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One local's guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding area (long!)

I think it was a one-off situation, as I order that burger pretty regularly. If that ever happened to me, I would simply point out the stale bun. They are very friendly and always want to make things right.

42 minutes ago
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

One local's guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding area (long!)

It used to be my favourite restaurant in NOTL. But they haven't been the same since Ryan Crawford left a couple of years ago. They've gone through 2 chefs since then, and the quality suffered a lot. There is a 3rd, new chef that just started a few weeks ago: Ross Midgely. He has a great pedigree, but I haven't yet tried his new menu, so couldn't include Stone Road Grille in my personal recs. I still love the idea of the place and the owners are super nice and I want them to succeed. They are going to expand the restaurant into the current take out space, with the goal of creating more of a lounge/wine bar area in addition to the main restaurant.

about 5 hours ago
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

Seafood Main Course for 8 That Doesn't Break the Bank?

I was going to recommend the same thing. Most of it can be done ahead and the whole thing can be served at room temperature. Plus it's just really pretty! Here's the one I did for a party earlier this month, using local lake trout instead of salmon.

Here's Ina recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/in...

Note that there is a mistake in the recipe -- when you make the marinade for the salmon, do NOT add the lemon juice, just the zest. It's meant to be a paste, not a liquid marinade. Apparently if you watch the video, she doesn't add any juice, but the error hasn't been corrected.

about 8 hours ago
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Great group dinner at Tabule

Yes, the original location on Yonge! In the newer, expansion area. As we walked through the restaurant to our table, I saw 2 other tables of at least 8.

Good stuff. As a few of my friends said, "I always forget how good they are."

2 days ago
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

What are you baking these days? July edition, part 2!

Yeah, yours is a much nicer golden color than mine was. I think I will bake at a lower temp next time. But I am glad to hear that yours went for as long as it did!

Have you tried it yet?!

Jul 21, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

What are you baking these days? July edition, part 2!

How long did you end up baking it for?

Jul 21, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Great group dinner at Tabule

Tabule does get some love here, but tends to fly under the radar because it's been around for a while. I just had a dinner for 14 there last night and wanted to report back on what a great experience it was.

For large parties, they ask that you pick a set menu. I normally don't like set menus, but in this case, the options are what I would have picked anyway. There are 8 options, that range in price from $25 - $39/person (this was for Sun - Thur, not sure what the prices are like for a Friday or Saturday). All of them are variations on a theme: platters of their apps and dips and pitas, followed by family-style servings of their kebabs, rice and salad, then some baklava for dessert.

Corkage is only $15, though they do have some nice cocktails on the menu, as well as great fresh juices for the non-drinkers.

Service was great -- our server handled our large group of exuberant diners with equanimity and aplomb. She was there when we had a request. She didn't blink at dealing with our bottles of champagne or the cake and candles the group brought in. She was wonderfully gracious about packing up the leftover desserts, even though the cake wasn't from the restaurant.

The food was, as always, delicious. I could happily make a meal out of the appetizers. In this case we had: tabule, hummus, babaganouj, fried cauliflower, falafel, grilled eggplant, and garlic tomatoes. For the mains, we had their tasty rice, salad and grilled chicken, beef, kefta and lamb. Everything was cooked well (beef was medium rare and juicy -- a feat when grilling kebabs) and really tasty.

So many restaurants struggle with large groups, but Tabule seems to have it mastered. It probably helps that the style of food lends itself to family-style eating. So if you're looking for a good venue for a casual dinner with a large group of friends or family, Tabule is a good choice.

Jul 21, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)
2

What are you baking these days? July edition, part 2!

It looks perfect!

Jul 21, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

What are you baking these days? July edition, part 2!

Looking forward to your report! A very small sliver is all one needs to feel satisfied.

I wrapped the bottom of my spring form in foil to catch any butter that tried to escape.

Jul 20, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

One local's guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding area (long!)

I forgot to add that if beer is more your thing, NOTL has quite the burgeoning craft beer scene. Currently, you can get your craft beer fix at Oast House Brewers, Silversmith Brewing Company and the Niagara College Teaching Brewery. And next year, there will be a brew pub opening up on Queen Street in old town NOTL.

