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Best Ontario Food Cities--Beyond Toronto?

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Hello All,

So I am a Brooklynite with a love for road trips to Canada. Every summer for the past 3 years, we have driven from NYC to explore Canada. Last year, we went to Toronto and fell in love with your food scene, among so much more--and I would love to explore -- via roadtrip--more of Ontario...but am ISO of a great food scene---and enough other things to do to keep a tween occupied... Are there other cities in Ontario that fit the bill? (fwiw, we also went to Montreal and Quebec City and loved both) But what's left? One of these days, we really want to get to Vancouver, but for now, need to stick with road trips from NY.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Ottawa, bonus of lots of stuff to occupy the tweens

    Stratford and the surrounding area stretching to Kitchener/Waterloo and the small towns around it.

    Prince Edward County, wine centric maybe not so much for the kids.

    Niagara

    1. Collingwood and Blue Mountains area.

      1. Although with a slight one-dimensional bias towards relatively fine dining featuring a 'local ingredient' twist, I think the NOTL and surrounding Niagara Wine region should be in one's consideration. Peller Estates, Hillebrand, Vineland Estates, Treadwell.... all offer innovative top notch food incorporating local ingredients! Fun wine pairing using local Niagara wines made them further stand outs!

        1. St. Jacobs, about an hour and a half north west of Toronto has a large farmer's market with many Old Order Mennonite vendors.

          http://www.stjacobs.com/farmers-market

          Picard`s Peanuts is nearby, there`s a brewery in town and you could head east to Elora and walk in the gorge.

          South of the city, probably on your way up from NY there`s Niagara-on-the-Lake for winery tours, the Shaw festival and a few good restaurants.

          9 Replies
          1. re: hal2010

            But is there anywhere good to eat? my experiences with the dining options on the main drag were less than stellar..

            1. re: pourboi

              Treadwell is now located on the main drag in NOTL. That whole region requires a car regardless so never stick to tourist trap main streets anywhere.

              1. re: Food Tourist

                Right BUT where should one eat in St Jacobs?

                1. re: pourboi

                  Ah, I misread that thinking you were responding to the latter part of the post re NOTL.

                  Sadly, I haven't had a chance to visit or eat in St. Jacob's village since I left Waterloo 10 years ago. Back then I loved Vidalia's.

                  1. re: pourboi

                    not fancy, and nothing like Vidalia's, but the Crazy Canuck is doing some good eats by the St. Jacobs market, FYI...

                    1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                      I checked out their menu and it seems like just generic pub food, while that can be good I do not see that as a destination restaurant for the OP to travel from New York to experience.

                      1. re: pourboi

                        not suggesting it as a destination for the OP, as that would be simply foolish. It is a dinerish place with some good homemade eats.

                        I believe you asked the question:
                        Right BUT where should one eat in St Jacobs?

                        My posting was simply in response to your question specifically, and while I don't consider KW to be a destination of any sort (except perhaps, Oktoberfest?) I did point out to the OP in an earlier posting re: the merits of using it as a base for various day trips that others suggested.

                        1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                          Ok since my question has not been answered and it seems the people here need everything spelled out...

                          Where would one eat in St Jacobs if they are looking for more than just tourist food, burgers, fries, pizza, fast food, frozen groceries store food, gas station fare etc.. but instead are looking for something unique, local, that you cannot get in Toronto whether it be standard fare but in a beautiful country setting or something even more exciting culinary wise that is worth driving 2 hours for?

                          Is that better?

                          1. re: pourboi

                            Fair enough.

                            answer: nowhere, IMO.

                            St. Jacobs is fine for the market (a bit touristy for my tastes, but...) however, I wouldn't bother eating there, especially if you're looking for a "foodie destination", if you just want some eats before/after/during shopping, Crazy Canuck has simple food (fresh cut fries, sandwiches, etc.) mostly made in-house from what I gather. A whole lot better than fast food, but NOT a destination.

