Where to eat and drink in Prince Edward County, according to these Toronto chefs who moved there
Prince Edward County’s food scene is on fire right now. And, in typical Toronto fashion, we can’t help but say, “You’re welcome.” Over the past few years, some seriously heavy-hitting culinary talent has ditched city life for wholesome country living. We caught up with a handful of Toronto chefs and hospitality powerhouses who now call the county home and asked them where we should eat on our next visit to PEC. (And, because we’re a little bit narcissistic, we also asked what they miss about Toronto.)
Related: A painstakingly restored hotel in Prince Edward County with a former Le Sélect chef in the kitchen
Toronto cred: Former owner and exec chef at Scaramouche, Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner, and Gilead Café and Wine Bar
Year he left: 2015 (although he bought his farm in 2001)
Current gig: Owner of Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, a catering company, which also operates a french fry stand at the Picton Town Hall Farmers’ Market and Wellington Community Market
Jamie’s PEC musts: “Fawn Over Market is a great spot for picking up prepared foods like cabbage rolls and soups. The quality is outstanding, and the portions are very generous considering how reasonably priced it is. The grocery selection is also pretty impressive, especially their barbecue-ready meats.
“For a great selection of wine, check out Adega, a wine bar in Consecon that stocks a fantastically curated selection of PEC wines as well as bottles from all over the world. Their everyday menu is mostly cheese, charcuterie and conservas, but they also throw outstanding dinner events. Recently, they did a feijoada and wine pairing night.
“In the county, many wineries have to diversify their revenue stream to be economically sustainable. The Old Third does this by running a seasonal pasta restaurant. Their scratch-made flat noodles and filled pastas are truly delicious.”
What he misses about city living: “In my forty-plus years in the industry, I’ve seen so much change in Toronto. I miss that diversity and that pulsating wonderfulness of the restaurant scene—especially downtown. When I visit, I like to go to owner-operated spots like Maison T, Chantecler and Dotty’s—restaurants working their craft in a way that’s really interesting and vibrant.”
Related: Here’s what dinner looks like at chef Jamie Kennedy’s Prince Edward County farm
Toronto cred: Former executive chef at the Drake Hotel
Year she left: 2017
Current gig: Chef and owner of Fawn Over Market, a grocery and prepared foods shop in Carrying Place
Alex’s PEC musts: “My neighbour Jerkebago makes delicious Caribbean and Indo-Kenyan food. I usually order the family deal: a whole jerk chicken, cooked on a smoker, with rice, plantains, peas and gravy. I always recommend that people order extra gravy because it’s outstanding.
“When I first moved here, there were fewer restaurants. Now, with the population growing, you get to see more cooking from different parts of the world. There are two vendors in particular at the Wellington Farmers’ Market that I really appreciate: Tikka Chaat for pakoras, dal and chutney, and PapaGhanoush and MommaHummus for their snack pack, which comes with fresh fried falafel and a garlic dip that goes well with so many things.
“Another must-visit would be Creekside Café, a beautiful little restaurant with an easy-going vibe that makes a perfect eggs benny every time. And, for a night out, I always tell people to check out Adega Wine Bar. They’ve always got fabulous programming—one night it’s a piano player, the next it’s a drag show.”
What she misses about city living: “I miss the options. Every time I go back to visit, there’s always something new to try. I usually crave comfort food, like tacos and tamales from Itacate on St. Clair, pho from Pho Pasteur and dumplings from Mother’s Dumplings. My other go-tos are Hanmoto for the Dyno Wings, The Gem—which was our local when we lived in the city—and Donna’s, a new favourite of mine for the great atmosphere and fantastic sandwiches.”
Toronto cred: Former executive chef at Le Sélect
Year he left: 2017
Current gig: Executive chef at the Royal Hotel
Albert’s PEC musts: “I’ve got to say the Royal, obviously. Otherwise, my top picks for county dining would be Stella’s Eatery and Midtown Brewing Company. Stella’s does amazingly creative and delicious small plates that are vegetable forward; I especially appreciate chef Leah’s attention to detail and the way she prepares fish.
“Midtown, meanwhile, is a brewery, so it’s a bit more laid back and a great place to hang out with a family—my three kids all love it there. Midtown’s beers are excellent, but people shouldn’t sleep on their food. Neil’s fish and chips are the best I’ve ever had: the ratio of crispy crust to fish is perfect.
“I’d also recommend that people check out Flame and Smith for the chef’s menu, La Condesa for the tuna tostada, Bocado for the crispy zucchini flower with honey, Little John Farm for farm-to table private dining and agro-tourism experiences, and Parsons Brewing Company because it’s very kid friendly and there’s a lot of space for them to run around outside. Picton’s Sunday farmers’ market is a lot of fun—our own farm, Edwin County Farm, has a stall there. And, recently, the Royal crew had a holiday party at the Grange—the venue is a gorgeous 200-year-old barn, and it was epic. I’d definitely recommend it for special events or just a wine tasting.”