Jul 20, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)
1

One local's guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding area (long!)

Now that I’ve lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a couple of years, I thought I’d share the places that I personally frequent and recommend. Most of these won’t be new to regular visitors, but there are enough inquiries from others that I hope this consolidated list might be useful. I’m mostly focused on Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), but include some recs for Niagara Falls and the broader Niagara Peninsula. I’m not going to tackle wineries, as I find that to be even more personal than food and my preferences may not be yours. Perhaps others can chime in with their favourites. And everyone should feel free to add their own recommendations for the Niagara area!
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FINE DINING
All four of these places offer beautiful farm-to-table, wine-country cuisine. None are cheap, but the food is excellent at all of them. Note that Treadwell is the only one not on the grounds of a winery, but its location in old town NOTL makes it a great choice for visitors to NOTL.

Treadwell http://www.treadwellcuisine.com/
Peller Estates http://www.peller.com/
Trius http://www.triuswines.com/
Vineland Estates http://vineland.com/
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CASUAL DINING

Ravine Vineyard: great bistro food with my favourite vineyard view in NOTL. Housemade charcuterie, hyper-local meats and produce, and great pizzas from the wood-fired oven. Awesome doughnuts in their little general store on the weekends.

The Garrison House: located in an unassuming plaza on the way into old town NOTL, the food here is classic gastro-pub fare. Delicious, satisfying and at a great price point for the area. Recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here. http://www.thegarrisonhouse.ca/

The Pie Plate: an institution in NOTL for good reason. Quirky, casual setting with a tasty light menu of sandwiches, meat pies, pizzas, salads and small plates of fish tacos and burgers. A great choice for a lighter meal or a snack. Mind you, it’s only light until you dive into their amazing pies. There are no bad pies there, so go with your favourite. I will give a shout out to their cream pies and fresh fruit w/custard pies. Bliss. http://www.thepieplate.com/
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BEST VIEWS

Ravine Vineyard (vineyard view)

Trius (vineyard view)

Peller Estates (vineyard view)

The restaurant at the NOTL Golf Club (gorgeous view of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Food is just ok, so go for a cocktail and a snack.)

Malivoire Winery (no food, but fantastic views of the countryside and the lake from their location up on the Escarpment)
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BEST TREATS FOR NOW

The Pie Plate (see above)

Il Gelato di Carlotta: great quality gelato in old town NOTL. Pick this over the nearby Nina’s (too sweet) and other ice cream shops (meh).
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BEST TREATS TO TAKE HOME

The Pie Plate (yes, I really love their baking)

Upper Canada Cheese Company: fantastic cheeses made from the milk of their herd of Guernsey cows. Sample before buying. http://www.uppercanadacheese.com/

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers: a small distiller in Beamsville making a big splash. Taste all of their spirits in the beautiful sipping room or ask for a quick tour to see their stunning copper stills. I’m in love with all of their gins, but my choice for this summer is their delicious cherry gin. Also, for design ‘hounds, they have some of the best branding of any product I’ve seen in a long time. http://dillons.ca/

13th Street Bakery: tasty baked goods from the bakery located in 13th Street Winery (who happen to be doing some nice sparkling wines, too). http://www.13thstreetwinery.com/

Picard's Peanuts: the NOTL outpost of this Ontario company. Great place to try a bunch of different peanuts (including Ontario-grown nuts).
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BEST FARM STANDS
Niagara is the fruit basket of Ontario. It's worth stopping at one of the many farm stands to pick up whatever is fresh at the time.

Quiet Acres: in NOTL at the intersection of Lakeshore Road and East and West Line. http://www.qa.on.ca/

Tina’s Natural Selections: in NOTL on Lakeshore Road just East of Stewart Road. Just up the road from Quiet Acres, so it’s worth stopping at both to check out the offerings.

Nokara Farms: in St. Catharines on Lakeshore Road, East of Fifth Street Louth http://nokarafarms.ca/Nokara_Farms/Fa...