                            There are a few decent spots in KW (MPC Kitchen, Red House) as someone pointed out earlier, but nothing you can't get in T.O. or vicinity, with the exception of some good German fare perhaps and BBQ, which I understand is somewhat lacking in T.O. (Buster and Stockyards notwithstanding). I have been thinking about trying Langdon Hall (which some say is a foodie destination), but with all the lukewarm reviews I've read, it really has not been a priority.

                            I wouldn't call KW and area a foodie mecca by any stretch. It's taken me years just to find a few good local faves. That being said, it might work geographically as a base for the OP's roadtrip, since it is pretty central to almost all the suggestions in this thread.

            2. If you're doing a road trip you could combine Kingston with Prince Edward county for a good variety of sights and food. Kingston is a beautiful old university town with unique Cambodian food and other great local centric places. Here's a thread on Kingston:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8828...

              Prince Edward county is a gorgeous area with breath taking beaches and a blossoming food scene. Here's a thread:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9777...

              From NY State cross the border at 1000 Island Bridge for a nice drive along the 1000 Island Parkway and then take the old route 2 to Kingston. If you follow the Loyalist Parkway out of Kingston you can take the short free car ferry at Glenora. It's a really nice drive and the ferry is fun. Or stay on route 2 out of Kingston and stay on land. OR take the 401 at any point and suffer with the rest of us :
              )There are tons of food related events and festivals in the summer so check out area listings and let that set your itinerary.

              1 Reply
              1. re: crawfish

                +1 for Kingston and Ottawa.

              2. Southern Ontario is surrounded by the Great Lakes, so road trips to shore restaurants or fish 'n chips shacks are easy to plan. Most lakeshore towns are accessible to the 400 highways: Goderich, Grand Bend, Sarnia, Kingsville, Port Burwell. Some require day trips north ( Killarney, Tobermory ) but the scenery is spectacular. Purdy's restaurant under the Bluewater Bridge is a great way to enter or leave the Province.

                1. I second PEC. A great off the beaten path but right in the middle of the beaten path is Hamilton. Interesting, feel good city to explore, great art and music scene, even though the food scene hasn't taken off....yet. Nevertheless there are a few notable places that I've been to. All recommended by the friendly staff and patrons of a pub called Work on James St. North. Rapscallion, Burnt Tongue and Ventura's are where I've been and will return.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: ChefVegabond

                    First of all, thanks to everyone for all the amazing recs! I am particularly drawn to the idea of Hamilton--I did a little "research," and their food scene sounds interesting, indeed. It is also close enough to Toronto to maybe do a day trip there... We really loved Guu on a previous visit to Toronto. I would love to return and maybe go to Second City's summer matinee for families--which we also loved on a previous visit... I would also need to figure some more tween-friendly forms of entertainment... I found it interesting to read that there is some sort of "rivalry" between Toronto and Hamilton?

                    1. re: brooklynsabra

                      It's not a stretch to say that there is a rivalry between Toronto and the rest of Canada...everyone outside of Toronto loves to hate Toronto ;)

                      1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

                        I don't think I would call it rivalry - it's more like the kid brother or sister trying to prove themselves. The Hamilton economy used to be largely based on steel production, so there is a reputation of being a little rough around the edges. We are smaller than Toronto, and don't have as many diverse neighbourhoods or amazing restaurants. We are worried about being judged based on first impressions; those of us who live here or spend time here know that Hamilton is so much more than what it appears as you drive past on the highway, and we're thrilled when someone wants to get to know the city a little better.

                        (By the way - I can't speak for all Hamiltonians, but I love Toronto!!!)

                        Brooklynsabra - you were mentioning needing to find more tween-friendly activities. In Toronto there is a new Ripley's aquarium at the foot of the CN tower that has gotten very good reviews. Taking the ferry over to one of the islands is also fun, and there are great walks to be had there.

