Niagara

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn't live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell's Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village. “Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of...Read More
Spanning the decades of Niagara craft brewing

Spanning the decades of Niagara craft brewing

The craft brewing scene on the Niagara peninsula is, appropriately enough, fluid. Small breweries pop up in every town and their styles range from simple session ales to extreme brews. We stopped in to taste one of the newest and most experimental—Exchange in Niagara-on-the-Lake—as well as one of the pioneer craft brewers, now operating as Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery in a newly gentrifying neighborhood in Niagara Falls. Exchange Brewery Shiny black walls, shiny black bottles, and a marble bar immediately signal that Exchange Brewery (7 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-9888; exchangebrewery.com) is not exactly a suds-soaked beer bar. The brewery and tasting room in the Old Town heritage district strike a sophisticated urban tone in striking contrast to Oast's aw-shucks country brewery image. The building was...Read More
Lift a glass to toast Niagara’s fine craft beer

Lift a glass to toast Niagara’s fine craft beer

As Niagara began to emerge as a major wine district, someone on the peninsula likely did a double take. “Wait a minute,” he might have said. “We're Canadians. We drink beer!” Let's face it, Labatt's and Molson are more than holding their own against Canadian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But craft brewing has also swept across the Niagara peninsula with salubrious results. Although we, too, were focused on Niagara's remarkable wines, we squeezed in visits to three very different and very good breweries. Here's one. Look for the other two in the next post. Niagara Oast House Brewers Route 55 outside Niagara-on-the-Lake cuts through some serious farm country with several vineyards and an aromatic lavender farm lining the highway. But the big red barn of...Read More
Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Jordan Village compresses the Niagara Peninsula experience into a single stop. In just one kilometer along Nineteenth Street, the downtown packs in lodgings with character, a bakery, restaurants, a tavern, and just enough boutique shopping to stave off retail withdrawal. This being Niagara, there is, of course, also a winery. Cave Spring Cellars (cavespring.ca), in fact, is the centerpiece of the community. The Pennachetti family began buying land on the Beamsville Bench in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade, they had become visionary viticulturalists. Conventional wisdom held that only the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake was warm enough for European wine grapes to thrive, but the Pennachettis began growing Riesling and Chardonnay with considerable success. In 1986, Len Pennachetti and family members joined...Read More
Zee’s complements adjacent Shaw Festival

Zee’s complements adjacent Shaw Festival

The Niagara peninsula isn't all about vineyards and fine dining. Many visitors flock to Niagara on the Lake for the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com). The theater company occupies a good portion of the east end of the village. It launched in 1962 to celebrate acclaimed Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). That year's performances were Don Juan in Hell and Candida. Just as wine grapes have flourished in the Niagara peninsula, so has drama. From those first four performances in a hall in the historic Court House, the Shaw Festival has grown into a major player in the theater world. This year's April through mid-October season features 11 plays presented in four different venues. (A Christmas Carol is also scheduled for the holiday season.) Shaw, of...Read More
Afternoon tea gets royal treatment at Prince of Wales

Afternoon tea gets royal treatment at Prince of Wales

We got a quick refresher in British royal protocol when we stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara on the Lake (www.vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales). The stately brick property had been entertaining guests under a couple of different names for more than 30 years before the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) paid a visit in 1901. Thrilled with the royal presence, the property changed its name to the Prince of Wales. We finally figured out that the Duke assumed that title when he became heir apparent to the throne. His father was King Edward VII, the monarch best known from PBS as an unrepentant playboy who took socialite actress Lily Langtry as his mistress. This time the name stuck...Read More
Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

Norma Jean Lowery Harber's family has farmed the 34 acres of Ravine Vineyard Estate (ravinevineyard.com) in St. Davids since 1867. Indeed, her great-grandfather planted the Niagara region's first commercial vineyard here in 1869 and the land was in orchards for many decades. Norma Jean and her husband Blair Harber bought the farm from the rest of the family in 2004. They set about creating organic vineyards and an organic winery. Norma Jean's father had grown wine grapes, and the couple replanted vineyards to focus on the three classic Bordeaux reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) along with Chardonnay, Riesling, and small amounts of Gewürtztraminer. The wines are reason enough reason to visit Ravine. As luck had it, we missed the tasting room hours. But...Read More

Ontario food rivals the view at Elements on the Falls

A big “CANADA 150” sculpture celebrating the country's 150th anniversary of Confederation had just been installed when we settled into a window table at Elements on the Falls Restaurant (niagaraparks.com/visit/culinary/elements-on-the-falls-restaurant/). People were having so much fun climbing on the sculpture and posing for photos that we were almost distracted from the glorious view of Horseshoe Falls. The restaurant is one of five owned and managed by Niagara Parks. The agency was established in 1885 to preserve and protect the natural resources of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. Niagara Parks also ensures a good time for all in this legendary natural setting. They oversee everything from cruises and zipline tours of the falls to gardens, golf courses, historic sites, and the Niagara River Recreation Trail....Read More

Vineland Estates Winery: a clone of one’s own

“These trees are the beginnings of Canada,” David Hulley told us as he welcomed us to the cathedral-like log barn that serves as the tasting room of Vineland Estates Winery (vineland.com). “Trees were being cut down for warships. Some of them weren't needed, so they were used for this barn.” The 1877 structure and the landmark stone tower are among several practical and handsome buildings remaining from a 19th century Mennonite homestead. They perch on an elevated slope along the Twenty Mile Bench of the Niagara escarpment. The chinked log-cabin barn certainly makes the region's most dramatic tasting room. The winery's setting atop the rise among vineyards makes it among the most picturesque estates in the Niagara region. The buildings anchor 42 acres of vineyards,...Read More

Fruits, now and forever, in Niagara

Grapes may rule the Niagara Peninsula today. But peach farmers were the first to recognize the potential of the rich soils of the limestone escarpment. When they planted peach orchards in 1825, they set the area on its agricultural path. By 1950, the Niagara Peninsula boasted more than 4,000 fruit farms, with peaches and cherries the dominant crops. Many former orchards have been transformed to vineyards. But Niagara still supplies about 90 percent of Ontario's peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots—as well as the lion's share of plums, pears, and cherries. That's according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the agency charged with paying attention to such things. The folks in the area seem to keep an equally close eye. They wait...Read More