Niagara-on-the-Lake 2016

A few weeks ago we had a belated one-year anniversary brunch with my parents in Niagara. The reason we were about 6 months behind was because in the fall JDL had his knee replaced and then who wants to go to Niagara in the winter?

The day started with a visit to Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first bio-dynamic winery. We tasted a flight of four different wines, two whites and two reds, each highlighting the unique growing conditions and techniques at Southbrook. Our server was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied cuisine and wine at Niagara College. He was well spoken on the interplay between wine and food, something I completely lack and admire in other people.

After a few tastes of wine, we headed over to Trius Winery for our celebratory brunch. The brunch at Trius is a three-course tasting menu with the option to pair each course with wine as selected by the restaurant. Mom, being the classy and knowledgeable person she is, made her choices based on the wine; everyone else made their choices based on the food.

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The dining room at Trius has been recently redone, featuring bold furniture in yellows and reds. The main dining room features huge spherical light fixtures that resemble fireworks exploding in a night sky. The dining rooms open out onto a patio which overlooks the vineyards. In early April this is not quiet the focal point that it is in the summer. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, which was a little more private and with a view of the courtyard and vineyards.

After we were seated, we were immediately greeted with glasses of Trius Brut Rosé – all brunches should start with pink bubbly. It should be noted that this is apparently supposed to serve as a palate cleanser between courses and should last the length of your meal, not gulped down shortly after the first course like mine was. Oops. It was just too tasty to not enjoy that quickly.

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Food Truck Eats – Peller Estates

On Victoria Day Monday I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake with my parents and GC for Food Trucks Eat – Peller Estates Edition.

I am very hopeful that the fact that this poster has the year 2012 on the truck means that this event will become an annual event. This is the best food truck event I have been to and I want to go back to bad! May Victoria weekend 2013 – who’s coming?!

We met up with my parents and headed down to Niagara. First stop, Welland to check out the Welland Canal. Yes, we are that kind of family.

Then we headed to Niagara. We arrived at Peller at about 11:30, half an hour before the gates opened. And this was the line:

The line ahead of us.

And the line behind us. And it got bigger. But it’s ok. Chef Jason Parsons was full of energy, running back and forth between everywhere talking to people, and letting everyone know how much time was left until we got to experience the deliciousness.

There were 16 trucks from Southern Ontario and the United States, live music and of course, wine. Each truck had wine pairings posted with their menu to give you the full experience of being at an award-winning winery. The band was great – they played a mix of classic rock and new rock, the perfect compliment to great food and wine. It was the perfect atmosphere to enjoy some good food, some good wine and some great company.

We were strategic – we came with a list of all the vendors, decided which ones would be the hottest and which ones we wanted to try. We knew we wouldn’t be able to try them all (unfortunately) so we settled on 4 – it’s not as sad and as poor of an attempt as it seems.

Our first stop was Buster’s Sea Cove. The original location is at St. Lawrence Market but since we had never tried them, we thought it was as good a time as any. Oh, and they were serving lobster rolls. This truck is the first seafood centric food truck in Ontario and is a little more upscale from their location at St. Lawrence Market.

I love how this truck is designed. It is wrapped in an eerie, ocean scene which makes you feel like you are on the edge of a dock about to swamped by a tidal wave. You can almost smell the ocean salt and hear seagulls.

Although I love fish tacos I got a lobster roll; I had never had one and missed out at the Toronto Underground Market. And it was a good decision.

Just looking at this again is making me a little excited. This isn’t your average lobster roll – it isn’t drowned in mayo to the point of being unrecognizable. This is a lobster roll that highlights lobster and all its greatness. The lobster was buttery, and fruity, with a hint of citrus highlighted with a squeeze of lemon. There was so much lobster in this roll. You could make out claws of deliciousness. The dressing was light, and creamy and the bun was perfectly toasted with light butter. And a side pickle! Who knew that was even a thing with lobster rolls! And a side of crisps – Ms Vickie’s, the perfect compliment for seafood.

I am planning on visiting this truck/vendor as often as I can/my health/budget will allow me to. If you haven’t had lobster or a lobster roll, you need to have one of these as soon as possible. This was a favourite of the day for my parents and GC. I think it was my favourite too but I am debating between this and the oysters we had next…

Our next stop was Tide and Vine.

The van alone had me sold. I say to GC all the time that if I am forced to get my license I want to drive something like this. It’s retro, playful and classic.

This was my first time having oysters. I love the theatrics of having oysters. They are freshly shucked to order, they are served on ice, and these oysters had seaweed wrapped around them, illustrating how fresh they are. The only thing I can’t handle is watching them be shucked. I love watching it, and could watch this for hours but mini heart attacks would accompany this. I kept waiting for someone to slice off a finger.

