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Jul 26, 2012 07:02 AM

Bruce Penninsula, Manitoulin Island eats

Two of us will be doing a drive up the eastern shore of Lake Huron in October--Sarnia to the Canadian Soo.

Would appreciate recs of any unique or "must dine" restaurants along the drive.

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  1. Before you drop off the first page I will attempt to contribute something :)
    There was a recent thread for the Sarnia-Goderich area. I personally know the Peninsula and Manitoulin better. The only "must-eat" in my mind is the local whitefish. On Manitoulin it is everywhere, on the Peninsula most restaurants outside Tobermory don't serve it (to my consternation!). You can buy it to cook yourself at Howell's in Wiarton, and they serve it at Red Fish Blue Fish, an OK fish and chips place in Wiarton, and at the Lion's Head Inn Pub (not a great restaurant, but pretty much the only restaurant between Wiarton and Tobermory, and has enough charm that we return annually). On Manitoulin, I like the Garden's Gate.
    Other than the whitefish, this area is more about finding something decent than "must-eats". Old threads are worth checking out because things don't change very quickly.
    I'd personally like to hear from anyone who has tried Rocky Raccoon's new location in Sauble Beach.
    Do you know where you will be stopping?

    4 Replies
    1. re: julesrules

      Thank you for your reply jules. I was planning to gage our stops based on feedback I received. We both really like Whitefish, so we'd look forward to a lunch or dinner with that as a focus. We're not foodies, so tavern fare suits us just fine. Given that we'll be spending part of one day and a night on the Peninsula or Manitoulin Island we will probably like to visit no more than three dining spots.

      1. re: RedTop

        Pie tends to be pretty good in Bruce County.

        There's a recent Tobermory thread, which you might find useful.

        1. re: RedTop

          I like Garden's Gate better than any restaurant on the Peninsula. More details in the Manitoulin thread appearing as suggested reading on the top right of this page.
          Accommodations are somewhat sparse in the area too (a lot of places on Manitoulin are weekly rentals) so you might want to nail that down, along with your ferry crossing time, before deciding where to eat - given that food is not a top attraction in this area. I'm not a huge food snob either, all I look for in the area is local fish and something other than food service fries, and the pickings are still pretty slim. We like pubs too, but I wouldn't choose to eat Lion's Head Inn food in Toronto and yet it gets "favourite" status at the cottage.

        2. re: julesrules

          We visit the Bruce a couple of times a year. We stay at motel just north of Mar. We always take our campstove and cook our own whitefish on a picnic table. We just got back yesterday and because of the rain (can't cook outside in a rainstorm) we ended up with a Pizza Pizza in Sauble Beach. Didn't see Rocky Racoons. The mass food chain outlets dominate with their lowest acceptable average corporate food. Still when you're looking forward to no supper, most anything is edible. We planned to buy whitefish from Howell's on the trip back to Toronto but they were out of stock because the weather was too bad for the boats to go out. The Wiarton Inn cooks an English style fish & chips with an excellent light batter, but it's not whitefish. Whitefish is on the menu at a higher price and not deep fried. Chips are frozen foodservice. Their patio is comfortable when the weather is good.
          Local cheese can be found at the Pine River factory in Port Elgin. At the Lion's Head Inn you could try the locally raised, fully grassfed bison burger, but since it's frozen you need some luck from the kitchen for it to be appropriately cooked. North of Ferndale is an organic bakery worth checking out. I think it's Thursdays when they make a delicious savoury flatbread treat.
          And one of my best junk foods can be found in Tobermory, beaver tails. But in general, the area is not a food destination.
          Also keep in mind that a trip in October may find some of the busy summer businesses closed down, or running short hours, for the season.

