By Michael Lowe
Whenever I plan a weekend away in Ontario, three things are at the top of the checklist — food, great accommodations close to our destinations, and something good to drink.
What began as a long-overdue trip to the St. Jacobs Farmers Market quickly turned into a relaxing, and educational, weekend in the beautiful countryside surrounding Elmira and St. Jacobs. It started when I scored a reservation in the spacious, upstairs suite (photos above) at the Brubacher Homestead in Elmira. The nightly rate easily competes with area hotels and is particularly interesting to those who still like cooking even while on “vacation.” With a fully equipped kitchen, en suite bath and full breakfast included, you just can’t beat the value.
From our first meeting with Lavern and Marg Brubacher (photo above), it was clear that we would get on nicely. Marg, like me, loves to cook and her husband Lavern is an easy-going guy who makes you feel at home immediately.
The lovingly restored house is set among beautiful gardens (photos above) and surrounded by farm acreage. You can simply lose yourself in the serenity of this place and be content doing nothing at all. Pre-trip research put Block Three Brewing on the list for day one. Fellow writer for Wines in Niagara, Jill Currie, encouraged me to visit and pick up a few bottles. Luckily, the brewery (photos below) is easy to find — located near the intersection of Front and King streets in the village of St. Jacobs — and only about a ten minute drive from our retreat. We sample the featured brews, eventually selecting eight bottles for the trip home.
Next stop on Friday afternoon is Jacob’s Grill, another checkbox on the must-do list for the first day, located just up the street from Block Three. They offer some great local craft brews, including neighbouring Block Three. Here we nosh on poutine (photos below) while waiting on our mains.
With the poutine justly dispatched we dig in to a stacked Reuben and Cajun fried chicken sandwich (photos below). Both are substantial choices after sampling beer or wandering about the local shops.
Saturday morning has us enjoying our first breakfast of fluffy, cheesy soufflé, potato rosti, summer sausage and puff pastry with blueberries (photos below). Marg’s attention to details, like little broiled tomatoes and maple syrup for the coffee, makes the meal a special treat.
We also get the chance for a long chat with the Brubachers. Lavern, who comes from a large local Mennonite family, is a wealth of knowledge about Mennonite custom, places of interest and the various Mennonite branches of this sometimes misunderstood religious community.
Lavern and Marg adopted a modern lifestyle decades ago but Laverne is quick to point out that many of his relatives are, in his words, “still horse-and-buggy people” or Old Order Mennonites. We express an interest in seeing something more than the commercial view of Mennonite life many can witness at St. Jacob’s Market.
Lavern prints off a local map and, while highlighting a route that will take us into the heart of the countryside, explains some differences we’ll see — like why some buggies use rubber tires and others still use wooden wheels with steel rims.
A quick stop at the farmers market after breakfast to pick up fresh produce yields a bag filled with yellow peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and fiddleheads to accompany dinner.
The market is a busy place later in the day so I suggest arriving shortly after opening time. After choosing a nice dry-cured summer sausage (photo below) from A.F. Weber in Wallenstein, we are off to the country.
Just a few minutes out of town, away from the crowded market, we cruise gravel roads through rolling hills carefully following Lavern’s map. Immense, meticulously tended farms seem to go on forever. It’s quiet, calm and inspiring out here and recommended therapy if looking to counter busy, city life.
The drive includes a stop at the Wallenstein General Store. Horse and buggies are parked outside while inside two Mennonite gentlemen are trying on new hats. Visiting the store is like a step back to simpler times when one-stop shopping was the norm.
One last stop is at Elmira Meat Market where pork tenderloin and a smoked pork chop are added to the Saturday night dinner menu. Upon return to the Brubacher Homestead, I do a quick prep of apple, onion and sage compote for the pork and throw together a pepper and tomato salad before retreating to the back deck, scotch glass in hand, to enjoy the sunny afternoon.
Sunday breakfast is another treat. Toast with bacon and egg, aged cheddar, grilled pineapple with strawberries, seasonal local asparagus and the most amazing canned pork sausage (photos below).
Marg and I swap recipe ideas and talk about some of our favourite foods while Lavern prints out another map for our Sunday morning drive. The tour will take us past the simple, white unadorned Mennonite churches where horse and buggies await their master’s return from worship (photo below).
Our final stop is at the picturesque site of the West Montrose Covered Bridge (photo below). Recognized by the province in 1960 as a historical site, the bridge spans the Grand River and is the last one remaining in Ontario.
So, that’s it for our weekend getaway. If you want to experience true hospitality, great breakfast to start your day, and first-class accommodation, the Brubacher Homestead is the place for you. Booking information for the suite and other rooms at the property can be found at BBCanada or AirBNB and treat yourself to a beautiful home away from home soon.