In the past decade, culinary tourism has taken off, spurred in large part by the popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs whose passion for food has proven to be infectious. In 2020, the World Food Travel Association reported that 53 per cent of all leisure travellers are now food travellers who, it turns out, are a gift to the destinations they visit because they spend 24 per cent more than the average globe trotter.
Luckily here in Canada, we have an abundance of talented chefs and restaurateurs who can give gourmands-on-the-go exactly what they crave – delicious food, made with the freshest ingredients and presented in such a way that it encapsulates the character and personality of place. Here are five road-trip worthy restaurants that will not disappoint (with tips from owners on places to stop along the way).
Galiano Island, B.C., a 55-minute ferry ride from Vancouver.
At the end of a gravel driveway, shrouded by giant maples, cedars and firs sits a tiny timber cabin where chef Jesse McCleery has been doing his own culinary thing, in his own unassuming way, for the last eight years. McCleery, originally from Manitoba, has a deep, abiding respect for the coastal waters, forests and farms of B.C. and his menu is “adventurous microcosm” (as Globe and Mail food critic Alexandra Gill once put it) of what can be foraged, farmed and fished nearby. In years past, McCleery, offered a blind tasting menu that changed with the seasons. In 2022, he and his partner, Melanie Witt, are going à la carte. There will still be Pilgrimme favourites (like fermented potato and grain sourdough bread, or aged duck with parsley root and evergreen huckleberry) but customers can also order wood-fired pizzas with Kootenay alpine cheese and Saanich asparagus from Charmer Pizza (which Witt started on the property last year). On the last Saturday and Sunday of each month (May through September) fans of the tasting menu can also get their fix by reserving a spot for a 12-course sampler at $185 a person. “When guests come here they really have no choice but to slow down and do a re-set,” says McCleery. “Our internet’s terrible so they can’t use their phones.”
- The Food Forest, run by the Galiano Conservancy, which grows, harvest and sells native greens, herbs, edible flowers, root vegetables and homemade teas.
- On Salt Spring Island (next to Galiano) visit Francis Bread (wood-fired and made with B.C. organic grains) and Bodega Gallery (functional, decorative pottery – their vases, filled with wild flowers, are on display at Pilgrimme).
St. Boniface, Winnipeg, a 10-minute drive from downtown.
Located in the culturally rich, French quarter of Winnipeg, Nola is the city’s newest small-plates restaurant known for its lively vibe and bustling open kitchen. The brainchild of chef Emily Butcher and restaurateur Mike Del Buono, Nola’s menu is West Coast hip, with some Chinese flourishes and Midwest heartiness thrown in for good measure. Butcher, a competitor on Top Chef Canada last year, grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C. and is of Chinese heritage. She is also a former ballerina, holds a bachelor’s degree in music and was chef de cuisine until very recently at one of Winnipeg’s top restaurants, Deer + Almond. “All those influences are on display here at Nola where the dishes are big, bold, inventive and very colourful,” Del Buono says. “The combinations might seem odd to some but they work. We’ve been packed every night since we opened last October.” Top sellers include Butcher’s Reuben Gyozas (hand-made Reuben-style dumplings served with sweet soy and wasabi mustard), Gunspowder Roast Carrots, and Seared Scallops on Lo-Bak Go (a Chinese radish cake). Diners can eat for $50 to $60. Del Buono says dining at Nola is a “lively” experience. “You don’t come to us for a quiet, romantic meal. You come to laugh and share plates with friends and family.”
- Breakfast at Clementine, a subterranean brunch spot tucked in the basement of a Winnipeg heritage building.
- The Forks, a 56-acre national historic site, home to parks, shops, museums and the Forks Market, horse stables from the early 1990s that have been converted into huge food emporium.
Algonquin Park, Ont., an hour drive east of Huntsville.
First, there is the novelty of arriving by motorized freighter canoe. After just a five-minute trip across Cache Lake, guests are immediately immersed in a Group of Seven landscape with rocky outcroppings, blue-green water and windswept pines. The tiny island lodge began life in 1917 as a collection of small lakeshore cabins and tents that drew nature enthusiasts from all parts of the world. They still come to Bartlett Lodge to hike and explore the 7,653-square-kilometre park, but they also come for gourmet food served in a quaint wood-paneled dining room where you can smell pies baking in the kitchen. The menu changes daily, depending on what local farmers have on hand. The owners of the lodge, Kim and Marilyn Smith, who purchased it in 1997, “are big believers in respecting where we are,” says general manager David Fortune. “They are equally committed to giving their guests a fine-dining experience in a cottage setting, where the food is on par with the spectacular scenery.” The four-course meal is $80 for adults and $40 for children. Favourite dishes are fresh lake trout, AAA beef sirloin and Marilyn’s homemade wild blueberry pie.
- Henrietta’s Pine Bakery, locations in Dwight, Ont., and Huntsville, Ont. (Must-trys are sticky cinnamon buns and Muskoka clouds, a light pastry with fresh cranberries).
- Pizza On Earth in Dorset, Ont. (a family-run artisanal pizza shop along Highway 60)
Auberge du Grand Fleuve
Métis-sur-Mer, Gaspésie, Que., 15 km from the famous Reford Gardens.
On the shores of the St. Lawrence, in the bucolic village of Métis-sur-Mer, there is a restaurant and 15-room auberge full of books and bonhomie. Marie and Raynald Pay instilled in their three children a deep appreciation for the gastronomy of the area, as well as an abiding love for literature. The family has owned the inn for 27 years. Every nook and cranny of the auberge (including the dining room and kitchen) is filled with books, some old, some new, all treasured objets d’art on loan to guests for the duration of their stay. Three years ago, the youngest of the Pay children, Marguerite, took over running the auberge, which specializes in classic French cooking made with ingredients sourced from the Gaspe Peninsula. “Our food is really good and really simple,” says Marguerite. The three-course table d’hote is $65. Must-trys are the house-smoked salmon, halibut, scallops and a basil crème brûlée.
- In historic Métis-sur-Mer make two stops: for coffee and pastries go to Café sur Mer; for gelato go to Atelier culinaire Pierre-Olivier Ferry (a wild rose and seaweed or maple gelato have rave reviews online).
Bessie North House
Canning, N.S., a 20-minute drive north of Wolfville.
At the foot of the North Mountain in the Annapolis Valley and surrounded by orchards and vineyards sits a little farmhouse named after a beloved school teacher, Bessie North. When chef David Smart and his wife, Susan Meldrum, bought the 130-year old property in 2017, locals would say, “Oh, you bought Bessie’s house,” Meldrum says. “We kept the name to honour a woman who touched so many lives in this community.” Five years ago, Smart and Meldrum, who previously owned the 65-seat Front and Central restaurant in Wolfville, wanted meaningful change. They wanted to go somewhere rural, somewhere smaller, where they could work closely with local farmers to create a menu that would showcase the bounty of the valley. In 2018, they opened their 12-seat restaurant in the house (where they also live). It has one, seven-course menu that costs $130 a person. The concept and Smart’s food are popular, insanely so, with customers still buzzing about last year’s corn menu (which featured, for example, a homemade agnolotti pasta stuffed with corn and mascarpone cheese and a corn tiramisu). There is one setting for dinner, two or three nights a week, from April through mid-December.
- The Noodle Guy in Port Williams. It’s where Susan and David go for date nights.
- The Tangled Garden, a self-directed garden and tasting tour is $10. Jams, jellies, vinegars and preserves are made by owner Beverly McClare.
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