        3. Oh there is something new & relatively notable in the area. We bought a caramel apple pie at Rachel's Bakery in Lion's Head. It was not cheap, but good, and I would go back to try the (limited) cafe menu. Some reviews here:

          9 Replies
          1. re: julesrules

            2013 report:
            Had lunch at Rachel's in Lion's Head this year, can only recommend for pie and coffee unfortunately. Very meh lunch menu and the kind of place that is so sleepy they can forget an order when they have two tables and two staff.
            Also, and this makes me sad, Smoking Gun is having serious service/crowd issues. I don't quite get this because they always seemed to manage the crowd in the past, but we waited over an hour for food (had a reservation even!) last night, and couldn't get beer refills or garlic bread ordered as an app to tide us over. On another night people were waiting to be greeted/seated for 15 minutes (we just went elsewhere). They clearly have more tables than they can manage but I feel they've just given up and aren't even trying. Also the "BBQ" ribs were bad and biscuit on the side terrible. I probably won't go back.
            Wiarton Inn (where we went when Smoking Gun was too busy) has decent homemade pie, mains just OK but actually better than I expected, a slightky more extensive dinner menu than just the pub food that you usually get in the area.

            1. re: julesrules

              I am glad I skipped out on Smoking Gun when I was in Sauble then. I hadn't heard anything about it but recent reviews on Yelp type sites (maybe it was Urbanspoon) were bad so I figured it was worth a skip.

              1. re: ylsf

                When I visit an area for food, I want what's special for that area. Ribs are really not a Bruce specialty. But whitefish is! That's what I seek out even if I have to cook it myself.

                1. re: OldEater

                  And they actually do whitefish very well at smoking Gun - but I already had it 3 times this trip and decided to try something else.

                  1. re: julesrules

                    If I can get someone to look after the husky (don't like leaving her in a car) then I'll give them a try. How was your whitefish cooked? Fried, steamed, baked, griddled? Maybe takeout might work for us.

                    1. re: OldEater

                      At Smoking Gun they do it sort of like old school diner 'Trout Amandine" IYKWIM - it is lightly floured, pan fried, topped with slivered almonds and melted butter pan sauce. You can get half or whole filet and they are generous.
                      Smoking Gun generally does old school diner food the best, IMHO. They are not a BBQ.

              2. re: julesrules

                I was nastyman. I always look at Smoking Gun when I pass by - love the name, but never ventured in yet. On a mild evening I do enjoy the Wiarton Inn back patio (with the husky of course). I usually have fish & chips, sometimes whitefish and sometimes English style ocean fish. Always enjoyable. I take my old propane stove on trips to the Bruce and cook fresh whitefish for at least one supper. There are free range eggs to be found off the main highway, free artesian water (details on request), roadside farmer style supermarkets that have excellent local fruit & meat. There's also a great 'hippie' style organic bakery (Harvest Moon) on Hwy 6 about half way between Wiarton & Tobermory Love their butter tarts but not cheap!
                The area is more of a DIY destination than fine dining.

                1. re: OldEater

                  Would definitely be interested in the water source that you mention above :)

                  1. re: ylsf

                    The spring is at the centre of this google map. There's a small public park & beach too. Just zoom out to see the route in. Take your own water containers. The lake is good for swimming since it warms up faster than the big Lake Huron beaches.

            2. Have read the Tobermory thread. I guess at this point I'm a bit surprized at the small number of dining choices on the Peninsula and on the Island..

              3 Replies
              1. re: RedTop

                So are the locals apparently...
                He pretty much nails it.
                Found this while looking around for recent reviews of Smoking Gun BBQ, which is north of Sauble. I went several times their first season, 2 years ago. They had a (gun-shaped) BBQ, but were not smoking anything that year. Not sure about now. They served quite decent old school diner food - they did a really nice job of the whitefish, served sort of "amandine", and their breakfast meats were a cut above average. But some items, like the chicken wings, were almost definitely food service. The following year I heard they were still good but had raised their prices, which were too good to be true. Atmosphere is somewhat lacking as they took over a store with windows on one wall only overlooking the parking lot, but they tried their best inside with some nice woodwork. It is worth a try for people staying in the area, but not a destination.

                1. re: julesrules

                  Passed by it a few times over the last month. Looked interesting, so thanks for the updates. We travel with a husky so often have trouble eating inside a restaurant. We always look for a dog friendly patio so we don't have to leave the dog in the car - not a good idea in the summer. We often end up at the Wiarton Inn where they have a private patio in the back where dogs are welcome. I hope I don't get them into trouble for mentioning that.

