What: Flat Rock Cellars
Where: 2727 Seventh Ave.,Â Jordan
Tastings: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Proprietor: Ed Madronich
Winemaker: Ross Wise
Availability: Winery, web, and good LCBO/Vintages releases.
Website: Flat Rock
What: El Gastronomo Vagabundo (translation: The Gourmet Vagabond)
Who: Tamara Jensen and Adam Hynam-Smith, owners of Peapod Cuisine.
Where: At Flat Rock Cellars
When: Fridays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
What: Gourmet mobile food truck inspired by the street food movement in L.A. and New York, serving up globally-inspired street food with a local twist
Website: El Gastro
By Rick VanSickle
Ed Madronich, owner of Flat Rock Cellars, has always resisted the urge to add a restaurant to his gorgeous winery.
The Flat Rock philosophy has consistently been relaxed and casual with the focus squarely on the fabulous wines crafted by winemaker Ross Wise. You can enjoy the wines from the wineryâ€™s outdoor deck with some of the most stunning views in Niagara looking down the perfectly planted rows of vineyards to Lake Ontario or simply take the wines home and enjoy them there. But a restaurant has never been in the plans.
Madronich likes being on the cutting edge of trends in winemaking. Flat Rock, with its five-level gravity flow winery, was the first Canadian winery to go exclusively with screwcaps on all its wines back when it wasnâ€™t fashionable to do so.
So, when Tamara Jensen and Adam Hynam-Smith approached him with the novel idea for a street food mobile truck to match up with Flat Rock wines, Madronich didnâ€™t hesitate.
â€œItâ€™s all about the eating experience,â€ said Madronich. â€œNot pretentious.â€
The idea of gourmet food trucks is not new. It started in L.A. and took on cult-like status with locations announced daily via Twitter. It took off and eventually moved to New York and other key locations in the U.S.
El Gastro is believed to be the first mobile gourmet food truck in Ontario and certainly the first to partner up with a winery.
Think locally inspired tacos made with fresh and innovative ingredients served from a converted Fed-Ex courier truck. No hotdogs, burgers or greasy fries here.
The concept is a perfect fit for Flat Rock â€” the ultimate in casual dining yet the food is exquisite with each taco or dish (which changes weekly and costs between $5.50 and $9 per taco) paired with a wine chosen by the winemaker.
Itâ€™s flip-flop and T-shirt dining with first-class food and wine. And that pretty much sums up the casual ambiance Flat Rock Cellars tries hard to achieve.
El Gastro uses local produce as much as possible and sources much of its ingredients from local farmers and independent businesses for Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern ingredients.
The dishes are fusion-inspired but Hynam-Smith insists it isnâ€™t part of the trendy fusion movement. Just because they make a Japanese-inspired tempura prawn served on a Mexican corn tortilla doesnâ€™t make it â€œfusion,â€ he said.
The El Gastro team grows a lot of the vegetables and herbs in their own garden and use whatâ€™s planted in the Flat Rock garden while other ingredients are sourced locally from organic, free-range, grass-fed farms including Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farms and Goshen Farms in Wainfleet and Lake Land Meats in St. Catharines.
While the menu changes weekly, we were served a good sampling of what to expect with the El Gastro tacos and Flat Rock wine matchups.
Flat Rock Cellars Nadjaâ€™s Vineyard Riesling 2009 ($20, at the winery, 4 stars) â€” This was paired with the Flat Rock Garden Fresh Salad with a colourful collection of heirloom tomatoes from Tree and Twig in Wainfleet, goat cheese, beet chip and reptile radish. Iâ€™m not sure any wine could match up to the bold and pure flavours of Linda Cragoâ€™s heirloom tomatoes from Tree and Twig, but this was a noble effort.
The new release Nadjaâ€™s Vineyard Riesling, with lime-sherbet and sharp citrus notes, needed a touch more acidity to perfectly match all those garden delights held together with a lovely vinaigrette dressing.
Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay 2007 ($17, winery, Vintages, 3.5 stars) â€” This paired up remarkably well with the Don Caprese Taco that was stuffed with tempura mozzarella, tomato, avocado and basil mayonnaise.
I loved the creaminess of both the oaked Chardonnay and the avocado together with the added mushy centre of the tempura mozzarella. The affordable Chard from Flat Rock, with its nutmeg-butterscotch notes to go with tropical-citrus fruits, paired well with the gourmet taco.
Flat Rock Cellars Twisted 2008 ($17, winery, Vintages, 4 stars) â€” This was served with the Bangkok Dangerous Taco
consisting of Thai coconut red curry beef short rib, fried shallot and coriander. This was a perfect match with the Twisted blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Curry complements Gewurz brilliantly with flavours of grapefruit, lychee and exotic spice with an added boost from the Rieslingâ€™s citrus and acid zing.
Twisted is a legendary wine from Flat Rock and has found a dedicated following in Niagara. The blendâ€™s bold flavours make it a wonderful wine for pairing up with a variety of foods, but especially dishes with Asian or Indian influences.
Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2009 ($17, winery, 3.5 stars) â€” This estate Riesling lent itself to the most unusual pairing of the taco sampler. It was matched with a plate of Jordan peaches and apricots along with tropical fruits and served with a bowl of dried shrimp, sugar, salt and chili. It was a jolt to the senses taken right from the streets of Thailand but it worked well with the Riesling.
The sensation on the palate ran from sweet to sour to fishy and everything in between. The lovely Riesling notes of citrus and subtle honey along with fresh acidity only added to the pleasure of this interesting dessert. Enjoy!