14 AUG 2017: Most of the time I travel far afield to search out great culinary and cultural destinations. This summer to celebrate Canada 150, along with several trips to other provinces, I mostly explored within a two hour drive of Toronto. What I found in my own backyard delighted me.  

Off the Eaten Track at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto

At the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, I enjoyed an “Urban Food Safari” without even leaving the city. The Ritz-Carlton partnered with the Culinary Adventure Company to launch the Off the Eaten Track programme this April featuring four different customized food tours.

Epic Edibles takes people foraging for mushrooms and other one-of-a-kind adventures through the city.

Taste the Town introduces guests to the food scene of Toronto’s multicultural neighbourhoods.

Meet + Eat takes guests to shops, restaurants and artisan food operations to meet the city’s culinary stars.

With the Urban Safari, I went with others to the St. Lawrence market to pick up fresh seasonal ingredients as a ‘black box’ challenge for the hotel’s culinary team. We threw chefs for a loop with the rabbit, but they still did a stellar job transforming the bounty into a delicious custom-made menu for our Chef’s Kitchen Table meal. 

Diwan at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

There’s always a reason to visit the lovely and serene Aga Khan Museum with its important permanent collection showcasing Islamic art and Muslim culture and its thought provoking temporary exhibits such as this summer’s Syria Symphony: New Compositions in Sight and Sound and HERE: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists.

The Diwan restaurant with its picturesque views of the Aga Khan Park and its reflective pools, and large outdoor patio is the tasty icing on this cultural treat. Under the expert supervision of renowned Chef Mark McEwan, the menu offers dishes inspired by the cuisines of India, North Africa and the Middle East such as red lentil soup, lamb kofta, beetroot falafel burger and chicken jalfrezi. The sweet onion bhaji and harissa glazed salmon I ate for lunch were both perfectly cooked and delicious. www.agakhanmuseum.org

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg

Less than an hour from Toronto, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is housed in a gallery located on 100 acres of northern landscape and hiking trails. Its setting is gorgeous and its permanent collection consists of over 6,000 artworks by Canadian artists – it’s the foremost venue in the country showcasing the Group of Seven and their contemporaries.

This summer a commemorative exhibition debuted (runs until November 19) called Passion Over Reason: Tom Thomson and Joyce Wieland. It juxtaposes the works of Thomson, one of Ontario’s greatest painters with feminist art pioneer Wieland.

Aura by Cashew & Clive, the onsite restaurant (open for lunch until 3pm), has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the forested Humber River Valley and a seasonally changing menu that focuses primarily on locally grown produce. The drink list includes McMichael wines, created by Diamond Estates winery to pay tribute to the artists that were part of the Group of Seven. A portion of the proceeds helps support the preservation of the art collection. http://mcmichael.com/visit

The Lakeview Wine Co, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Diamond Estates opened their new Lakeview Wine tasting centre and wine boutique in May in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s the new home to a wide selection of top-selling VQA Ontario wines, including Lakeview Cellars, EastDell, 20 Bees, FRESH Wines, McMichael Collection and Canadian acting legend Dan Aykroyd’s line of wines.

One of only two publicly held wine companies in Canada (the other is Peller Estates), it throws its doors open to bus tours, weddings, special events and everybody who wants to visit. They offer vineyard tours, structured tastings, team building experiences, daily cheese and wine pairings and special events throughout the year. www.lakeviewwineco.com

The Barracks Inn and The Ancaster Mill, Ancaster

About an hour drive from Toronto is the historic community of Ancaster. First founded in 1793 it’s one of the oldest in the province. Just 15 minutes from downtown Hamilton it was amalgamated with that city in 2001, but development in Olde Ancaster, the historic village core, has been tightly controlled. My husband, a history buff, was overjoyed with the beautifully preserved old buildings and sites.

We stayed at the Barracks Inn, circa 1812. This Inn had just opened one year ago after several years of renovations. We didn't know what to expect and were very pleasantly surprised at the elegant, spacious and well appointed the rooms.

A ten minute walk down the road is the Ancaster Mill restaurant, a refurbished 1850s stone flour mill nestled beside a waterfall on the banks of a raging stream within the rocky Niagara Escarpment. We went for the tasting menu with wine pairings and feasted on quail from Chassagne Farm, salt-baked wild salmon, agnolotti primavera and tenderloin with sauce Bordelaise. The head chef and his sous, used to cook at Toronto’s famous Auberge de Pommier, and their talents were apparent. Open Table named it in the 100 Best Restaurants in Canada for 2016 and I can see why. www.thebarracksinn.com http://ancastermill.ca

Niagara Parks Golf and Dining

Niagara Parks, established in 1885 to preserve and protect the land surrounding Niagara Falls and River, has gone beyond that first call of duty to include celebrated golf courses and five full-service “Feast On” certified restaurants on the Niagara Parkway.

To introduce media and event planners to this bounty, Rick Janes, Manager, Golf Business Development at The Niagara Parks Commission started a Niagara Parks Invitational Golf Tournament last year. At this year’s event at Legends on the Niagara bordering the historic grounds of the 1814 Battle of Chippawa, we teed off at Ussher’s Creek, designed by Thomas McBroom.

After the game the chefs from Legends, Queenston Heights, Whirlpool, Elements on the Falls and the Queen Victoria Place treated us to a meal of specialty dishes featuring local Ontario fare paired with Ontario VQA wines. www.niagaraparks.com

Happy 150 Canada!


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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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