Excuse me while I let out my belt a notch or two after a hedonistic two-day culinary tour of Ontario's fascinating Grey County.
First, I lunch at The Falls Inn Restaurant at
on the site of an historic sawmill. The new country inn and resort near
in winter attracts as many snowmobiles as cars parked in the lot. An Ontario's Finest Inn member, a spa and nearby
complement the falls-view rooms, but I'm here for Dwayne and Meg Hallman's tasty food prepared by executive chef, Mathew Ruff.
The presentation of delicious soup and entrees is superlative, like walking into an art gallery. I finish my local pork tenderloin and fiddle heads with a decadent and addictive non-flour chocolate cake. Yum! As Dwayne says, "The falls brings them out; the food brings them back."
At nearby Georgian Hills Vineyards (opens officially in September) I meet Robert Ketchin and Murray Puddicome, a sixth generation farmer from Winona and founder of
Stoney Ridge Winery
. They teamed up with local apple farmer, John Ardell and transfer respective itinerant workers suit peak needs whether they be peaches, pears, apples or grapes.
Robert worked for Andres, Heineken, New Zealand and New York State as well as Prince Edward County, and is the man to call for tastings. "Grey's a difficult microclimate but enjoys clearer, sunnier days with less humidity and smog than in Niagara. We have more wind, shorter days, but less disease."
I sample several wines including a "Frozen on the Vine" product all expertly paired with local fruit, cheese and bread. "The winters are consistent, not up and down as in Niagara and the frozen grapes from their initial small planting of twelve acres can be left to harvest in late winter."
Unlike Georgian Hills with its mix of viniferous and hybrid grapes such as Saval, Riesling and Pinot Grigio, Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery specializes in hardy hybrids modeled on successful
varieties. General Manager, Mike Todd, a Ridley grad, explains "there is no burying in snow" and that "everything is done by hand, including the harvest." The wines are exceptional, and he has doubled his output yearly, consistently selling out to the local establishments such as The Falls Inn.
Coffin Ridge boasts a large, beautiful deck and spectacular panoramic view from where one may sample their three signature wines: Into The Light White, Back From The Dead Red and Resurrection Rose, all of which express Grey's terroir elegantly.
At The Farmers Pantry, owned by Mike and Mary-Lynn Sheridan, Gillian Rice explains that they offer "a little bit of everything" including pick-your-own raspberries and strawberries, an apple orchard, miniature golf, archery, nature appreciation, a pumpkin patch and even astronomy making this an ideal venue for families.
After a whitefish dinner contrasted with baby arugula at SiSi on Main in Thornbury, I drive to Irish Mountain B&B with a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind view of Georgian Bay. It's a dazzling property, yet early morning takes me to Meaford's Grandma Lambe, a remarkable pie-making business operated by 82-year-old Grace and her children, Darlene and David who drives me through their large orchard, explaining that a farmer now needs to plant 600 rather than the former 30 apple trees per acre. With labour costs soaring, yield must increase and I observe nearby an interesting European hybrid which grows nine feet tall yet is planted quite close together with a high yield, a sure sign of change in apple farming.
The MarketSide Food Shop & Cafe in Owen Sound owned and operated by Paul and Karin Thomas, specializes in organic vegetarian dishes. It's a popular place and lunch leaves me feeling both sated and comfortable in the cozy environment..
At Owen Sound's Around the Sound Market, I mistakenly ask owner, Anne Finlay-Stewart what's unique about her shop. A half-hour later, I realize - everything! And all local including Coffin Ridge's cooking oil, rhubarb punch, Pickle Boy products, peanuts from tobacco soil, asparagus corn chips, bread, salsa and pasta sauce, organic pickled beets, maple syrup, honey, fresh fish caught by
fishermen, quiche, pies, soup created by Carrie, chef at Noah's Inn, pork, bison, elk, venison, lavender, "rainbow eggs" courtesy of a local dentist just to name a few items. Around... also serves as a pick-up stop for "Community Supported Agricultural Products" wherein one purchases shares and receives a weekly allotment, always a pleasant surprise.
Late afternoon I arrive in the village of
where I tour the historic local microbrewery, Neustadt Spring Brewery, owned, resurrected and run by two displaced Brits, Val and Andy Stimpson, members of
Ontario Craft Brewers. Their Neustadt 10W30 beer was recently listed in "10 Ontario Brews You Should Try." Not as dark as the motor oil name would suggest, this brown ale won a gold medal at last year's
Mondial de la Biere
Later, we dined in Neustadt at Bryan Schenk's Noah's Inn, the highlight of the trip. The food by Chef Carey McLellan was incredible. I inhaled the curried chicken amidst local vegetables. The atypical, stellar wine list reflected Bryan's dictum, "We're doing it differently from anyone else." And Carrie's home-made sorbet was a perfect ending to the wonderful meal along with
Numi organic tea.
In the morning, sitting in a comfortable windowed area adjacent to my room, reading
autobiography amongst many books on hand, Bryan hand-delivers a healthy breakfast of granola, juice, yogurt and coffee in a picnic basket while singing "raindrops keep falling on my head" to suit the weather outside. With Grey's local food and drink (and chef Carey) I will certainly return!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If you go
Visit Grey: http://www.visitgrey.ca/
Grey Bruce Agriculture & Culinary Map (an excellent resource for your travels):
P.O. Box 209. 82 Huron St., Ripley, ON N0G 2R2, 1-888-396-4591
Around the Sound Market (see Anne's blog): http://www.aroundthesoundfood.com/
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/