Posts Tagged ‘dining’

Tales of a Food Writer – Lynn Ogryzlo

As Ontario’s Local Food Ambassador I’ve travelled the province uncovering its hidden treasures from amazing resorts to charming country villages and mouthwatering food festivals. In between I have savoured toasted garlic fudge a the Perth Garlic Festival, enjoyed a romantic field dinner at Cross Wind Farms and chowed down on the sloppiest, juiciest ribs at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market – oh yum.

I discovered Ontario’s most delicious food in the most unlikely places. Travel through Hensall, the bean capital for amazing cassoulet, Perth County the pork capital and home of the Bacon and Ale Trail or the dairy capital, Oxford County and savour your way through the Cheese Trail. I also discovered many resorts that excel at making Ontario food a focus for what they do best.

In Oxford County, Elm Hurst Inn’s executive chef Michael Davies takes his cheese very seriously. I used this historic inn as a base to visit as many stops along the Cheese Trail as I could. At the inn, try Michael’s all-local cheese platter or enjoy one of his cheesy features such as the delicious cheddar soup.  What a great time you’ll have!

Blue Mountain Resort is the centre of Ontario’s apple production and also home to the Apple Pie Trail. The Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood is at the beginning of the Trail and is a great place to take advantage of everything apple pie from the different  stops along the way. Then when you’ve over indulged (as I did), have fun working it off with many of their 4-season outdoor activities, it’s great for the whole family. When you leave, don’t forget to buy a bushel of farm fresh apples to continue your apple love affair.

One of my favourite culinary destinations, the Millcroft Inn & Spa was once a knitting mill providing yarn and blanket. Executive Chef James Buder crafts delicious dishes from fresh, organic and natural foods that are available to him throughout the fertile and unspoiled Hills of Headwaters. Bring a good pair of hiking boots because the tranquility of this place along with Buder’s cuisine will captivate you.

The Hills of Headwaters, or Headwaters as the locals call it, is quintessential Ontario equestrian country with rambling ranches and graceful horses. It’s also a delicious rural landscape with farmers the likes of Amaranth Springs, Besley Farms and Hockley Valley Resort growing amazing food. At Hockley Valley they have a 4-acre vegetable garden providing over 80% of the vegetables for Restaurant 85 and Cabin. Some of it is preserved to enjoy year round. What a refreshing experience to bask in the authentic flavours of the summer when you’re dining in January or February.

You’ll find more gardens at Briars Resort and Spa. Executive Chef Trevor Ledlie plans his menus a year in advance. It’s a great culinary collaboration between Inn owners and a chef who knows it takes as much time to nurture a tiny seedling into a fully mature plant as it does to simmer the ingredients into a luscious meal for his guests in the Briars’ dining rooms. Foods this fresh are thrilling on the palate.

When I was at the Westwind Inn I remember sitting in a large Adirondack chair watching a herd of deer pass through the forest. The Inn is as peaceful and remote a place as any in the heart of Ontario. The owners forage the wilderness around them for wild fiddleheads, leeks, morel mushrooms, edible flowers and more. You can try asking for  their favourite picking  spots but it’s like asking a fisherman for his favourite fishing hole – they’ll never tell. I’m told it I sat in the chair long enough, I might catch a glimpse of a flock of wild turkey, or perhaps even a moose. At Westwind you are allowed to shoot them, but only with a camera!

1 garden

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Fall in Ontario is a feast for all your senses…breathtaking vistas emblazoned with fiery colours of crimsons, reds, golds and more… Indulge yourself at an Ontario resort or inn this Fall, where an amazing array of packages such as Fall Colour Packages, Reconnect Now…Just the two of you, Spontaneous Getaways and Thanksgiving Packages and celebrations can be enjoyed with those closest to you for just that special reason. Just a short drive away, often only three or four turns from where you are. For a taste of Fall, browse through our web site at


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snowshoe tracks in the winter snow

Snowshoe tracks in Algonquin Park near Algonquin Log Cabin Lodge

As promised in last week’s post, we’ve got some great ideas for New Year’s Eve this week: a family New Year’s Eve in Niagara Falls, elegant dining north of Toronto and in our nation’s capital and an Algonquin Park wilderness adventure complete with a log cabin lodge stay.

