By Michael Lowe
Try to count how many downtown St. Catharines restaurants have been around for over 30 years and you’ll only come up with a couple of candidates. One place that can boast this distinction is Wellington Court.
It had been over 10 years since I reviewed the restaurant, which has served Niagara diners for 34 years. I had just heard of a news-worthy addition to Wellington’s team so it was time to drop in and catch up. The team of Dale Camroux and Erik Peacock has just expanded to include Chef Ross Midgley. Midgley has held executive chef positions at some of Niagara’s top restaurants, most recently, Ravine Vineyard.
I’m dining solo at lunchtime so I choose a seat at the bar leaving tables free for bigger groups. By noon, the lunch crowd was already streaming into the popular eatery. The restaurant occupies a beautifully restored old house, which retains some of its charm—high ceilings, tall baseboards and intimate, separate dining areas. Decor is fresh and simple with brown and gray accents. A quick look at the menu is all that is required to make my selections. Shortly after settling in, Erik Peacock stops by to say hello and asks what I’m up to. He spies my camera and remarks, “I see, doing a little research.”
The lunch menu consists of starters priced from $9 for soup up to $18 for a half dozen oysters. A selection of sandwiches — $14-$16, and mains — $17-$24 round out the menu. My app choice is calamari (photo above) served with two sauces. The calamari’s crust is crunchy and well seasoned, contrasting the delicate, tender rings inside. It’s tough to pick a favourite between the saffron yogurt and the chili aioli so I alternate for balance. The candied lemon peel adds vibrancy to the dish — a nice Middle Eastern influence that works well with the saffron. A glass of Stratus Tollgate Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon proves a worthy match.
For the main course I opt for the rigatoni (photo above). The dish consists of tender braised beef ragout in a rich tomato sauce, some wilted spinach and freshly grated parmesan. The recipe holds true to Italian sensibility — a few good ingredients treated with care with a focus on good cooking. I love the simplicity and well-developed flavours in the dish—comfort food for a cold winter day.
Not being in any great hurry, I linger over coffee and dessert. My choice is dark chocolate brownies with salted caramel and brown butter ice cream. Yes, it is as good as it sounds. The brownies are the just way I like them, dense and a bit chewy.
Near the end of this great meal, Chef Midgley approaches and welcomes me with his signature smile and firm handshake. Our paths have crossed many times. Coincidentally, it’s almost 10 years since I reviewed Midgley’s food for the first time. While discussing his recent move, he intimates that he simply wanted a change, to work in a more bistro-like environment. I think the move was a good one, both for him, and for the diners who continue to flock to Wellington Court.
11 Wellington Street,