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Jul 10, 2011 12:24 PM

General Chowhounding tips for rural Ontario

This is inspired by the recent threads by a visitor to Ontario and of course, all the seasonal cottage country threads.

I am wondering what general "tips" people have for chowhounding outside of Toronto, other major urban centres and foodie places like Niagara/PEC. I think some of this stuff is specific to Ontario, with our sparse population, short growing season and perhaps a lack of food traditions. I'll share a few of mine:

- if there is a local bakery, stop in and see what slightly unusual items they have, and/or what the locals are ordering. Case in point, the chop suey buns at the bakery in Thornbury and the Chelsea Bun at the bakery in Southhampton. Not things I would normally order in Toronto but very good here. Other more common items are just okay.
- The locals don't necessarily have good recs. I don't think this reflects bad taste necessarily, I just don't think the bar is very high. People don't go out for great salads or pie or local meat... they go out to get stuff they don't make at home, like french fries.
- Don't expect local produce at the big grocery chains. Again, I think the locals are more likely to have their own gardens or friends who garden. Farmer's markets are popping up everywhere and of course, look for roadside stands.
- Anything that raises the bar even slightly over the standard frozen fries/burgers menu is likely to be a little pricey by Toronto standards
- If you see local fish on the menu, try it! Personally I'm a fan of whitefish and it shows up on surprisingly few menus, so when I see it I always get it.

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  1. Nice list of tips, julesrules.

    I recommend both fresh and smoked local whitefish if you see it, as well as local pickerel and yellow perch. I don't bother ordering meat or chicken if I see Lake Erie perch, or Lake Huron Pickerel or Whitefish on the menu. Some lakeside towns have small fish stores near the town marina, that sell freshly caught fish, as well as smoked fish.

    I don't order seafood (shrimp, etc.) when I'm in rural parts. Better to stick with the lakefish when you're outside the city.

    Ditto on seeking out the small town baked goods. I keep my eyes open for butter tarts, chelsea buns, date turnovers + hermits. Some bakeries don't seem to be taking the time to taste their nuts for freshness before baking, and some bakeries sell recently-baked-but-previously-frozen baked goods to keep costs down, so I've been leaning more towards butter tarts without nuts, and other nut-free baked goods, if I'm not familiar with the bakery.

    I also seek out local orchards. Some orchards have retail shops selling their fruit and local fruit from other orchards, as well as ON peanuts, vinegars, honey, etc.

    1. This timely for me as I am in the process of moving to southwestern Ontario.

      The roadside stands are truly worth stopping for: fresh plucked vegs., pies, herbs and eggs often on the honor -pay system.

      I went to a pig roast on July 1st, and I believe these occur regularly every year by invitation or local advertising.
      The sides were pedestrian, but the pulled pork and crispy skin was not to be missed!

      The locals, including restaurants, stock up on freezers full of beef, pork, chicken, lamb etc. they purchase locally. The meat is cut up farmer style, and often not what an urban dweller wants: 0.5" thin cut chops and steaks, lots of sausage and 'hamburg', and no mention of pork belly, hanger steak, brisket, jowls, flank, shanks, skirt steak, or oxtail. The local supermarkets will reflect this, at least where I am going.

      The local Real Canadian Superstore (Strathroy) has the same same fresh fish selection as an urban Loblaw, but you have to watch freshness carefully.

      There are Costco's in London, Kitchener and Windsor, and I'll use them as necessary.

      Purdy's fishery supplies some local marts; maybe the Wheatley or Kingsville fisheries do the same.

      I'm looking forward to buying flour at Arva flourmills, same source as Thuet.

      Fresh cherries are on now, along with raspberries. Peaches, corn, and tomatoes still to come, but amazing at a roadside source.

      From what I remember growing up, it is wise to go to church suppers or fundraisers, especially for the home baked pies!

      1 Reply
      1. re: jayt90

        By the way, jayt90, some Arva Flourmills flours are also sold at Remark Fresh Market, at the corner of Oxford St W and Hyde Park Road in London.

        If you happen to be driving past St. Mary's, McCully's sells frozen local meats and some produce.

        Crunican's near Elginfield (on Hwy 4, south of Hwy 7) will re-open at the end of August when their first apples are ready. They also stock dried cherries from Vineland Station, Wellesley juices, honey, maple syrup, jams, jellies and other ON products.