The Americana Conference Resort & Spa in Niagara Falls has “Family Spectacular” – non-stop New Year’s Eve fun for the whole family. It’s a big hit every year with an all-you-can-eat buffet and lots of entertainment like The Smudge Fundaes and the Zero Gravity Circus. More info here.

Wave pool at the Americana Resort in Niagara Falls

Water bucket and wave pool at the Americana in Niagara Falls

The Americana also has one- and two-night packages with the new Rink at the Brink. The one-night package includes tickets to the Rink at the Brink which is right by the falls, passes to Americana’s Waves Indoor Waterpark as well as your accommodation. Two night packages are the same except they’ve added a $50 meal voucher for the in-house restaurant and Waves snack bar.

Check out Tourism Niagara for more news on Rink at the Brink and other things to do in the Niagara region.

Christmas decorations at the Millcroft Inn and Spa

Holiday decorations at the Millcroft Inn and Spa

In the Caledon Hills, 45 minutes northwest of Toronto, the Millcroft Inn and Spa will ring in the new year with its “New Year’s Eve Gala Getaway”. You get two nights at the inn, a welcome reception on December 30th and then a three-course dinner from their a la carte menu. On December 31st there’s a Country Continental Breakfast Buffet, an Al fresco Lunch (on the Pinnacle or wedding garden, weather permitting).  The New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner has live entertainment with the Brenda Lewis Jazz Band, festive party favours and a champagne toast at midnight. January 1st starts with a light breakfast buffet. But if you sleep in, you can catch the New Year’s Day Brunch a little later.

Gratuities on food and beverages are included. This package starts at $299 CAD per person, per night (plus taxes, based on double occupancy and a two night stay, subject to availability). Valid December 30-31, 2009.

To get in touch with the Millcroft, call them at 1-800-383-3976 or check them out on the web. Also see the post we did on them last August and some comments about their food from last week.

couple dining at Brookstreet’s Perspectives Restaurant

Brookstreet’s four-diamond Perspectives Restaurant

The elegant Brookstreet Hotel might be the way to go in Ottawa. It has a seven course New Year’s Eve dinner planned. The food at Brookstreet is exceptional (CAA four-diamond rating for both hotel and restaurant) and the place has a real contemporary feel. You can get late night seating times for dinner priced at $149.95 per person and, if you decide t0 make a night of it, they’ll throw in a room for $99/double occupancy. Taxes and gratuities are extra. Personally, I have my eye on the 850 square foot Master Suite with Jacuzzi and balcony, but I haven’t called for a price on that yet. There are a lot of package options at this time of year, so check out the website for details and pricing.

Algonquin Log Cabin in winter near Algonquin Park, Ontario

The Algonquin Log Cabin

This next New Year’s Eve idea combines a log cabin stay in the Canadian wilderness with traditional Canadian winter activities. The place is Algonquin Log Cabin near Algonquin Park. Nothing beats a jump in the snow fresh out of this lodge’s wood-fired sauna! But hey, that’s just my opinion. If you want black dresses and high-heels on New Year’s Eve, you may prefer the Brookstreet or the Millcroft.

“Snowshoeing, Torch Lit Skating and Backcountry Skiing” are planned from December 31, 2009 to January 2, 2010 at Algonquin Log Cabin. This spectacular split log lodge with its huge fieldstone fireplace is on a lake bordering Algonquin. In winter, the park is a land of frozen lakes, waist-deep snow, and lots of crisp clear air.

Accommodation at the lodge is double occupancy with shared indoor washrooms, as well as a sauna and shower cabin. Group size is limited to 12 guests and two guides who prepare all the meals. After an invigorating day on the trail, it’s the perfect place to hang out. This New Year’s Eve getaway is priced at $475 per person. Add-on activities include ice fishing and dogsledding. Return transportation from Toronto is available for $175 per person. See the website for further details.

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Elmhirst Resort's snow kite weekend will be held January 29-31, 2010.