                        In Hamilton, there is Bayfront park, with a multi-use trail that connects the downtown core to the west end. There is a pretty good network of cycling trails, and for a walk in the woods, there are some wonderful conservation areas with great hiking trails.

                        Have fun planning your trip!

                        1. re: hungryjoanne

                          HungryJoanne, are there not also lots of different festivals, particularly at Gage Park that would be of interest for tweens and adults?
                          Us Torontonians do have a not so flattering image of Hamilton, however "those in the know" know better and many are actually taking up residence there. As for the rivalry, it died down in the 80s. In the 80s and 90s, Hamilton did hit rock bottom and has slowly but surely got rid of its rust belt image. I feel the rivalry just may pick up again.
                          brooklynsabra, if you want to see Toronto/Hamilton rivalry, even if you're not a sports fan, (especially when it comes to Canadian football) check out a Tiger Cats/Argonauts game. The stadium in Hamilton is from another time, it's cheap and the fans get really into it.

                          1. re: ChefVegabond

                            No stadium in Hamilton currently... it was torn down last year and the new one is not ready yet..

                            1. re: pourboi

                              True, however the rest of ChefVegabond's comments were a good explanation of the (former?) "rivalry", and if it exists at all, it's probably more of a football thing.

                              Re: the OP, I wasn't going to recommend Kitchener/Waterloo though we do have some decent family stuff (Children's Museum, Butterfly conservatory - Cambridge) and some good eats (good BBQ, a few gems) then I started reading other's suggestions and it occurred to me...
                              1 hr. to Toronto (east), 1 hr. to Niagara (south), 40 minutes to Hamilton (south), 20 minutes to Elmira (north), 25 minutes to Stratford (west)

                              If I was the OP planning a road trip, KW might be a good base. Just a thought. Certainly depends on how much time you have, and specific wants/needs. IMO, all of the suggestions are excellent.

                              Have fun brooklynsabra! Let us know where you end up!

                          2. re: hungryjoanne

                            +1 for Toronto Islands. Fun for all ages, especially if you rent a family quad cycle.

                        2. re: brooklynsabra

                          Yeah I've lived in Toronto my whole life, I've never picked up on any Toronto/Hamilton rivalry. BlackMambaSommelier has it right - most cities in Canada love to hate Toronto. Perhaps that is what you noticed?

                          1. re: brooklynsabra

                            The waterfront from Burlington to Toronto is always worth a boardwalk stroll and explore the nearby eats in Burlington (Spencer's on the Waterfront for instance), Oakville and Port Credit.

                            1. re: brooklynsabra

                              Tween friendly activities in Toronto: skate parks, kayaking/canoeing at the Harbourfront Centre, Hockey Museum, Ontario Science Centre, and Canada's Wonderland which is just north of Toronto.

                          2. I second the recommendation for Hamilton - some great gems here. And a vibrant arts scene along James Street, as well as the restaurants ChefVagabond recommended. The second Friday of each month is "art crawl" - galleries & shops open late, food trucks and restaurants abound - a fun time to wander around. http://www.jamesstreetnorth.ca/blog/

                            Depending on when your road trip is, there are lots of pick-you-own fruit places and fruit stands on the "old highway" #8 between Niagara and Hamilton.

                            In Niagara-On-The-Lake, Southbrook winery has its' own flock of sheep who prune & fertilize the vineyard - they're kind of fun to visit.

                            There are some fun touristy things to do with kids in Niagara Falls & Niagara on the Lake - New Maid of the Mist boats take you to the base of the falls, and the whirlpool jet boat tours from NOTL are more fast-paced fun. http://www.whirlpooljet.com/

                            Memphis Fire BBQ is a favourite of ours along Highway 8 in Winona on our way home from wine country.
                            http://www.memphisfirebbq.com/

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: hungryjoanne

                              I third the hammer - some gems like mex i can, b & t next door, and then destination spots like quatre foil, and Blacktree in Burlington. Then notl region for treadwells, stone road and inn on the twenty.

