Even not-very-patriotic English people quickly tire of the endless dissing of English food by ill-informed foreigners. It’s true that Boiled Beef and Carrots doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but the dish is sublime when prepared by an expert (my mum, for example). One could debate the matter over many pints but life is really too short for such battles. Better to silence the budding rant by citing the sandwich—nature’s perfect lunch and Albion’s second greatest gift to the world. Even when adopted by Italians and renamed panini, the sandwich exemplifies the best English character traits—practical, compact, private, sensual, mysterious, satisfying, versatile, independent.
I had one of the great sandwiches of my young life the other day, down in Niagara, at de Luca’s Cheesemarket & Deli (the two-year-old cheese shop that chef Tony de Luca opened in a corner of Forum antiques, that big red barn next to Stratus winery outside Niagara-on-the-Lake). It was made to order by the store’s new manager, Lori Elstone, using inventory from the deli counter—a crisp-crusted panini filled with slices of prosciutto from local charcutier Mario Pingue, smoked cheddar cheese, supple grilled peppers and some caramelized onions deglazed with rosemary wine syrup from Malivoire winery. Awesomely delicious. Anyone thinking of biking down to the peninsula this summer should know that de Luca’s can put together a picnic basket or bike-pack lunch, given 24 hours notice. Call 905-468-2555 to make the arrangements.
There will be plenty to check out in wine country this summer now that the dust is settling after winter’s busy shuffle. Tony de Luca left Hillebrand and is happily ensconced in his own eponymous restaurant at the Oban Inn. As if that and the deli aren’t keeping him busy enough, he’s also planning a no-nonsense trattoria on the edge of town. Frank Dodd (ex-Biff’s, Langdon Hall) has taken over the kitchens at Hillebrand Estates. Michael Pataran (ex-Taboo) stopped looking for premises where he could open Fool and is now executive chef at The Prince of Wales hotel—overseeing yet another iteration of the hotel’s restaurant, Escabeche. Pataran’s menus are always provocative and exciting (his blog also makes compelling reading). After a decade at Queen’s Landing, Stephen Treadwell has left to open his own restaurant, Treadwell, down on the water’s edge in Port Dalhousie. The space used to be Twelve, casual sib to Inn on the Twenty. Debuting in May, Treadwell’s constantly changing, rigorously seasonal menu will draw heavily on the naturally raised heirloom harvest of Wyndym Farms, Dave Perkins’s pioneering operation outside N-o-t-L. Then there’s Zest and the Stone Road Grille, not to mention the gorgeous cakes and butter tarts at Catherine O’Donnell’s delightful patisserie, Willow. But the primary vernal gossip among food-conscious locals (and realtors) was the rumour that Oliver Bonacini might be opening a restaurant in the picturesque heart of town. Although rents there are about the same as on downtown Toronto’s more fashionable strips, it seems like a good idea. American tourists who find TO too scary are prepared to venture this far into Canada, reassured by a glimpse of Old Glory across the river’s sundering flood.
In other news and in my neighbourhood, the word is out that Greg Couillard is opening a new restaurant called Mocca in that brownstone building between Club Lucky and the former Avalon, at 115 John Street. Went down to have a look but there’s nothing to see as yet. Couillard appears in Toronto like Gandalf in the Shire, here today and gone tomorrow, showing up whenever it suits him, his wagon full of flavour fireworks to make the children cheer.