What do you get when you combine the two pillars of Southwest Ontario's economy? You get some of the finest farm-to-table driving tours in North America.
Agriculture was big business in the region long before Ford set up shop in Walkerville in 1904. The fertile farmland continues to thrive, with a rapidly evolving wine and craft beer scene adding to the locally-sourced delicacies appearing on menus from Windsor to Woodstock and from Sarnia to Stratford.
Indeed, it's easy to make every farm-to-table meal memorable over the course of a road trip. You can either watch Southwest Ontario Tourism's video series, "Next Stop: Taste," or read up on the following eateries and plug them into your GPS.
A delicious, locally sourced start to the day is built right into many of the B&Bs spread across the region. At the luxurious Iron Kettle Bed & Breakfast in the village of Comber, for instance, Chef Ben Leblanc serves locally baked pastries with farm-fresh eggs that are poached or whisked to perfection by the Chopped Canada competitor.
Over at Dunnville's similarly lavish Lalor Estate Inn, fresh-fruit waffles are paired with locally raised and smoked back bacon, while house-made sausages accompany a sublime breakfast soufflé.
Think pre-theatre brunch only happens in the big city? Think again: Before matinées at the historic Victoria Playhouse in the bucolic town of Petrolia, the aptly-named Actor's Casual Dining serves up "Breakfast at Tiffany's" – a two-egg brunch standard with locally made sausage and homemade strawberry jam – and "New Flap Jack City," three fluffy pancakes served with locally churned butter, fresh maple syrup and homemade preserves.
Chef Eric Boyar of SixThirtyNine in Woodstock doesn't just turn to his ample restaurant garden and surrounding farms for fresh produce. He also explores the lush forests and fields of Oxford County to source the sublime flavors that burst from his kitchen: Roasted Berkshire pork loin with edamame, pearl barley risotto, confit garlic, hen of the woods mushroom and smoked chili oil; and cornmeal-dusted spring-fed trout with apple celery root purée, poached apples, pickled pearl onions, brussel sprouts and brown butter.
For a unique afternoon pick-me-up, head to Las Chicas Del Café in St. Thomas. Its roastery is housed in the historic Canada Southern Railway Station building, which was built in the 1870s at around the same time coffee was first taking root in the Nicaraguan mountains where Las Chicas' beans are grown. Using a small-batch roaster, these fourth-generation connoisseurs produce everything from single-origin espresso blends to butter-pecan flavoured coffee, all of which can be savoured with locally baked pastries right across Talbot Street at the Streamliners Espresso Bar.
Craft distilling doesn't get more immersive than it does at the new Wolfhead Distillery just outside of Windsor. Using local grains and limestone-treated water drawn from the nearby Amherstburg quarry, Wolfhead produces bold double-barrel whiskeys and smooth small-batch vodkas. Tastings are available daily, guided tours are offered on weekends, and the in-house restaurant blends the distillery's wares into a whiskey-infused portobello escargot melt and "drunken" shrimps and scallops flambéed in vodka.
Does it get any better than a sunset feast overlooking the lake? It does when the feast takes place at Smackwater Jacks Taphouse in Grand Bend. A spacious lakefront patio provides a prime vantage point for drinking in Lake Huron's famous sunsets, while Hayter's Farm, The Whole Pig and Alton Farms Estate Winery are among the local producers that contribute to open-faced southern-fried turkey waffles; back ribs braised for a full 16 hours; and a 100-per-cent estate-grown Gamay Noir.
The Refined Fool Brewing Co. has come a long way since a group of friends began brewing out of their homes. Now a 2,200-square-foot craft brewery in downtown Sarnia, it pours eight standards with whimsical names like a "My Cousin Knows The Drummer" Hefeweizen and "Then Bernice Flipped the Canasta Table," an East Coast-style double IPA. No wonder the 70-seat taproom is so much fun.
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