Be aware of the large farm stand on 55, near Pilliteri: some of the produce is grown by them, but some is purchased for resale. They are generally honest about it and will tell you, however, if you ask.
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BEST OF QUEEN STREET (Old Town NOTL)
In general, I recommend avoiding the restaurants along the pretty, quaint main drag of Old Town NOTL. Here are my exceptions:

Treadwell (see above)

Il Gelato di Carlotta (see above)

The Epicurean: if you want something at a lower price point than Treadwell, this is a decent option, mostly because the beautiful back patio makes everything taste better. This is also a good place to stock up on sandwiches and salads if you want to make a picnic and eat by the river or lake.
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BEST REGULAR LOCAL FOOD TRUCK LOCATIONS
This category changes every season, so it’s worth doing a bit of research. This summer, the places to look out for:

Friday evenings at Hinterbrook Winery. They bring in one truck (always a good one like The Yellow Pear or Avella’s pizza), wines by the glass, usually live jazz, and lots of Muskoka chairs to settle on and enjoy your dinner on the grounds of their vineyard. http://www.hinterbrook.com/site/home

Thursday lunch (11:30 - 2) at Montebello Park in St. Catharines. El Gastronomo Vagabundo is there every Thursday. Hands down, my favourite food truck. You can check their current schedule on their web site: http://www.elgastro.com/ Or follow them on twitter @elgastronomo

Saturday afternoons at Upper Canada Cheese: you will often find The Yellow Pear food truck serving up delicious farm-to-truck fare. Check The Yellow Pear’s web site or twitter feed to confirm. They are worth tracking down in other locations if you can. http://www.farmtotruck.ca/

Sunday brunch at Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Grab some food and a cocktail. This summer’s schedule is here: http://dillons.ca/al-fresco-sunday-br...

The weeknight SupperMarkets (see below)

A good place to track truck locations: https://www.facebook.com/ontariofoodt...
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BEST LOCAL EVENTS AND POP UPS
This is another category that changes every season, so please check with the venues before planning your time. The suppermarkets are summer-only events, so don’t expect to find them in the fall and winter months.

Wednesday night SupperMarket at the plaza at The Village in NOTL. A mashup between a farmers market, a food festival and a community picnic. This is one of my favourite parts of living in NOTL. Get food, wine and beer from one of the dozen or so food trucks, food vendors, wineries and breweries and grab a seat at one of the colourful picnic tables. http://marketatthevillage.ca/

Thursday night Pelham SupperMarket. Pelham was inspired by the success of the NOTL SupperMarket and started their own this year. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pelham...

Thursday night fish fry at the Canadian Legion Hall in NOTL from 4 - 7pm (maybe 8?). The best fish and chips in town. $7 for one piece or $9 for two. Get a beer for $3 or a glass of wine for $4 (prices are fuzzy in my memory, as I usually get the F&C to go). Don't go here looking for charming atmosphere, but the fish and chips are really good! Eat like a local. :)

Friday nights at Oast House Brewery in NOTL: El Gastro takes over the beer shed kitchen starting at 5. Drink beer, eat good food and listen to live local bands (starting at 7:30). It’s not listed on their web site, so the best thing is to check the El Gastro web site or either of their twitter feeds. http://www.elgastro.com/ http://oasthousebrewers.ca/

Friday and Saturday nights at Silversmith Brewing Company in NOTL: Tide and Vine serves up delicious oysters and seafood dishes. Drink beer and eat good food in a converted church. Check the Tide and Vide web site or twitter feed for confirmation: http://www.tideandvine.com/ http://www.silversmithbrewing.com/
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NIAGARA FALLS
Niagara Falls is generally full of incredibly overpriced, mediocre food (for god’s sake, don’t go the Denny’s or IHOP or any of the chains there, even if your hotel gives you a coupon), but there are some gems to be found. My focus is on the casual, value destinations — I don’t really go out for fine dining in NF.

The Regal Diner: great breakfast and lunch diner, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here. Don’t go here looking for fast food, but the food is worth the wait. Follow them on twitter for up-to-date conditions at the diner. @theregaldiner http://www.theregaldiner.com/

Paris Crepes Cafe: good crepes. :) http://www.pariscrepescafe.com/

Moksha Indian Bistro: good Indian food at a good price point for NF. http://www.mokshaniagara.com/

Taps on Queen: brew pub that is loved by the locals. I can’t vouch for the food, but if you want a good place to get beer and listen to live music, this is it. http://tapsbeer.ca/wpsite/

Jul 20, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)
9

Trip to Niagara Falls/Buffalo N.Y. what grocery items would you bring back?