Elmhirst Resort's snow kite weekend will be held January 29-31, 2010.

I’ve had a fascination with Rice Lake since moving to Ontario. An hour and a half drive northeast from Toronto, it’s a big, shallow lake known for its fishing, historic resorts and cottage communities. The lake got its name for wild rice that once grew here. It was a major food source for local Ojibwa who harvested it every year. The Trent Severn Waterway, a one hundred year old system of locks stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, raised the water levels on the lake and what little remains of the wild rice today gets eaten by birds. Elmhirst’s Resort is on the north side of the Lake, 1/2 hour from the Ontario city of Peterborough.  Every time I’ve visited this resort, I’ve come away with a good story.


ski-plane-elmhirstMy first visit was years ago. I was with an Irish tv producer. He was scouting Ontario locations for a popular Irish travel show. I still remember the two of us strapping ourselves into the backseat of an Elmhirst float plane. The pilot started the plane’s engine and eventually shifted the joystick into full throttle. It was a windy day and we bounced across the waves and then suddenly we were airborne, flying just above the treetops. I remember having my elbow out the plane window just like in a car and counting all the osprey nests . The Irish tv producer and I were like two kids in a candy store. His one wish for Canada had been a ride in a float plane and here we were chasing his dream. It was fantastic fun. Just before beginning this post, I checked the Elmhirst blog and sure enough, float plane rides are as popular as ever. In winter, the floats are replaced with skis. Now, that would be something to try- taking off and landing in a plane fitted with skis.  Elmhirst also has a private airstrip that attracts pilots from all over, including Swiss pilot Hansreudi Aeschbach who flew in for his 68th visit this past summer.

Fishing off the dock

Fishing off the dock

On another trip to Elmhirst’s Resort, I was with my husband. We arrived on a beautiful June evening. The late day sun had cast a golden glow over the shoreline and I remember seeing all this movement on the water’s surface in front of our cottage. I had no idea what could make such a commotion, so when we were later dining at the main lodge, I asked. They’re massive Carp I was told. And what’s more, they’re a popular catch with the UK sportfishing crowd. Many come with their families to try their luck at snagging a big one. But it’s not the only fish you’ll find in Rice Lake. Bass fishing is big here too, so is Walleye (pickerel) and check out this Muskie caught by an Elmhirst visitor just last week.

The million-dollar wine cellar

The million-dollar wine cellar

Last winter, I was back at Elmhirst with a food writer and an event planner from a big Canadian travel media association. I’d never been to the resort in winter and I was impressed with the amount of snow they had. It was a beautiful, crisp evening. The stars were out as we made our way from the main lodge to the resort’s million dollar all-Canadian wine cellar. There we enjoyed some great vintages paired with tasty hors d’oeuvres made by chef de cuisine, Michael Sterpin. They’re serious about their food here and as local as you can get. Much of the menu is produced at the Elmhirst farm on site, including fresh eggs, Elmhirst’s Own corn-finished Black Angus beef, turkey, vegetables and herbs. Preserving is big too. I noticed jars of preserves lining the wall of the dining room entrance as we went in for dinner. All eight of us couldn’t resist ordering the house specialty; steak and frites. And when it came to dessert most of us couldn’t pass up the chance to try the wild rice pudding first concocted by the Elmhirst family’s 91 year old matriarch.

Morning walk up to the farm at Elmhirst Resort

Morning walk up to the farm at Elmhirst Resort

There’s also an intriguing story that ties the resort and the area to Lord Nelson. In 1818, long before Canada was a country, King George IV of England awarded 1000 acres on the north shore of Rice Lake to Phillip James Elmhirst. Elmhirst had been a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and had fought for Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Fast forward to 1906 when the grandfather of present owner, Peter Elmhirst, acquired the “Walker Farm”, a 340 acre parcel of land on the north shore with a mile of scenic shoreline. This is the present day site of  Elmhirst’s Resort.

