15 of the best restaurants outside the GTA
Fill up the gas tank and get outta town
Ancaster Mill ★★★★½
548 Old Dundas Rd., Ancaster, 905-648-1828
Ancaster’s fine dining-destination is worth the drive from Toronto. The room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, is built on the bank of a trickling stream that’s fed by a spectacular man-made waterfall. Butter-sautéed mixed mushrooms come under lemon-zinged hollandaise, crunchy fried croutons and sharp shaved Parmesan. From the three-course tasting menu—great value at $75 or $100—rib-eye is juicy, served with tender white baby turnips, smooth mashed potatoes and earthy salsify purée. For dessert, a simple country classic—strawberry shortcake— is elevated with a scoop of house-churned strawberry ice cream, a fluffy buttermilk biscuit and whipped cream. The wine list is lengthy and heavy on Ontario bottles.
Eigensinn Farm ★★★★½
449357 10th Concession, Grey Highlands, Singhampton, 519-922-3128
Reservations must be made months ahead and a tolerance for whimsy is required at Michael Stadtländer’s working farm/restaurant. The dining room, a Tolkien-esque setting of branch chandeliers and dusty knick-knacks, is reached past the family dog and a pile of muddy boots, and through the farmhouse’s mud room. Nevertheless, one of Stadtländer’s exquisite eight-course dinners is an event. His fans tend to be serious wine lovers who crate along rare vintages to pair with a peppery, fennel- and thyme-laced lobster and littleneck clam soup, and fresh-caught Lake Erie pickerel. One of the heritage-breed piglets rooting around a barn becomes a thick, gamey chop, grilled over a wood fire and accompanied by potato and gouda chips. Even the honey sweetening a black currant and apple cider sorbet comes from the farm’s apiary. Midway through dinner, Nobuyo, the chef’s wife and the hostess, invites the group outside to walk around the kitchen’s herb garden, where there’s a smoker made of fieldstones and a voluminous turkey perches on a wooden fence.
Langdon Hall ★★★★½
1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge, 1-800-268-1898
Chef Jason Bangerter takes advantage of the resort’s kitchen garden, which supplies the mauve garlic blossoms and delicate dill fronds that decorate a cream panna cotta dotted with B.C. sturgeon caviar. Fresh-from-the-field English peas star in a gloriously fragrant gazpacho poured by an attentive server over chunks of perfectly poached lobster. There’s proof of an inventive mind in many dishes, everything so elegant as to nearly conceal the effort and thought behind, for instance, a salty round of cured foie gras matched with an intensely tart rhubarb compote and sprinkled with a crumble of dehydrated olives, almonds and raw sugar.
16 Sydenham St., Dundas, 905-628-7800
Diners sick of rustic-shabby restaurants on Dundas the street should head instead to Dundas the town. Quatrefoil is a polished throwback to the glory days of fine dining; chef-owners Fraser Macfarlane and Georgina Mitropoulos have created a refined atmosphere that’s as suited to cocktail-attired special occasions as it is to fleece-and-jeans weeknight dinners. The chefs use pristine ingredients and continental techniques, and the cooking is fastidious without being overly fussy. A single raviolo bursts with potato, roasted garlic and parsley; a topping of oven-dried tomato and preserved lemon imbues the dish with acidic zing. A humble pork chop is drippingly juicy.
Peller Estates ★★★★
290 John St. E., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-6519
The dining room oozes grandeur, with its warm walls, plush booths and crisp white linens, and chef Jason Parson’s tasting menu still includes a proper course of fortified, peppery chicken broth poured tableside over agar domes of carrot, onion and celery. An intensely flavourful aged rib-eye is perfectly medium-rare throughout and accompanied by a decadent butter bomb of creamy potato mousseline. Every course goes beautifully with one of the estate’s wines thanks to an expert pairing program. The only flaw in the experience is a stodgy crème brûlée.
The Prune ★★★★
151 Albert St., Stratford, 519-271-5052
Set in a converted brick Victorian on a residential street, The Prune fronts as a simple neighbourhood restaurant. What a surprise, then, when chef Bryan Steele’s modernist creations arrive at the table. He reinvents a terrine as a roulade of tender chicken and quail accompanied by a slab of smoked foie gras and shards of bacon. Vegetarians are given a creative option in a spicy tamale made with poblano pepper, black beans and corn chip crumbs. Parsley angel food cake with rhubarb jelly and parsnip cream could easily read as a savoury dish but turns out to be a triumphant dessert. The wine list features countless bargains. Prix fixe from $49.
9 Cobourg St., Stratford, 519-271-6442
Don’t let the mesmerizing view of the Avon River distract from Rundles’ artfully plated food. Asparagus tips and a briny, creamy, caesar-like dressing wreath rectangles of yellowfin tuna perched on olive oil–poached veal. The wine list is extensive and expensive, but calibrated to complement dishes like roasted cauliflower dusted with madras curry, served with pan-seared gnocchi with parmesan-inflected centres. The lemon poppyseed “surprise” brings torn cake with tart orange sorbet, passion fruit ice cream and candied green olive.
