. Catharines you are getting real farmers selling their own product. I feel as though SLM is just a bunch of shops set up under one roof, where in St.Catharines you are getting local farmers and vendors selling their own product all set up under one roof.

                                  I have been out of the city for a few years and think that you have a lot of great suggestions. Given that you are downtown I will point out that Helen's Deli on James St. has great pre-made food. Strongly recommend the pierogies and the cabbage rolls.

                                  My last hidden secret is not downtown but if you end up with a drive go to Preston Pies for some awesome Scottish Meat pies. I lived in Glasgow for 6 months and could not find a meat pie there that compared to this place. They make them as small individual pies or larger pies that would be 4 servings.

                                  1. Can anyone suggest a good place in St. Catharines, or the area, to buy sushi grade salmon? (Not actually for sushi, but for gravlax - it just has to be decent, and safe to have raw.)


                                    1. Interesting article in today's Standard newspaper about the relative absence of "eating/buying local" among Niagara residents.

                                      Discovered an authentic hole-in-the-wall Colombian eatery at 120 Lake Street called La Cocina de Mama -- arepas, empanadas, chicharron, bunuelos, soups, full meals, etc. Walkable from downtown and tasty food!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Food Tourist

                                        Wow - I'll have to check that out next time I'm in town.

                                        Any takers for the salmon question? Thanks!

                                        1. re: trombasteve

                                          There is a seafood store on st. paul st, on the north side, just past the DT core. Small store front and the name escapes me but they supply restaurants as well as retail.

                                          1. re: meathead2

                                            I think the place you are referring to is Tony's Fish Market. Personally I have never been there but it has been open for as long as I can remember.

                                        2. re: Food Tourist

                                          Hey, I walk past there on the way to the laundromat. I was never sure if it was even open. I know where I'm headed next time I'm waiting for my wash to dry!

                                        3. It's all about the Merchant Ale House. Purveyors of decent pub fare, decent micro-brew and a lively crowd, 6 nights a week.

                                          Merchant Ale House
                                          98 St Paul St, St Catharines, ON L2R3M2, CA

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: magni

                                            We treat the Merc as our "local" - great staff, decent food (pressbox is high on the list along with scallion oil pizza with hot peppers), and some interesting beers (i.e. Scotch ale). Highly recommended. Orginally from Montreal I did need some time to find my way around, but a decent meal is not that difficult to find in St. Kits. The downtown does, however, need some work. The Wine Bar on St. Paul Street are also worth the visit

                                          2. My husband and I just moved to St. Catharines and this post has been super helpful! We were last in Halifax, and before that Ottawa, so we have been spoiled with great markets and restaurants.

                                            A few questions left unanswered: Best bakery for bread on Non-Market Days?? Best Chinese? Sushi?

                                            Thanks All!!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Melonbobber

                                              Chinese: Legend, at St. Paul West and Pelham. I've never been, but I've heard good things from people who know their food. regarding the dim sum specifically; don't know about anything else.
                                              Sushi: East, on King, seems to be well-liked but again, I've never been. Would avoid the AYCE place by the bus station.

                                              1. re: Melonbobber

                                                Sushi: Amakara is my hands down favourite. It's not the fanciest of places but the food is authentic (it was suggested to me by Japanese professor at the local university) and the Japanese family that owns it is always makes you feel very welcome. It's not AYCE, though.

                                                For a more modern sushi experience, East and Sushi Jade are a little more typical. Pretty standard fare though, it's enough to satisfy your sushi craving but nothing on par with what you can get in Toronto.

                                                Sushi Jade
                                                219 St Paul St, St Catharines, ON L2R3M6, CA

                                              2. La Cocina di Mama on Lake seems to have closed -- or else closed and reopened, rebranded -- while I was away this summer. Sad, I never got a chance to stop for an empanada.
                                                Was empty a couple weeks ago when I was driving by, then went by today and lo and behold, there was something there, with the words "Latino" and "take-out" prominently on the windows. Didn't get a chance to notice anything else. I'll stop in next time I'm in the neighbourhood, see what's what.

                                                New bakery, Brownie Delights, on Church. Had a soft opening last Friday, then probably saw a pretty slow first week, as the whole street was torn up and full of backhoes and pieces of water main. Had a cupcake the other day; icing was great, cake part was just okay; I'm definitely going to give them another chance, though. I hear the brownies are great (as they should be with a name like that.)

                                                In less interesting news, the newish Freshco on Ontario is better than the Price Chopper that was there before, for whatever that's worth.