Last week, the Hubs and I took a long weekend road trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Neither one of us had been there before, I had some Hilton points to burn, and it actually not that long of a trip from Charley West (That’s slang for Charleston, WV, for those of you following along…).
One of my very favorite things about travelling is exploring the regional food and drink. Yelp is pretty much the best thing ever for that. I’m always worried that its kinda annoying how much researching I do on where to eat when we plan a trip–then again, over the years, none of my travelling companions haven’t complained when I find the perfect restaurant…
Niagara Falls, Ontario was a bit of a challenge. Not much was coming up on a Yelp search. Now that I’ve been there, I know why. That place if full of chain restaurants. Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Margaritaville all have there place, but I want to know what makes Niagara Falls’s cuisine unique. Its right beside a lake and in a fertile valley. That should be easy! I can eat at a chain any old time.
As it turns out, I did find a fantastic place that is all about fresh, local ingredients: Weinkeller. We went there for our fancy “anniversary” dinner. The place is known for their wines, which they make in-house. The whole menu is pretty much a prix fixe option. You can either do the five-course, or the three-course. The really awesome thing about it was that they would let you sub a glass of wine for the courses if you wanted to. Seriously. I’ve never heard of that before for prix fixe. We both got the five-course option and ordered some wine in place of starters. I got the roasted tomato gazpacho, which was heavenly. I tend to think gazpacho is usually kinda tart and acidic, but this was smooth and mellow. I also had the fried goat cheese as an appetizer. It had this rosemary honey drizzle over it, which actually was the best thing we ate. It was seriously amazing. We both had the nightly special, which was a filet rolled in espresso grounds and wrapped in bacon. The whole meal was very rustic and approachable, not all stuffy and fancy. The owner even came over to our table and wished us a happy anniversary (The Hubs mentioned it was our anniversary when he made the reservation) and chatted us up. I brought home some serious inspiration from that meal. I have a really good roasted tomato soup recipe that I cannot wait to try to tweak a bit to make it a gazpacho. And I need to know how they made that rosemary honey drizzle. I’m hoping its just chopped rosemary in honey, because I want to put that on everything. It would be amazing on pork loin or chops, I think. Who knew those two ingredients worked. My mind was blown.
The last day we were there, we drove about ten miles north to Niagara-On-The-Lake, a small town straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting. The Niagara River/Lake Ontario region is known for ice wines, and many of the wineries are around the town. We took a self-guided bicycle tour of some of the wineries, which was a lot of fun. I don’t care much for sweet wines, so a taste of the ice wine was plenty for me. I had no idea that the wineries grew so many other types of grapes and produced some really fantastic semi-dry to sweet whites and reds. We got to tour one of the wineries, which I thought was fascinating. I
have toured wineries in California Wine Country before, and the set up and process is pretty much the same. In Ontario, growers have to deal with colder weather that can sometimes interfere with the late-harvest grapes. Huge windmills in the vineyards automatically kick on when the temperature gets down around freezing that circulate the air around the vineyard and raise the ground temperature four or five degrees. Of course, ice wine is made usually in January after the grapes have frozen on the vine, concentrating the sweetness of the grapes. Wine grapes are much smaller than table grapes to start with, but ice wine grapes might only yield a couple drops of juice per grape. Its important to press the grapes while they are still frozen so water doesn’t get into the mixture, so the presses are pulled right out into the vineyard, and the wine is pressed within a couple hours of harvest (usually at night) for ice wine. It was fascinating to learn about the process, and its clear the wineries are very good at making it. The attention to detail was astounding.
I looked up what USDA hardiness zone the area is in, and its in the same as me–Zone 6! Amazing! Because the Niagara peninsula is right between two Great Lakes, it enjoys a perfect climate for growing stone fruit (we saw lots of fresh-picked peaches and cherries for sale). The air from the lakes regulates the temperature and makes the growing season much longer than other areas at the same latitude. That might explain one crazy thing that I kept seeing all over Niagara Falls–canna lilies. The public spaces around town were overflowing with blooms of all colors and shapes, but there were canna lilies everywhere. Many varieties I’d never seen before. They are a tropical plant, and the rhizomes must be dug up in cold winter climates to ensure their survival. I took a chance and left mine in the ground last winter where they were planted up against my house. I thought that might help protect them, but they didn’t make it. I wonder if they dig up these rhizomes? Sure they do, but where do they store them all?
Finally, we had to try some poutine since we were above the border. Its really a Quebec thing, I think, but it was available in Niagara Falls, just over the border. Even at the McDonald’s. I’m not sure how I feel about Spicy Buffalo Poutine from McDonald’s but its definitely interesting. The Hubs got some at the Irish Pub we ate at in Niagara-on-the-Lake with his burger. Poutine is french fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it was surprisingly tasty. For the record, I think it was shredded mozzarella cheese on top instead of cheese curds, but it was still really good. Poutine isn’t really an Irish pub kinda food, but curry fries definitely are. I got them on the side with my burger and they were amazing. I’ve never heard of this, but apparently its a thing in Ireland. I had to ask what exactly curry fries were. They are french fries with curry sauce over them. I need some more of these in my life sometime soon.
We couldn’t go that near the birthplace of Buffalo wings without trying them at the place they were invented. Yelp didn’t give me high expectations at The Anchor Bar, but the wings were actually better than average. Basic buffalo wings are pretty simple. Fry them, then coat them in a mixture of butter and hot sauce. The Anchor Bar does this very well. The wings were hot and crispy, and I got mine with spicy BBQ sauce since I don’t like buffalo sauce. Just right. Spicy and sweet. The Hubs got hot buffalo, and said they’d probably be mild anywhere else–the weren’t that hot at all. The place was super touristy and cheesy. It’s kinda sad because it seems kinda desperate. But I guess if they just acted like inventing Buffalo wings was no big thing, then it would be kinda hipster, and that would be annoying, too.
At any rate, we had some fantastic food and wine, and I can’t wait to try my hand at coming up with recipes for some of the food we ate. Oh, yeah… The falls were pretty cool, too.