We all ordered the Shucker’s Threesome: Cucumber Dirty Martini, Strawberry Daiquiri and the Spicy Caesar.

Do not believe anything you hear about oysters – they are not slimy, snotty, overly salty grossness. They are smooth, succulent, salty and perfect. Each topping added something different to the rich oysters – the cucumber cut the saltiness of the oyster, the strawberry contrasted the saltiness and the Caesar gave you a great kick of heat. This was an amazing introduction to oysters and I plan to have them again and again.

Our third stop was Dobri Jesti.

A food truck serving up Eastern European fare – clearly we had to check this out. I ordered the classic Schnitzel, GC ordered The Hunter, and we split a Risotto Rice Ball and an order of Mr. Schnitz’s Bits.

This risotto ball is better than the other ones I have had – instead of being tomato based it was cheesy, garlicky and creamy. The outside was crispy and crunchy. I wish we had ordered more than one to share. That was a rookie move.

The schnitzel was crispy and the hint of lemon brought out the subtle flavours that pork can have. The bun was a bit dry and too big for the fact that I wanted to eat more that day. Since it didn’t add anything to my sandwich, I just ate the schnitzel..

Mr. Schnitz’s Bits or garlic donuts were heavenly. Warm, doughy, buttery with the perfect hit of garlic and salt. They were dense but they were so good. This was my favourite thing from Dobro Jesti.

I think for their first food truck event they did very well – you could tell they were new because they had a few issues with timing and dealing with the line up but everyone was friendly and excited about food. We only waited in line for about 10-15 minutes which is extremely reasonable for a food truck. I can’t wait to see them at a future food event!

Next we went inside to beat the heat and taste three wines – a rose, a white and an ice wine.

The wine cooled us down and got us ready for eating more food. Onto El Gastronomo Vagabundo!

I have been wanting to try El Gastro for over a year. At every food truck event they have insane line ups and I am always jealous of people walking away from the truck smiling and with amazing food. But not this time!

Both GC and I and my parents got one chicken taco and one fish taco to share – four tacos in all.

Tacos do not photograph well. Let’s talk about the taco I liked less first – the chicken taco. I found the chicken tough and overcooked. It had very little spice to it. The fish taco on the other hand – holy smokes. The cabbage was sweet and crunchy, the cilantro was fresh and fish was flaky and seasoned nicely. The sauce on the fish was so spicy and good! I think this is one of the better fish tacos I have tried. I am excited to try this again…

We thought we could handle one more snack but when we saw the line at Toasted Tangerine we bailed. We knew we would feel too full by the time we were able to order so we grabbed some treats for the ride home.

4 bags of popcorn from Shriner’s Creek Kettle Popcorn – yes, this is excessive but I love this popcorn and I only get it about once every 6 months.

The cheddar tastes like real cheese and is a little smoky. The black truffle flavour doesn’t come across well – it just tasted salty and slightly buttery which for popcorn is still yummy. I still haven’t tried the Cabernet Sauvignon so I will keep you posted on how that one tastes. It kind of is throwing me off that it is an almost fluorescent pink but I’m sure it will be tasty. The Caramel Apple pie was perfect. It was colour-coded to taste and each bite truly tasted like a piece of apple pie. It has been less than a week and I only have one bag left, we should have bought more…

And cupcakes from the Cupcake Diner. I know, I know.

Top row: Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate Dolce de Leche, Banana Coconut
Bottom row: 2 Caramel Apple Pie and another Chocolate Dolce de Leche.

This was kind of my mom’s birthday celebration – we brought candles, a lighter and sang Happy Birthday in a parking lot.

I only actually got to try the Caramel Apple Pie and I thought it was delicious. I think the cake could have had a touch more cinnamon to it but the cake was a delicate base of the rich icing. It was very good. I think I have found my Cupcake Diner cupcake.

We had a few token Niagara sites to check out before we went home. First we went to Kurtz Orchards Farm & Marketplace. Although there is many jams, spreads and preserves here that are all very tasty we opted to enjoy the view instead.

Followed by the Centennial Lilac Garden and the Floral Clock.

On the way home we stopped at Hillebrand Winery for another wine tasting.

This was an amazing day. The lines were manageable and not excessively long. There was a great assortment of vendors and different flavours. The wine was good and perfectly paired with all the trucks. There was free water that was readily available  so no one would get dehydrated. There was ample seating and tables to stand at so you didn’t have to precariously hold plates while trying to enjoy yourself. The band was cool and played great music. I loved everything about this day and I am really hoping that they do another one in the fall (wishful thinking) or next year.