This was at the Lewiston location. I've never visited the other locations, so don't know what the doughnut status is at them. But the Lewiston location has always had doughnuts when I've visited, and they are always delicious...and cheap! It's really nice to pay just a buck for a simple, quality doughnut.

Jul 18, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)
2

Food Events - 2014 (Toronto area and rest of Ontario)

It's a good weekend to be in Niagara:

Saturday and Sunday is a free admission Food Truck Eats event at Mike Weir Winery. 20 food trucks + wines by the glass. If you like the Peller Estates event, this is the same...but free.
http://ontariofoodtrucks.com/food-tru...

Sunday is Ripe and Juicy Market at Stratus Wines. Food trucks, food vendors, live music, artisan crafts, seminars, etc. Free entry and free parking on site.
http://gatheringniagara.com/ripe-juic...

Saturday and Sunday is the annual Lavendar Festival at Neob in NOTL. $5 entry at the door.
http://www.neoblavender.com/shopCAN/i...

Jul 11, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

Trip to Niagara Falls/Buffalo N.Y. what grocery items would you bring back?

DiCamillo! Really great doughnuts. The custard filled ones are amazing. Multiple locations.

http://www.dicamillobakery.com/

Jul 10, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)
1

Trip to Niagara Falls/Buffalo N.Y. what grocery items would you bring back?

EVERYTHING FROM TRADER JOE'S.

(sorry for the yelling...I'm just terribly enamoured of TJ's)

TJ favourites from a couple of recent shopping excursions:

Salted almond butter
Roasted coconut chips (buy a lot of these, you will regret it if you don't)
Freeze-dried strawberries (they also have raspberries, blueberries and mangoes)
Thai red curry cashews
Honey sesame almonds
Rosemary marcona almonds
Creme fraiche
Kerry Gold butter
Triple ginger cookies (I'm normally not a fan of packaged cookies, but these are great)
Sesame sticks
Quick-cook farro
Wild rice
The organic sugars and flours are a phenomenal price, too

Note that you can try anything in the store. Literally anything (though I'm not 100% sure about the booze). Just go to the tasting bar in the back corner with whatever it is you want to try and they will either already have a taster open, or they will open a package for you on the spot.

Jul 10, 2014
TorontoJo in Ontario (inc. Toronto)

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Oh, that sounds and looks wonderful! Love the addition of the rhubarb peach compote. And I'm going to try making custard with brown sugar next time. Glad the birthday boy was happy!

Jul 08, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
1

I just bought a whipper :)

No, the cartridge discharges completely. They are single use chargers. The contents of the whipper, on the other hand, stays whipped for quite some time in the fridge.

Jul 07, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

That sounds delicious to me!

And I have made the filling both ways: plain custard and custard lightened with whipped cream. In general, I prefer the plain custard, especially if I'm frosting with a whipped cream frosting, but it's totally a personal preference. I just happen to LOVE custard in it's basic form.

Looking forward to hearing how your hubby's birthday cake turns out!

Jul 07, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

What are you baking these days? July 2014 Edition, Part 1! [old]

Make sure you have lots of people around to share it with, as it's a total butter bomb and very rich (in the best possible way!).

Enjoy your belated birthday cake! Thanks again for leading me to this recipe.

By the way, you can easily half the the custard recipe and still have plenty for the cake.

Jul 06, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

What are you baking these days? July 2014 Edition, Part 1! [old]

My oven is accurate. The cake was deeply golden brown and level with the top of the springform. It still had a bit of wobble when I gave it a little shake, which is what led me to think it needed a bit longer. The recipe does indicate that the timing is quite variable. I'm guessing it depends on how thick you pipe the batter and pastry cream layers. The cake would be hard to overbake, so the only thing I would have needed to do is cover it with foil to prevent the top from getting too dark. Next time! :0)

Jul 06, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
2

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

I made this yesterday! Reported on it over on the baking thread so as not to hijack ChristinaMason's thread. :)

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9810...

