GREY COUNTY, ONTARIO – Meat loaf on a homemade bun and a local salad with microgreens. Wild Ontario mushrooms coated with panko crumbs and crushed salt and vinegar chips. And tasty ciders made with crisp Ontario apples.
I recently spent three days hiking and kayaking around Grey County, then making up for the exercise with some of Canada’s tastiest food offerings. I came away hugely impressed with the depth and quality and variety of the offerings. Up and down the county, from casual diners in Flesherton to fine dining establishments in Meaford and Thornbury, this might be the next Ontario hot spot for cuisine.
The local ciders also are exceptional, and you can buy a huge variety of fresh apples right off the tree at a variety of fabulous orchards.
I get to sample food from around the world in my travels. And I’m always amazed at chefs who over-complicate things. My ever-so-slightly humble opinion is that a great chef is someone who takes the classics and sticks with them 90 % of the way, then veers off just a bit with an added, unexpected ingredient that provides his or her signature.
Which is why I shook my head in wonder at the mushrooms Andrew Barber cooked up at Andrew’s Roots in Meaford. I mean, crushed salt and vinegar chips? What a great concept! Tasty and crispy and, used in moderation, with a perfect tang of vinegar and a splash of salt.
He served the mushroom on top of a sinfully rich mushroom ragu and simply seared, rare steak from a nearby farm for an absolutely killer starting dish. My main course was a lovely serving of local lamb with sausage and sage; just enough to make it interesting but not enough to overpower the lamb.
Personally, I’d add more wines by the glass to the menu. But that’s the only fault I could find on a busy weekday evening in Meaford, a lovely town on the shores of Georgian Bay.
Down the road in the beautiful town of Thornbury, Barber operates The Mill Café, where you’ll find a bright and colourful interior and a couple of lovely patios that should be good for a few more weeks given our weather of late. I tried his tequila lime pulled chicken tacos a few weeks ago and found them excellent.
Just across the street is the Bruce Wine Bar, a hugely popular spot for locals to gather for food and wine and live music. The menu is sprinkled with everything from date curry lentils to wood-fired pizza to Juniper house-smoked white fish with local pickles and Ontario Yukon potato chips.
I sampled a great charcuterie plate and a friend’s Flintstone-sized, super-tasty bone-in pork chop from nearby Grandview Farms. Being something of a carnivore, I opted for the braised, boneless short rib with crispy potatoes and cumin roasted carrots that were divine. The beef fell apart at the mere mention of the word “fork,” and the slow-cooked reduction was as sweet and rich as a high school kiss.
They do live music nights and also have a two dollar corkage policy for bring-your-own wines on Tuesday, which is great.
A few blocks away is Thornbury Village Cidery, located inside a former fruit packing plant that’s bursting with industrial architecture atmosphere. I never really thought about how it’s made, but apparently making cider is more like making wine than beer. It’s certainly a growing and tasty drink, made with fresh, local apples.
I sampled a nice premium cider as well as one with cranberries and a spiced cider, which would be lovely on Thanksgiving. They’re building a 19-foot bar inside and a huge patio out front, which will be outstanding in season.
Up the road a bit on the escarpment is T and K Ferri Orchards, they grow everything from reliable Macintosh apples to crisp Paula Reds. I ask about Spy apples but Karen Ferri tells me they’re too “cantankerous,” an adjective I had never associated with apples.
She’s a former teacher and a delightful tour guide who shows me around the orchards, explaining how they grow most of their apples on trees that climb a vertical, trellis-like device as it gives them more sun and makes it easier to feed them nutrients and keep bugs away. These are high-end apples that are sent to premium markets, so don’t expect them at your neighbourhood No-Frills shop. Still, there’s a lineup at the register when I stop in.
“People like coming to the orchard,” Ferri tells me. “They can see the care and how much goes into it”
We repair to the main shop after our tour and sample some of their local cider, as well as slices of crisp, tasty apples.
I already mentioned my great meals in Thornbury and Meaford. I was just as delighted with the simple but tasty fare at The Flying Spatula Diner in Flesherton.
Greg Galoska, who used to work at the restaurant, tells me he bought the place from its previous owners a few months back and uses as many local ingredients as he can.
“People say to me, ‘Oooh, you make a great western.’ But it’s just good products; local eggs and good bread. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Somehow I’ve never tried a meat loaf sandwich in all my years on this earth, so I make up for it with one of Galoska’s offerings. It’s a wonderful meat loaf, with bacon and caramelized onions on a house-made, buttery bun with great fries and, surprisingly, a lovely side salad with microgreens and julienned red and yellow beets. It’s an outstanding and memorable lunch in a fun, diner-style setting just outside of town.
The place was featured on “You Gotta Eat Here” a few years ago, and I can see why.
Galoska, who has cooked at restaurants in Hamilton, Toronto and elsewhere, said Flesherton is definitely in a sweet spot of Ontario.
“It’s two hours to the city, so I can go into Toronto and see a play and come back at night if I want. There are things to do here in all four seasons, and there’s fabulous local food.”
He makes a pretty convincing argument. As I make my way around Meaford and Thornbury over the next couple days, I start checking out the windows of the real estate offices, just in case….