Niagara is a beautiful area and there is so much to do and discover. I can`t wait to go back and discover more wineries, food and beauty.

Peller Estates Winery

This weekend GC and I went to Niagara Falls to celebrate our anniversary (more on that later – there was loved themed baking involved). On Saturday we went to Peller Estates Winery for lunch.

1. One of the great things about living in Southern Ontario is how close we are to the Niagara wine region. There isn’t a lot of geography in Canada that allows us to produce good wine but the wine in this area is something truly amazing. I am biased because of my mother but I will always choose an Ontario wine over anything else. I think a wine tour in the summer is in order.

2. Jason Parsons is the chef at the restaurant in the winery and he is amazing. He is innovative and from eating his food, you can tell he is inspired by food, organic/fresh produce, the seasons and the relationship between wine and food. He is young and hip and his food is comforting. I am salivating thinking about it now. I think this is some of the best food I have ever eaten. If you can, make a point of getting to Peller to eat Chef Jason’s food.

3. We were seated at Mrs. Peller’s favourite table by the big fire place overlooking the whole winery. The table had a simple arrangement of little daffodils in polished rocks – it made me yearn for April. I was so at ease in this setting – it was warm and cozy and you just felt like you were at a friend’s house about to try their latest fresh-from-the-oven baked good.

4. Our server was amazing. She was knowledgable without being pretentious, and friendly without being clingy – just delightful. She supported all my menu choices and said they were her favourite menu items. She allowed me taste different wines to see what I liked best with my main course. It is nice when you are actually served at a restaurant as opposed to just being brought your food. She is part of the reason we had a great experience and want to go back.

5. They were serving the Sparkling Brunch which started off with a complimentary glass of Iced Cuvée Sparkling wine. A mixture of ice and sparkling wine – a gentle, sweet taste as opposed to the dry quality sometimes found in sparkling wines and champagnes.

6. The Sparkling Brunch is a fixed price menu that also has suggested wine pairings. I love the idea of always having a fixed price menu – it is a great way to get a sample of menu items and learn about the menu and the chef. There is also the Seasonal Tasting Menu which is whatever Chef Jason has decided to put together that day. It is based on whatever produce has come in fresh that day and they also take into account any allergy/dietary restrictions one may have. I would have loved to try this but I wasn’t adventurous enough. I like to know what I am going to eat. Next time though!

My starter.

Chef’s Signature Parfait – Creamy Chicken Parfait with an Icewine Sugar Crust. I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered this but it sounded so intriguing that I had to order it. The chicken was creamy and had a smokey taste that you had to break through the sweet, sugary crust to get to. The compotes were so pure in taste (a berry, grainy mustard, and mustard seed) and had such unique tastes that all complimented the parfait perfectly. This is one of the most unique things I have ever eaten and I am glad my curiosity got the best of me.

My main.

Truffle Sea Red Diver Scallops with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Sage Risotto. Can we all reflect on the size of these scallops? They are huge! They were perfectly seared with a perfect crunch and when you bit into them they were fleshy and juicy. I love seafood. The risotto was creamy and the goat cheese was smooth. The sage was incredibly fresh, it was as if it was picked moments before it ended up on my plate.

My dessert.

Cheese board with a selection of three Canadian Cheeses. I can’t remember what the first one is – second was a brie – third was a bleu cheese. Cheese plates are the greatest dessert ever. A nice, savoury way to end a meal. And no nuts! I love it!

GC’s starter.

Beef tartar with a fresh quail egg. The restaurant got in a fresh shipment of quail eggs so they were a fresh addition to some select menu items. Our server suggested that the Chef intended for the egg to be mixed into the beef and it works. I love tasting notes given by the Chef. And can we talk about this presentation? This is one of the best meals that has ever been presented to a table I was at. GC said the tartar was flavourful and the capers and pepper offered a nice heat and flavour. I have yet to try beef or any other type of tartar. I fear.

GC’s main.

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with House Baked Beans, Riesling Braised Winter Greens. And a fresh quail egg! The pork just fell apart under GC’s fork, he didn’t even need to use his knife. The beans were rich in flavour from the pork. This is such a hearty winter meal that should be enjoyed in a bowl curled up the fire – this is an adult deconstructed chili.

GC’s dessert.

Spice Cake with Roasted Apples, Honey Cream, Late Harvest Sabayon. A dense cake, complimented by the lightness of the honey cream and the sabayon. Cake should always come in a bowl so it can have a delicious sauce.

This is the best dining experience I have ever had and I am looking forward to going again. I would encourage everyone to go for a tasting, a tour and a meal.