Though the buzz may have settled to a hum, Prince Edward County east of Toronto continues to grow quietly, boasting all the accoutrements for the perfect weekend getaway — rolling rows of green vineyards, menus elevated by local produce, a growing craft beer and cider scene, and undulating white sand dunes that greet the crashing waves of Lake Ontario.
The county made its name on its west side, with the star power of Wellington’s Drake Devonshire Inn and Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard, but the action is lately moving east, as a number of new restaurants, wineries and breweries are putting down roots.
Here are 10 of Prince Edward County’s hidden gems and up-and-comers to round out that next weekend itinerary.
Lighthall Vineyards — 308 Lighthall Rd., Milford
Despite being one of Prince Edward County’s younger and more low-key wineries, family-owned Lighthall Vineyards has reached some significant milestones: It’s one of Canada’s first producers of both wine and cheese, and it’s the first in Ontario to make both products under the same roof. Its excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine pair perfectly with its handmade sheep-milk cheeses, including a Brie, a washed rind, a blue, a Manchego and a feta.
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese — 4309 County Rd. 8, Picton
Speaking of cheese, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is an idyllic spot for an appetizing break from wine tasting. Located on the final stretch of Prince Edward County’s easternmost peninsula, Canada’s only LEED-certified dairy (complete with subterranean cheese-aging caves) offers nibbles of fresh and aged cow, goat and buffalo cheese made onsite using locally sourced milk. If the cheese samples only whet the appetite, visitors can order full cheese and charcuterie boards to enjoy in the outdoor lounge or shaded pavilion.
Public House at Jackson’s Falls — 1768 County Rd. 17, Milford
Anyone looking to change up their dining experiences in the county must absolutely book a table at the Public School House. A 10-minute drive south of Picton, this rustically decorated, one-room schoolhouse from the 1870s produces seasonal, locally sourced, wild-foraged and First Nations-inspired food. Nine gorgeous guest rooms are available in the attached Jackson Falls Country Inn for any diner who can’t trek any further on a satiated stomach, and the bar serves up exclusively Prince Edward County wines. Local brews are to be added to the taps this year.
Midtown Brewing — 266 Main St., Wellington
While it’s fair to credit Prince Edward County’s rise in popularity to its young and trendy wine scene, other beverages are now flexing their thirst-quenching muscles. Alongside a handful of new local brewpubs, Midtown Brewing in Wellington started serving up an extensive list of craft beer in 2017, including an extra special bitter, a rye pale ale, a Vermont-style IPA and a kolsch, as well as ciders, radlers, sangria and numerous other cocktails. To soak up all that booze, the brewery also offers food, from olives marinated in rosemary and orange peels to a fried chicken sandwich with buttermilk ranch sauce.
County Cider Co. — 657 Bongards X Rd., Picton
Offering some of Prince Edward County’s most sublime views of Lake Ontario, County Cider Co. is the creation of Grant Howes, the grandfather of Ontario cider. Though hard ciders may be a more recent addition to most city bar taps, this award-winning spot has been specializing in the drink since 1995, producing 350,000 litres every year from more than 16 hectares of apple trees. Pull up a seat on the patio by the 1830s renovated barn and enjoy a tasting flight of ciders balanced out by lamb sliders, wood-fired pizzas or the Grant burger, a tribute to the company’s founder who passed away last year.
Kinsip House of Fine Spirits — 66 Gilead Rd., Bloomfield
If wine, beer and cider aren’t your tipple, swing by Kinsip House of Fine Spirits to experience the county’s very own farm-based, grain-to-glass distillery. Formerly 66 Gilead Distillery, Kinsip is the county’s only purveyor of whisky, vodka, gin and rum, and it ferments, distills and ages each bottle onsite. The picturesque grounds, complete with a brood of free-roaming chickens, is a great venue to start any tasting tour of the county.
Sand and Pearl Raw Bar — 1705 County Rd. 12, Picton
Nicole and Nathan Hynes, owners of Toronto’s Auld Spot Pub, opened this raw bar and fish fry in the summer of 2017. A perfect stop on the way back from an afternoon at Sandbanks Provincial Park, this West Lake outpost serves up fresh shucked oysters, pickerel and chips, a hot-buttered lobster roll and a smoked trout niçoise. Though it’s also the summer home for the Hynes’s other baby, Sweetgrass Brewing Co., Sand and Pearl also offers a selection of local brews, wine and a signature Bloody Caesar.
Seedlings — 433 Main St., Bloomfield
Since The Hubb, one of Prince Edward County’s original fine-dining mainstays, closed its doors this past winter, a new farm-to-table bistro has blossomed in its place. Seedlings, located inside Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield, opened in early April after a whirlwind renovation. The menu, overseen by Chef Michael Portugal, will change up biweekly, celebrating the region’s local produce and farmers.
The June Motel — 12351 Loyalist Parkway, Picton
Already a popular base for Prince Edward County weekend regulars, the June Motel opened its delightfully pink doors to the public in 2017. This bohemian sanctuary along the county’s Loyalist Parkway is a throwback to mid-century motor lodges, with updated modern stylings by Toronto expats April Brown and Sarah Sklash. It also stocks its guest rooms with wine, offers onsite yoga classes, and provides grab-and-go breakfasts.
Ontario Fermentation Festival — Crystal Palace, Picton
Organized by self-proclaimed “bacteria farmers” Jenna Empey and Alex Currie, Prince Edward County’s first festival celebrating all things fermented returns for its sophomore year at Picton’s Crystal Palace on Aug. 4. While perusing a roomful of food, beverage and craft vendors, visitors can learn about, taste, and buy a number of probiotic products, including kimchi, nut cheeses, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegars, sour dough bread, kombucha, chocolate, coffee and tea.