Drake Devonshire ★★★½
242 Mary St., Wellington, 289-272-1242
The bucolic Prince Edward County hotel and restaurant imports cool touches from Queen West, and chef Matt DeMille’s menu makes the most of the local larder. To start, succulent confit duck wings have a craggy caramelized shell, and shrimp crudo is bright with Quebec canola oil and the briny pop of elderberry capers. Seared local pickerel is buttery and juicy, lifted by a minty salsa verde and fresh fava beans. It pairs brilliantly with an unoaked chardonnay from area producer Rosehill Run. A sweet cream ice cream, stewed rhubarb and crisp streusel sundae makes for a gorgeous, summery finish—but so do s’mores by the firepit on the deck that stretches nearly to the shoreline of the gently lapping lake.
Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards ★★★½
240 John St. E., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-0592
Immature grapes take a while to produce robust wines (the first ones were bottled in 2010), but the kitchen’s straightforward take on Italian comfort food makes for one of the finest meals in wine country. A light, ideally blistered crust topped with basil pesto, creamy ricotta and spinach is perhaps the best Neapolitan pizza this side of the Mediterranean, and superlatives fail to capture the deep-fried joy that are pillowy, perfectly sweet-and-salty cinnamon-sugar beignets.
Vineland Estates Winery ★★★½
3620 Moyer Rd., Vineland, 905-562-7088
Niagara’s rustic restaurant occupies a converted farmhouse with exposed timber beams and huge windows that overlook the vineyard and Escarpment. The mood is relaxed—diners wear polo shirts instead of jackets and ties. Chef Justin Downes deftly combines continental techniques and international influences. In a five-course tasting menu, three dishes include pork and/or duck; fortunately, they’re all excellent. Pork belly roasted with cinnamon, clove and fennel is disappointingly dry, but espresso-rubbed duck breast has crisp skin and moist meat. Tart, creamy rhubarb mousse with a sugary plum sorbet makes for a scintillating conclusion. Tipplers will appreciate the impressively priced reserve vintages served by friendly, eager-to-please staff.
242 Mary St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 289-272-1242
This is nose-to-tail, small-plate dining at its best in a most unlikely place: a strip mall that also houses a Subway. Here, locally farmed baby trout are lovely right down to their crunchy tails, and lamb shank ravioli in a shallot jus explode with flavour. Chef Ryan Crawford has been carting around “Roxanne,” his sourdough starter, for 16 years, and it shows up everywhere, including in the flammküchen, wood-fired Alsatian pizzas topped with house-made cheese, sweet onions and bacon. For dessert, pears are poached in local beer and served with malty ice cream and a buttery biscuit, made deliciously bitter with hops.
The Berlin ★★★
45 King St. W., Kitchener, 519-208-8555
Surrounded by farms in the centre of Kitchener, chef Jonathan Gushue has easy access to the freshest ingredients for his always-changing menu: grilled treviso with munster d’Alsace, plump raisins and dried fruits in an earl grey vinaigrette is sweet, bitter, pungent, and perfect with house-baked nut- and fruit-studded sourdough. Local rib-eye, cooked perfectly rare, sits on a mound of mixed wild mushrooms, a ruby-red cabbage purée, and a single dumpling filled with herbed quark (fresh cheese) and scallions. Pastry chef Eli Silverthorne’s creative desserts are impressive: lavender-inflected fermented honey ice cream and dark chocolate mousse are topped with airy chantilly cream, then finished off with bright-red pomegranate dust.
794079 County R. 124, Singhampton, 705-445-2748
The revered chef Michael Stadtländer recently revamped his bakery and restaurant, trading the farmhouse menu for Asian-inflected small plates. The place is still utterly unique, as if Antonin Gaudi descended on Southern Ontario and adorned the rustic room with tendrils of stone and ceramic. On the madeover menu, the ingredients come from nearby Eigensinn Farm, and each dish is carefully considered, but the kitchen has lost some creativity in the transition. A moist piece of panko- and tarragon-crusted Georgian Bay whitefish comes with a tangy wild leek mayonnaise. The beef tongue, soaked in miso and sake, is everything braised meat should be—intensely sweet and salty—though it needs something light and bright to balance the rich flavours. Oven-roasted suckling pig is tender, if a little bland. Still, the prices are reasonable (the meal would cost twice as much in the city), and the drive through hectares of Instagram-pretty fields is a happy perk.
Ravine Vineyard Restaurant ★★★
21366 York Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-262-8463
In a region where the predominant architectural style is château shock-and-awe, this diminutive Niagara winery exudes all the charm of a farm. That bucolic feel is everywhere, from the decor to the outdoor wood-burning pizza oven to the rustic menu. House-made charcuterie, like buttery chicken liver parfait and thin discs of pistachio-flecked mortadella, is a highlight. The portobello mushroom galette filled with goat cheese and roasted peppers suffers from too little salt and too much chèvre. But that’s the only flaw in an otherwise enchanting experience punctuated by the vineyard’s affordable wines, approachable service and killer desserts, like the fudgy chocolate peanut butter pie.
Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine ★★★
114 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-934-9797
The abstract art and cool grey walls of this 32-seat dining room scream modern polish, but Stephen Treadwell’s menu (which dutifully lists all his local suppliers) is satisfyingly rustic. Local mushrooms, like crunchy tempura hen of the woods and delightfully spicy and acidic pickled cinnamon caps, are an earthy counterpoint to juicy, crisp-skinned pickerel from Lake Erie. Traditional carrot cake with house-made sour cream ice cream is an unqualified joy.