                              1. re: DDD

                                I really recommend a stop in Trumansburg NY area of the Finger Lakes half way.

                                There's not much in our small towns that can rival Brooklyn eats, but we do beaches really well. Ocean-worthy beaches can be found in Long Point (near Turkey Point on Lake Erie); Sandbanks (in Prince Edward County near Bloomfield); and lots of points on Lake Huron (I love love love the village of Bayfield which is between Goderich and Grand Bend - Bayfield has interesting food and a unique beach). The Benmiller Inn closer to Goderich is terrific.

                              2. re: hungryjoanne

                                I do love Memphis Fire but Fette Sau in Brooklyn and other bbq in New York state is better. Memphis is an all-American family restaurant/diner which excels in anything they touch including fried chicken (boneless), burgers, shakes, pie, and some of their slow smoked cue.

                              3. Consider Point Pelee and Pelee Island, too. For me, I loved living in Kitchener-Waterloo for 11 years because of the close proximity to Stratford and points west (Bayfield, Sauble Beach, Grand Bend) and Wellington County (Guelph area) along with St. Jacob's 10 minutes north of Waterloo.

                                Go see the covered bridge between Waterloo and Guelph in West Montrose, then visit Elora and go tubing in the gorge and swim in the quarry.

                                1. I would base the road trip on the landscape or activities you want to see/do, rather than on the food, and seek out the best foods in those regions. I spend a lot of time outside the Greater Toronto Area, and while I enjoy the foods outside Toronto, I wouldn't travel to those parts solely for the food.

                                  What I like outside Toronto:
                                  Grand Bend:F.I.N.E. Restaurant- nice upscale spot for pickerel or whitefish, beaches and cottages nearby.
                                  Bayfield is cute, but any of my experiences at the two upscale restaurants in Bayfield have been disappointing over the last 5 years. Apparently the Black Dog Pub in Bayfield is the best place to eat in Bayfield, but I haven't been as of yet. Benmiller in Benmiller near Goderich is a nice resort, and the food has always been at least decent, by I haven't been in a while.

                                  Algonquin Park:
                                  Arowhon Pines for a splurge resort with great food, Belly Ice Cream in Huntsville, hermits and buttertarts at various small town bakeries throughout cottage country

                                  Various towns, such as Port Stanley, along Lake Erie for fried yellow perch.

                                  Ottawa: lots of decent pubs, some people make a special trip for the egg rolls and shawarma (lots of museums and activities in Ottawa)

                                  St Jacob's and Elora are nice to visit, but the restaurants I've tried are tourist traps. I wouldn't consider either place a chow destination (but some good restaurants can be found in Kitchener Waterloo). The Olde Heidelberg House in Heidelberg is pretty good if you happen to be in the area, but I'd stick to the pork dishes if you dine there.

                                  Outside Toronto, I'd recommend keeping your expectations at the same level you might expect in midsized cities in Ohio or upstate NY.

                                  Stratford has some nice restaurants ( there are some comprehensive threads on Stratford), and the Stratford Festival has some productions that a tween might like, but I think of Stratford as a theater destination first. Prices are on the high side, partly due to a short tourist season and captive audience. For those looking for a reasonably priced restaurant with good food a short drive from Stratford, I recommend Little Red's in St Mary's.

                                  Hope you enjoy your trip.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: prima

                                    I used to like Bijou, Pazzo Pizzeria (downstairs) and York Street Kitchen years ago in Stratford. Haven't been for a while.

                                    1. re: Food Tourist

                                      I finally tried Pazzo's downstairs pizzeria a few weeks ago. I thought the flatcrust pizza and salad were decent, and overall the the Pazzo's pizzeria was a better value than most places in Stratford, although I prefer the Taverna menu on Pazzo's main floor, which is more expensive. Monforte on Wellington is my favourite place to eat in Stratford these days. I haven't tried The Bruce as of yet, which is the next place I will be trying on my Stratford wishlist.