There’s plenty to do here. Riding stables and trails are on site. In winter, old-fashioned sleigh rides are popular. Elmhirst also hosts an annual snow kite festival out on the frozen lake. Picture surfboards attached to massive kites skidding across the ice. There’s also cross country skiing and tobogganing and the resort hopes to offer icefishing this winter.  And to soothe tired muscles after a day of outdoor fun, there’s always the hot tub, sauna and indoor pool. Modern cottage accommodation ranges from one to five bedrooms and all the cottages have fully equipped kitchens, woodburning fireplaces, jacuzzi tubs, television, internet and VCRs.

The cottages are much cozier in winter.

The cottages are cozy in winter.

Watch for great winter deals here. A popular package with Elmhirst guests is the Couch Potato getaway . Priced at $399 per couple mid week, breakfasts and dinners are included. The weekend version has Saturday breakfast and dinner and Sunday Brunch and is $429 per couple. Taxes are not included with either rate.

Many of the more than one hundred Resorts of Ontario across the province are open all winter and offer seasonal mid week and weekend deals for couples, families and small groups of friends.

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This fine old stone house, now The Waring House Inn, has stood sentinel at Waring's Corners since about 1860.

This fine old stone house, now The Waring House Inn, has stood sentinel at Waring's Corners since about 1860.

We sat in Amelia’s Garden dining room at a window table in front of a bed of blooming Iris watching yellow finches and doves in the garden outside. Ginny Merritt, the marketing manager at the Waring House Inn & Cookery, had invited us here. We were to experience Chef Luis de Sousa’s new five-course tasting menu dinner and guided wine tasting, and to stay overnight in one of the Waring House Inn’s new suites.

The tasting menu is basically a chef’s way of showing off his best stuff. I was a little intimidated by the ten pieces of silver utensils at each place setting! They were a harbinger of the extravaganza to come.

Jeremy was our server and there was nothing he didn’t know about the local wines. He called them the “gems of the County”. It’s all about “The County” out here, Prince Edward County that is, the rapidly expanding tourist destination that some call the new Niagara. Small wineries have been popping up here lately like mushrooms after a rain. Talk about local! The wines being served here are all from wineries close by, with names like Rosehall Run, Huff Estates and Black Prince (Judy loved the Black Prince 2007 Cabernet Franc so much we are thinking of dropping by the winery to pick up a couple of bottles).

By the time we made it through the squash, the pear, the blue and the brie, we had licked our lamb chops and mused about the venison medallions, enjoyed the glaze, the drizzle, the jus, the bisque and the tapenade, it was time for dessert. I was just barely able to make room for the rhubarb and berry pie (all local and seasonal of course) topped with a scoop of vanilla from Slickers, the local, artisan ice cream maker.

After three hours at the table, we said “good night” to Jeremy and made our way out through The Barley Room Pub, the Picton meeting place where the locals were just starting to get going.

The two new lodges at The Waring House Inn

The two new lodges at The Waring House Inn

Our home away from home was in one of the spectacular new lodges that have just opened at The Waring House. Named Commercial Project of the Year by the Prince Edward County Construction Company, the two lodges each hold sixteen rooms and suites. We were given one of the suites and couldn’t believe its size when we walked through the front door. It had a full living room, huge ensuite bath, a two poster king bed and two gas fireplaces. I don’t normally sleep well in a strange bed but that night I slept like a log, so the first thing I did when I woke up was check the name of the mattress. BeautyRest World Class with an extra four inch mattress on top of it. Absolutely divine. Gibbard’s Furniture, which has made furniture in nearby Napanee for 170 years, handcrafted all of the fine cabinetry in our suite. I fell in love with the little vanity and bedside tables only to be told that Gibbard’s is going out of business. I guess it just can’t compete with all the cheap imports. That’s a real loss for Canada because the company’s workmanship is outstanding!

The Waring House Inn & Cookery has a Flavours of the County package on until September 30, 2009 that includes two nights’ accommodation for two in a standard room, a five-course tasting menu and guided wine-tasting for two, a three-course dinner in the Barley Room Pub that includes a glass each of the County’s own Barley Days beer, a hands-on cooking class for two with lunch included at the Waring House Cookery, and country breakfasts both mornings. $397.70 pp/double occupancy, plus taxes and gratuities.

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