Jul 06, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
1

What are you baking these days? July 2014 Edition, Part 1! [old]

Thanks for posting the Basque cake recipe, roxlet! I made it yesterday and it is incredibly rich and delicious. I ended up baking it for 90 minutes and it was still slightly jiggly, but I was worried about letting it go any longer, given that the recipe calls for only 60 mins. But I should have gone with my instinct and let it go another 10 - 15 minutes, as the cake fell a bit after cooling. However, that simply meant that the custard center was still beautifully creamy and a bit loose.

Will definitely make it again, though I will be sure to bake until the the center is completely set. Note that I didn't bother piping the custard -- I just spooned it in and smoothed it out with an offset spatula. Piping the cake batter is made easier with a lazy susan and a buddy to turn it as you pipe.

The textural contrasts are amazing: creamy center with a chewy crispy crust (the edge is the best part!). We had it with sweet local strawberries and a pistachio-cardamom custard (yes, gilding the lily). Delicious.

Jul 06, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
11

I just bought a whipper :)

I'm quite fond of making carbonated fruit. Fill the canister no more than 2/3 full with fruit. Add a tablespoon of water (or liqueur of your choice) and a tablespoon of sugar (even the sweetest fruits generally need a bit of a boost with this method). Use two CO2 capsules (one right after the other). Give the canister a bit of a shake and allow to chill for at least 45 minutes. Then carefully release the pressure and open the canister. Eat the fizzy fruit right away, as it starts to lose its fizziness within a short period.

Jul 04, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Oh, I'm definitely making it this weekend and will report back! Have you made it before, roxlet? I'm trying to decide whether I can make it on Friday to serve Saturday or whether I'm better off making it Saturday morning. We're doing a Wimbledon picnic, hence the strawberries and cream. :)

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
1

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Ah, interesting. I've always thought of pastry cream as custard with whipped cream folded into it. Thanks for the education!

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Aagh, that looks so good, thanks for sharing it! I'm going to make it this weekend for a party and serve it with strawberries and cream.

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Yep, what chowser said. The mascarpone stabilizes the cream.

As for the granulated sugar, it's creamed with the cheese before adding the whipping cream, so it dissolves sufficiently. I would guess that brown sugar would do the same? If you want to try the brown sugar route, you could dissolve the sugar in a little bit of warmed cream and beat that with the cheese before adding in the rest of the chilled cream. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with using powdered sugar if you want to!

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
1

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

For the cake with the dots of frosting on top, I actually made a mascarpone whipped cream, which was really tasty:

http://www.food-pusher.com/2013/11/ma...

I still just used straight up custard for the inside layers, but the mascarpone frosting would have been awesome as the frosting.

And given that he likes bourbon, I might consider modifying the recipe to use brown sugar instead of white, and add a couple of tablespoons of bourbon. Brown sugar bourbon mascarpone frosting sounds pretty damn good. :)

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
1

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

Sure. If you are just doing custard in the middle layers, then one recipe of this custard (uncut with whipped cream) is sufficient:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

If you want to put custard on the top, you'll need to double the recipe or fold in whipped cream to make pastry cream.

For the frosted version, a single recipe of the cooked flour frosting is more than enough, since the frosting is just going on the outside.

Also a tip that I learned the hard way: for the layers, start with the strawberries first, then spread the custard over and in between the strawberries. If you go the other way around (which admittedly is easier), the next layer of cake won't adhere because it's sitting on top of the fruit rather than the custard.

Jul 02, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking

Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

My go to summer birthday cake recipe is a strawberry custard cake. I use Rose Levy Berenbaum's amazing white velvet cake recipe, then split the layers and fill with chopped strawberries and custard/pastry cream. When I'm using local, in season strawberries, I don't even bother macerating the strawberries. Make the day before to let the custard soak into the cake a bit. It's super simple, but always a huge hit. And it's fun and easy to decorate! Here are a few versions I've done over the last couple of years. For the one that's actually frosted, I used the cooked flour frosting recipe that's been discussed on Home Cooking many a time.

Jul 01, 2014
TorontoJo in Home Cooking
4