48 hours in Niagara
With a crop of new dining and drinking options, the peninsula is overhauling its reputation
Here’s some welcome news for Torontonians who associate Niagara with indoor water parks and overpriced chain restaurants: the culinary scene across the region has come into its own, spurred on by a contingent of young, energetic chefs, vintners and brewmasters. And it’s possible to find accommodation in sleek new hotels—without heart-shaped Jacuzzis. Not everything is different, though: the area’s grapes are still producing some of the country’s finest wines. We’ll drink to that.
124 on Queen Hotel and Spa, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Certainly the swishest hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the centrally located 124 on Queen is outfitted with all sorts of Victorian and modern touches. It has comfortable, streamlined rooms and villas, a restaurant and bakery that use locally sourced ingredients, and a free shuttle to get guests around the area. But the major draw here is 124’s top-notch spa, particularly its new 90-minute coconut body bliss treatment—a face-to-feet scrub-down with tropical-scented lotion. 124 Queen St., 905-468-4552 124queen.com.
Harbour House, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Harbour House is a BYO-binoculars launch point for fishing, sailing and birding on the Niagara River. The gambrel-roofed Maritime-style hotel is all about comfort. Its 31 rooms—many of which are dog friendly—are decked out with luxuries like feather-top king beds and whirlpool tubs, and continental breakfasts are included. In the event of a rainout, there’s a complimentary wine-and-cheese reception each afternoon. 85 Melville St., 905-468-4683, niagarasfinest.com.
Pearl Morissette, Jordan
An austere black structure, built to resemble a barn, houses the most extra-ordinary restaurant in the province, and perhaps the country. Co-chefs Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson are bookish, ambitious and French-trained. Farm-to-table sounds too modest for their multi-faceted menu, which changes so frequently that they’ve taken to calling it micro-seasonal. Introductory bites might include grilled Qualicum Bay scallops in a pool of butter and fermented peach juice. 3953 Jordan Rd., 905-562-7709, pearlmorissette.com.
One of the most dedicated farm-focused restaurants in the peninsula is in a strip mall next to a Subway. Chef Ryan Crawford practises what he grandly calls “integrated cool-climate cuisine,” borrowing a wine term to describe how almost everything he cooks is sourced nearby. We recommend the burger, which is stacked with crisped pancetta, a funky aïoli made with local black garlic, pickles and mimolette. 242 Mary St., 289-272-1242, backhouse.xyz.
Niagara Oast House Brewers, Niagara-on-the-Lake
The best party in Niagara-on-the-Lake is a quick few kilometres outside the old town, on Oast House’s patios, both built from shipping containers. The brewers produce some of the province’s best farmhouse-style ales. Brushfire Smoke BBQ, the on-site restaurant, turns out 14-hour slow-smoked, coffee-rubbed brisket, Sichuan-style fried chicken and mapo tofu rice bowls. 2017 Niagara Stone Rd., 289-868-9627, oasthousebrewers.com.
The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake
This year’s theatrical calendar includes stage classics like Cyrano de Bergerac, lesser-known gems like Howard Barker’s Victory and, of course, the obligatory annual staging of A Christmas Carol. Bonus: matinee shows are the perfect chaser for a farm-fresh lunch. 10 Queen’s Parade, 905-468-2172, shawfest.com.
Grape Escape Wine Tours, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Grape Escape’s expert guides know how to build a curated itinerary from the 100-plus wineries dotted around the Niagara area. Tours are either on bicycles or in small vans, and bike rentals are available for self-guided tours. The outings range from a couple of hours long to whole-day affairs with beer, wine and food tastings included—plus a complimentary door-to-door shuttle for those lacking a designated driver. 1627 Niagara Stone Rd., 905-468-9959, tourniagarawineries.com.
Niagara Apothecary, Niagara-on-the-Lake
This painstakingly refurbished pharmacy, which was first opened in 1869, invites visitors into the world of a working 19th-century drugstore. The Ontario College of Pharmacists supervised the restoration of the interior, which houses shelf upon shelf of antique jars and bottles, some of which contain the original tonics and cure-alls. 5 Queen St., 905-468-3845, niagaraapothecary.ca.