By Mike Lowe
Conversation with friends about dining in Niagara-on-the-Lake often conjures up comments like, “It’s too expensive,” or, “It’s too busy and parking is difficult.”
In an attempt to challenge such negative remarks we chose to dine at a well known destination, on one of the busiest weekends, in one of Canada’s most beautiful towns.
The Charles Inn is one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s most recognizable properties. The stately manor house stares out on the town’s main street as is has done since 1832. Today, it is the subject of curious glances from passing tourists who snap photos before moving on.
Is it possible to dine at such a location at a reasonable price? We discover that not only is it possible, but you can have an excellent meal and be treated to fine service as well. By choosing an early dinner time, we are able to find a spot in the Inn’s parking lot conveniently located behind the inn off Simcoe Street.
The Inn offers, in addition to the regular formal dining room option, a lounge menu which is served from 5-9 p.m. either in the bar area or, in weather such as this, on the patio. Space in the bar is limited to four or five tables and the patio has another five or six so an early arrival or reservations are recommended.
The lunch/lounge menu is comprised of six appetizers, priced from $6 to $12, and six entrées priced attractively from $12 to $15. An impressive collection of Niagara wine is available from which we choose a bottle of Featherstone 2010 Cabernet Franc. Our delightful server, Jasmine, offers a taste from the bottle before carefully decanting and pouring glasses. The wine is a wonderful match with our dinner selections, beef tenderloin burger ($14 + extras) and roasted leg of duck confit ($15).
The burger is outstanding. Coarsely ground beef is shaped into a one-inch thick disc and seared to perfection with a nice ‘crust’ on the outside which yields to the moist, tender meaty goodness inside. Add-ons are $1 extra and I highly recommend the double-smoked bacon and 4-year old cheddar — which also play well with the wine.
If you choose the house-cut fries as I did, and you like the taste of truffles, fork out the extra $3 for the gloriously decadent and intensely flavored truffle aioli. This stuff will make you swear off ketchup for good!
The duck confit is a joy to behold and showcases a beautifully ‘lacquered’ crisp skin exterior and succulent, rich, fleshy interior. Scallion mashed potatoes and sautéed baby bok-choy provide a fresh contrast to the richness of the meat.
Our experience at The Charles Inn leaves us convinced that value for your dollar is not a thing of the past. Although our bill, which comes to just over $94, may seem a bit high, the total without the wine would be around $50 (not including tip). Not bad for excellent food, served in a beautiful setting, and graced with cheerful, attentive service. In addition, The Charles Inn offers a 10% discount to local patrons. On Mondays you can bring your own bottle of wine and pay no corkage fee.
Please check the web site for complete list of menus and hours of service.
The Charles Inn
209 Queen Street
Rating: Excellent — 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Mike’s Wine Pick of the Week
Merlot Family Reserve
$27 (availability- winery only)
Aromas of cherry, earth, tobacco leaf and a whisper of woodsmoke lead to a palate laced with red berry fruit, sweet black cherry and some mocha on the finish. Will match equally well with grilled beef or dark chocolate.
Konzelmann Estate Winery
1096 Lakeshore Road