By Michael Lowe
The recent spell of warm fall weather has a tendency to make us head out looking for ways to hang on to summer. One sure-fire way is to enjoy some fine outdoor dining at local wineries — before it’s too late. Here are two top picks from a recent visit.
A sunny Saturday afternoon is the perfect time to lounge on the the deck (very top photo) at Creekside Estate Winery, enjoy a glass of chilled wine –— or craft beer — and dig in to some darn good eats.
Anyone who has sunk their teeth into smoked meat creations by Chef Nathan Young will attest to the fact that he is a master in his realm. Young, who runs In the Smoke Cookery and Catering, has nailed down the art of smoking.
I vividly remember my first bite of his smoked burger, which has gained a bit of a cult following in Niagara — and it’s on the menu at Creekside. Another staple is his beef brisket, a tender, moist, BBQ sauce draped slab of goodness that leaves your taste buds yearning for more (photo above). Add a little of the silky horseradish aioli, some crunchy, creamy slaw and a bag of crisp fries — simple, unpretentious food, and tasty as you’ll find anywhere.
The smoked chicken breast (photo above) is also a nice summer dish, especially when paired with a cold, refreshing brew from Bench Brewing Company. It’s a great match with the mild heat of kimchi and BBQ sauce on the chicken.
Sunday finds us at Westcott Vineyards, perched on the Niagara Escarpment on Seventeenth Street in Jordan Station. There you will find one of Niagara’s finest chefs doing what he does best — creating delicious dishes, with a focus on local ingredients. The showpiece of the tented patio is the stone, wood-fired grill and oven where Chef Andrew McLeod, owner of Bolete in St. Catharines, and his team churn out some amazing eats (photo below).
My first plate is as beautiful to look at as it is to savour on the palate. McLeod’s scallop crudo is a must-try dish for the seafood lover (photo below) Scallops are simply dressed with parsley oil and topped with garlic “crumb” and pickled chili, but it’s the texture of the scallops that will make a foodie shed a tear of joy. Press a slice of scallop against the roof of your mouth, close your eyes and relish the pure flavour as the delicate flesh yields with minimal effort.
Crisp romaine, shaved Grana Padano cheese and crisp pancetta star in a take on the classic Caesar salad (photo below). I detect what seems to be a bit of avocado, which lends a creamy texture to the dressing without the heaviness of the traditional recipe. It’s a beautiful variation, and a refreshing change.
Our main dishes come hot off the wood-fired grill. A grilled vegetable sandwich (below photo, left) features grilled zucchini, peppers and asparagus, smoked mascarpone, arugula and romesco sauce. The Bolete burger (below photo, right) comes with caramelized onions, melted brie cheese, truffle aioli and bacon. Both dishes are great sandwich options, and paired with shoestring fries make a substantial meal.
If you save room for dessert, Chef McLeod has that covered too. His signature apple bake, with dulce de leche and chantilly cream (below, left) and Greek yogurt panna cotta with strawberry compote (below, right) bring sweet closure to our leisurely lunch.
Alas, summer is all but gone and there are only a couple of weekends left to enjoy these beautiful settings and some great food outdoors. Creekside’s deck serves lunch and dinner on Fridays, lunch only on Saturday and Sunday, and runs until Oct. 9. Bolete at Westcott serves lunch from noon until 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday until Thanksgiving. Fireside Fridays run from 5-9 pm outdoors until Thanksgiving continuing indoors until Christmas. Menus are posted online at the links below.