What he misses about city living: “I miss my friends. And I miss the diversity of Toronto’s food scene. Whenever I come back to the city, I usually crave Peking duck and dim sum—during a recent visit, I really enjoyed Chef 88. I also miss great omakase experiences like the ones at Zen and Sushi Kaji. But we have some wonderful culturally diverse restaurants here in the county as well, like Sujeo, Saigon Wellington, Koenji Whisky Bar and Idle Wild PEC. And some exciting ones are set to open soon at Base 31.”
Related: “I didn’t know this part of my life was missing”: Chef Albert Ponzo on how a move to PEC and an unexpected hiatus from the kitchen reordered his priorities
Toronto cred: Former co-owner of Superpoint, Favourites and Paris Paris
Current gig: Chef-owner of Darlings, owner-cheesemaker at Sofia
Year he left: 2021
Jesse’s PEC musts: “Get up early and drive to Picton for 6:30 a.m., because that’s when Bailey’s Casual Dining opens. Order a BLT and get it on white bread. Add a slice of coconut cream pie and a cup of perfect diner coffee.
“The beer at Matron is fantastic, and the brewery itself is the stuff of your bucolic dreams. Matron’s chef is the best on planet Earth, which is a bold statement, but it’s true—there’s a lamb sandwich that will twist your brain up, but eat whatever sounds good; I promise it is.
“Vicki of Vicki’s Veggies needs a TV show: she’s the most charismatic free spirit I’ve ever met. She’s also the most dedicated farmer of perfect organic vegetables. Drive there for a couple pints of still-warm little baby tomatoes, set them in your partner’s lap and ask to be fed while driving the speed limit down a quiet county road.
“Get a 7:30 p.m. reservation at Sand and Pearl Oyster Bar. Slurp some oysters, maybe have a plate of fried fish. Sit with your toes in the grass sipping cool drinks and wait for the sun to go down and for Nate, the tall, handsome proprietor, to start tending the massive firepit. Nudge over all unassuming-like until he offers you a chair—it will probably come with a stick and a marshmallow. Congrats! You just ruined all future restaurant experiences.”
What he misses about city living: “There are two Toronto restaurants that I actively miss. One, on Danforth, is called the Detroit Eatery. It burned down a year before the pandemic—damn, that place was community. The other is the Ossington Stop, on Dundas. Dennis is all heavy metal and cats—a chef’s chef. His technique is impeccable, and the food is generous and unfussy. Go eat a giant steak, add truffles, eat the cake, have a cold sip of vodka—live a little. Then make one bad decision: let Dennis hand-roll you a cig for your walk home.”
Related: “We’re thriving in a way we weren’t prepared to”: Why this Toronto chef packed up his family and moved to PEC to make cheese
Toronto cred: Former chef de cuisine at Biff’s Bistro
Year she left: 2016 (to open Bar George in Montreal and spend five years in La Belle Province before moving to PEC in 2021)
Current gig: Executive chef at the Drake Devonshire
Amanda’s PEC musts: “For the past two years, I’ve been buying Jesse Fader’s burrata for the Dev. So there was a lot of anticipation around him opening a restaurant out here, but Darlings lives up to the expectation. The pizza is fantastic: super thin, crispy crust, cooked in a beautiful wood-fired pizza oven made with county limestone. The toppings are killer—anything with stracciatella added to it is a hit. The carpaccio is excellent too.
“After work, If I’m looking for a cocktail, I usually head over to Russ and Co., a cute 27-seat bar with a moody vibe—lots of wood, antiques and taxidermy—and well-made drinks. Since it’s the only place open late in the county, you’ll find a lot of industry folk there. My other go-to restaurants are Bocado—the anchovy toast is fantastic, and the tuna, the tuna! Oh, and the Royal makes some insane almond croissants. There are also lots of wonderful wineries, breweries and cider houses out here, but my favourites are Stanners, Closson Chase, Stock and Row, and Matron.”
What she misses about city living: “Food! I miss pho, ramen, sushi and Indian curries—and the availability of interesting ingredients. I also miss Toronto’s plethora of late-night options and walkability—not having to drive everywhere is a perk of city life. Next time I visit, I want to check out the new Chantecler as well as Dotty’s. Oh, and see my friends, of course. I miss them too.”
Toronto cred: Former co-owner of Cava and Chabrol, former director of operations for Scale Hospitality (Lapinou)
Year he left: 2021
Current gig: Director of operations at the Royal Hotel
Niall’s PEC musts: “For me, authenticity and kindness make a restaurant stand out, and Sujeo has those in spades. It’s a small family-run Korean restaurant, and the owners are so nice and welcoming. Their food is excellent. In the winter, my family goes there for the spicy fried udon with beef—it’s made with these fat, springy noodles that bring me a lot of joy on cold days. And according to my six-year-old daughter, their dumplings are the very best. No matter how many we order, she’ll finish every last one.