                  1. re: nastyman

                    I went back to Smoking Gun BBQ this summer and it is still quite good. In fact I wish a place like this (basic diner food but done well) existed closer to home. $13.95 for a generous half filet of white fish with baked potato, coleslaw, nice side garden salad made me very happy. Veggie stir fry seems expensive at over $10 for veggies & rice but it was huge and beautiful with great-looking veggies: the friend who ordered it for his kid was new to the restaurant and actually said "wow" when it arrived. They did have a smoker special that night, baby back ribs, but we saw some go by and they just weren't appealing for some reason (and it's odd my hubby or I would pass up ribs).
                    Again, not everything is as fresh and homemade as the stirfry/fish - I heard they switched to chicken wings that come "half-cooked" (or prepped in some way?) because people complained the service was too slow on wing night, and the salad dressings are commercial. Fries and mash also looked suspect to me.

              2. The area has a few excellent "fine dining" opportunities. I'm surprised the following receive scant mention.

                Ben Miller Inn,
                The Inn is located on a scenic stretch of the Maitland River a few minutes east of Goderich. We ate there some years ago and enjoyed the meal. I'm told it's still excellent.

                Harbour Street Brasserie, Kincardine
                Derek Griff trained at the Ben Miller Inn. Some years ago he and his wife Dianne restored and adapted a pretty Regency cottage on Harbour Street in Kincardine. The menu changes with whatever is available locally. This is a great spot with one of the best views anywhere of Lake Huron from its covered patio.

                Tramonto, Kincardine
                Chris Showalter is local, but last worked at a major Italian spot in Toronto. Tramonto opened in late 2009. It's a solid Italian menu that favours our wallets more than the above spots. They do a good Sunday brunch.
                There is some connection with Greg Couillard who makes the odd guest appearance.

                I post this in response to some of the remarks below.

                There are a couple of casual places we enjoy in Port Elgin when travelling through to Owen Sound.

                Lord Elgin Fish and Chips, Port Elgin
                I normally don't like traditional Fish and Chips but am happy at Lord Elgin at the south end of Port Elgin near WalMart. It's all you can eat for just over $12 plus tax and tip on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The chips are hand cut and crispy, the cole slaw is home made and the Haddock is moist and not at all greasy. Very, very busy spot, but the service is fast.

                Allan's Fire Side Grill, Port Elgin
                I usually go for the pulled pork sandwich or 1/2 ribs.

                Pine River Cheese, Pine River
                RedTop, as you near Kincardine, watch for Pine River Cheese on your left. There are signs posted as you near it. The cheese factory is a run by a farmers' co-op. Fresh curds are set out each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I recommend their 7-year old cheddar if it's still available. From now on they will hold cheese for only 5 years which is a big disappointment. (-year Cheddar was their oldest before they had a fire and rebuild.

                4 Replies
                1. re: DockPotato

                  I don't get down that way as often, but I have been to Lord Elgin. Definitely stick to the F&C which are quite good, I can't recommed other menu items but that is pretty standard at F&C places. My problem is that I get more than enough F&C (especially chips!) in the area and would prefer white fish as well - but they do a more than decent version of the classic. My husband is a huge F&C eater but was disappointed with the chain-like atmosphere.
                  I've also been to Andre's Swiss Dining, the choucroute garnie was quite good - but it's a pretty boring menu & atmosphere for my tastes.

                  1. re: julesrules

                    No, you don't find atmosphere at Lord Elgin right enough but it's nice to see a local eatery thrive up here.

                    I've avoided Andre's for the reasons you mention but if a guest wished to go I'd try. However I'm leary of any "upscale" place in this area that highlights "New Zealand Lamb" when they're in the middle of lamb country and our local product is outstanding.

                  2. re: DockPotato

                    Thanks, DockPotato, for your listing. Now I need to go to the maps!

                    1. re: DockPotato

                      "...(-year Cheddar was their oldest before they had a fire and rebuild...."

                      Sorry, should read, "9-year Cheddar was their oldest before they had a fire and rebuild."