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Mike Lowe’s tasty summer dining tour in Niagara (and beyond)

By Michael Lowe

Over the last month we revisited some of our favourite dining spots, went on a foodie road-trip, and relished the dishes from a food truck based in Niagara. Here’s a rundown of our experiences.

Niagara food

We began with Sunday brunch at the Yellow Pear in St. Catharines. The restaurant is one of the top spots for brunch and dinner and is now back taking reservations for both. My dish, the pork belly skillet, was a composition of flavour, colour, and texture. Tender slices of pork, crispy home fries, pickled onions, chilies, and piquant sauces meld with the runny yolk of a perfectly poached egg (photos above). I washed it all down with one of my new favourite beers, the Krispy Cream Ale from Cold Break Brewing.

NOTE: The skillet offering changes frequently so pork belly may not be featured when you visit. The Yellow Pear is known for their variations of eggs Benedict. Today, it’s brisket eggs Benny and it is textbook perfection, and pure indulgence (photo below).

Our next excursion prompts a short visit to Tide & Vine Oyster House. Looking for drinks and snacks to kill some time between a wedding and the reception, our arrival is at 4 p.m. on a Saturday. The place was already buzzing, and reservations are flooding in so we were offered a seat at the bar but would have to be out by 5 p.m. No problem – that’s enough time for what we need. A plate of oysters and a glass of wine won’t last long anyway. Just select your mixed plate from the oysters available, douse them with a few drops of one of the delicious homemade sauces, and slurp them down. I opted for a glass of Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc, my favourite varietal to match with oysters. During this stop we decide that Ravine should be on our schedule for lunch the following week.

Ravine winery has been a regular source of dining enjoyment for me. As an avid home cook, I really appreciate the attention to detail a chef illustrates when composing the perfect dish, and the effort it takes to execute a memorable plate of food. Chef John Vetere is back at the helm in the kitchen, and I’m very happy about that. We sit under the huge outdoor tent with a view of the vineyard and the new event space while noshing on cheese, crostini, house-made pickles, and blueberry compote (photos above). The vegetarian menu option gets my attention based on an intriguing description – roasted eggplant, smoky baba ganoush, chickpea salad, Bulgarian red pepper spread, toasted sunflower seeds (photo below). From the first bite, I am struck by the balance of textures, seasoning and the way the components in the dish work together. To say that food is my passion is an understatement – that dish brought a tear to my eye, it was just that good.

Our other choice was the wood oven-baked, wild mushroom pizza. The pie features shiitake and maitake mushrooms on a bechamel sauce base, topped with mozzarella and pecorino cheeses, and drizzled with truffle oil (photo below). The chewy, slightly charred crust is the perfect base for good ingredients like this.

Summer would not be complete without our annual trip to St. Jacobs, Elmira, and Elora. A morning visit to the farmer’s market is followed by a visit with friends in Elmira. They grow a wide variety of vegetables and allow us to raid their garden on the condition that I cook with whatever we harvest that day. The veggies, along with my homemade chorizo and a piece of salmon from the market, find their way into three dishes paired with wine. We start with a variation on bruschetta – carrot-top pesto, fresh tomatoes, and parsley. The chorizo ends up on a wilted kale and garlic and smashed roast potato base, and the salmon is paired with roasted, multi-coloured carrots and beets and topped with tzatziki and preserved lemon (photos below).

Back home in St. Catharines we drop by Dragan Bewing and Wine Company for a pop-up featuring Tropical Fiesta Food Truck. Tropical Fiesta food truck is usually parked in Niagara Falls when not catering events. This was our first time sampling their food – it will not be our last. Quesadillas are just oozing with cheese, the tostones are simply perfect, and the Cuban sandwich is so big I can only eat half of it (photos below).

That wraps up a delicious month as we look toward fall and harvest time in Niagara. For
information, opening hours and menus for the places featured in this report, please see the
embedded links. Enjoy the rest of summer – Cheers.