                                      1. re: prima

                                        agree re: Monforte. My new fave in Stratford

                                        (thanks, Prima!)

                                    2. re: prima

                                      Would you mind commenting more on Arowhon Pines? It's the first I've heard of it and I'd love to hear more about the food. It sounds nice, but expensive for a resort that allows children in.

                                      1. re: graydyn

                                        It is expensive, as are the other resorts located in Algonquin Park. There don't tend to be too many children at Arowhon Pines, usually just a few younger children and/or babies. When I've been there, any children have been well-behaved. Many of the guests tend to be older (over 55), international and/or couples. Some of the guests on some weekends would be parents staying at Arowhon Pines, in order to visit their kids on Visitors' Day at one of the summer camps in the Park.

                                        I've been visiting Arowhon Pines every few years over the last 33 years, and it's my first choice for dining in Algonguin Park. The kitchen uses seasonal, regional and local ingredients when possible. Usually there's a choice of several mains for dinner, including at least one vegetarian and one fish option. There's a top quality salad bar, including various smoked fishes and other first courses as well as salad, and a wonderful dessert bar, usually including several pies, cakes, rum balls, puddings, squares, creme caramel, house-made ice creams, etc. If you dine there at dinner, try to save room for dessert.

                                        The breakfasts include a cold breakfast bar, with a wide selection of fruits (including old-fashioned stewed prunes and stewed mixed fruit), cereals, baked goods, and your choice of several hot breakfasts, including the option of kippers, which I usually order at least once since they're to find so rare on breakfast menus in Ontario.

                                        One night's accomodation comes with dinner, breakfast and lunch. It's also possible to just make a dinner or lunch reservation.
                                        http://arowhonpines.ca/eat/dining-room/
                                        http://arowhonpines.ca/eat/menu/

                                        Killarney Lodge also serves nice food, although the menu tends to be a little more home-style and conservative than what's served at Arowhon Pines. The atmosphere is a little cozier, and the prices are less expensive. http://www.killarneylodge.com/menus/

                                        If you've got some time in Algonquin, I'd recommend trying both Killarney Lodge and Arowhon Pines.

                                        If you're looking for a cheaper meal in Algonquin, head to the Portage Store (aka the P Store). I used to be a fan of their grilled cheese and fries, but I haven't dined there in 20+ years. I'm due to revisit. (Edit: Wow. The P Store has grown up. They've got pulled pork, poutine and cappuccinos on the menu now. This is not the P Store of my youth. Grilled cheese can still be found on the Kids' Menu http://www.portagestore.com/docs/LNCH... ;) http://www.portagestore.com/restauran...

                                        1. re: prima

                                          We are heading to Bartlett Lodge (also in Algonquin Park) next week. I have heard glowing things about the food there as well!

                                          1. re: Otonabee

                                            It was really good when I visited 25 years ago! And the lodge is nice and secluded.

                                      2. re: prima

                                        Totally agree. I know some of these areas as well, and food is not a major feature - Stratford being a possible exception, but you need to be aware how much the theatre affects accommodation bookings and prices.

                                      3. When in Toronto, consider going north to Caledon and Orangeville area. See the Badlands, visit Hockley Valley and Mono Cliffs Inn (Peter Cellars Pub downstairs is a must) and hike and enjoy nature. The Bruce Trail goes a fair distance and anywhere along the official trail is well worth a stop from Niagara to Tobermory (runs close to the Old Mill in Ancaster with terrific waterfalls just off the road). Rattlesnake Point in Milton along the 401 is full of tiny caves and you can watch people repel off the cliffs. Might be worth a food stop at Envers of Morriston at 401 and Highway 6 south.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Food Tourist

                                          ...and go to the Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon. Especially on Fridays when they do pizzas. Driving from the East End of Toronto though, I think I could get to NYC faster on a Friday afternoon.

                                        2. Wow. I hadn't checked this thread for a few days! Thanks all for your responses! I will need to sort through them...