“Luso Bites, a Portuguese luncheonette in the lower level of the Armoury, is another amazing family-run business that refuses to bend to what the market says it should be. The owner is a sandwich wizard—their tosta mista is truly incredible. The county is a small community, but there’s a lot of firepower up here.”
What he misses about city living: “I miss bumping into restaurant people, the casual chats and seeing the people from the front line that I shared years with. And, in a weird way, I miss the unspoken relationship of being a regular at a restaurant where the servers, chefs and bartenders know you—popping into Union for a Guinness and tartare or Bar Isabel for a glass of fino sherry and some boquerones. From a culinary perspective, I miss Tobey and Michael from Edulis the most. If I could come back to the city and eat anywhere, it would be Edulis. I’d also make a point to head over to Gold Standard, on Roncy. It’s the best breakfast sandwich in Toronto, period.”
Toronto cred: Former executive chef at Icon Legacy Hospitality (Byblos, Patria, Mira)
Year he left: 2020 (although he still has a King West pied-à-terre)
Current gig: Owner of Bocado
Stuart’s PEC musts: “Flame and Smith is my local. On most of my nights off, I head there for oysters followed by steak frites or a burger. I’m a simple guy who likes homey things, so I go to the Royal for Albert’s smoked white fish mousse—seriously, it’s delicious—and Darlings for Jesse’s pepperoni pizza. Additionally, the bibimbap at Sujeo, in Picton, is fire.”
What he misses about city living: “I miss not working a million hours during the summer. The season in the county is fairly short, so everything is go, go, go. I miss being able to relax in a city park, drinking a beer with friends, whom I also miss. Luckily, I get to see them more in the winter, when the county is hibernating.”
Toronto cred: Owner of 7 West Cafe, Smith and the recently shuttered Wish
Year she left: 2020 (although she splits her time between the county and the city)
Current gig: Owner of the Lakeside Motel (Wellington) and operator of 7 West Cafe and Smith (Toronto)
Renda’s PEC musts: “The Marans is one of the most underrated spots in the county. It’s this quaint 20-seat owner-operated modern American bistro that does excellent classics like pastas and steak.
“For a fine-dining experience in a fabulous setting, Merrill House is my top pick. I love the space: it’s an 1880s Victorian house that’s decorated with tons of modern art.
“The Picton Harbour Inn has the best breakfast in town. I always order their big breakfast with sausage or their pancakes, which come with real maple syrup and a side of sausages—seriously, get their sausage, it’s amazing (as is their bottomless coffee).
“When I’m feeling snacky, I’ll head to Sand and Pearl for oysters and fries. For something a bit more substantial, I’ll pop by Norman Hardie for a trout salad or a pizza and a glass of Calcaire.”
What she misses about city living: “Some days, I wish I could split myself in half. Going between Toronto and the county means I spend more time on the 400 than I’d like. However, since I’m always yo-yoing, there’s not much I miss from Toronto—other than my cat and dog. After summer wraps up (it’s an extremely busy four months during which I’m mostly in Wellington), I like to recover with a stay at the Four Seasons. I’ll get room service, lounge in a robe and order breakfast from 7 West.”
Related: I bought a former fishermen’s inn and converted it into a boutique hotel
Toronto cred: Co-founder of Scout Canning, former chef de cuisine at Cafe Belong and executive chef at the Catch
Year she left: 2021
Current gig: Still helming Scout Canning and working as the Canadian chef ambassador and culinary director of experiences for Marine Stewardship Council
Charlotte’s PEC musts: “I am obsessed with Darlings Pizza, Pasta Onesta and Luso Bites. Recently, I ate an epic chopped salad at Darlings that was loaded with dill—I ordered some marinated anchovies and added them in. But the real draw is their amazing wood-fired pizza: my current fave is the clam-and-sausage pie.
“Onesta is a small Italian restaurant that serves up comfort beyond comfort with big bowls of fresh pasta in simple yet elegant sauces. And every trip to Luso Bites whisks me back to Portugal: the fun and thoughtful menu packs big flavour. Make sure to order the croquetas, crispy dumplings stuffed with creamy shrimp.
“My long list of musts also includes the Acoustic Grill for honey-garlic wings, Bloomfield Public House for beautifully crafted dishes, the Royal for brunch, Stella’s for all-around fab vibes, La Condesa for great Mexican, and Dive In Charm, which operates out of a garage—talk about surprising and delightful—for sushi. I also love the Drake Devonshire helmed by the oh-so-amazing Amanda Ray. And you must go to PECish Baking Company on a Friday or Saturday for their croissants.
“There are truly so many places to enjoy here that it’s hard to name only a few. Oh, and if you’re the county this summer, make sure to check out Base 31—there will be some amazing food vendors in its commissary.”
What she misses about city living: “I miss people showing up at my door with dreams, ideas and adventures, and being able to get out and explore. The county has so much to offer, but there are many moments of the city that I miss. Luckily, I get to visit often for projects, work and fun.”