16 AUG 2018: I never thought of Peterborough as more than a gateway to pass through on my way to Ontario’s bucolic Kawarthas cottage country. That is until my friend Shari called and convinced me to come check out the foodie scene in her hometown. She’d returned there a number of years ago after living abroad and was brimming with excitement about current developments.

I met up with her in Peterborough’s Hunter Street Café district, a downtown area packed with cool restaurants sporting streetside and laneway patios. There we joined Karen Irvine on A Taste of Kawarthas walking food tour. The tour which had 12 stops during its four-hour length, started at Black Honey Bakery & Café.

While munching on a tossed salad of microgreens, local lettuce, avocado and eggs, I learned Karen’s story. She started these tours only a few months ago in May. Her husband had been laid off by General Electric, (which closed its last remaining facility in Peterborough this year), and they were looking for new ways to make money. Ironically Peterborough's nickname in the distant past was "The Electric City" but that was because it was the first town in Canada to use electric streetlights.

Karen said, “I hate being disappointed by a restaurant” and this was a way for people to try what Peterborough offered and return to the ones that please. So off we went next to Kettle Drums, where manager John Thomson served us up beet salad, pizza slices and mousse cheese cake. This eatery which calls itself upscale casual, makes pasta and pizza dough in-house and buys top Canadian grass fed beef for its steaks and burgers from local Primal Cuts Butcher Shop (a place whose name kept coming up).

Next stop La Hacienda where owner Sandra Lennox, born in Guadalajara, makes authentic Mexican food including dishes with the delicious red or green mole sauces. We had a sampling of her tacos and salsa washed down with a margarita cocktail. Other stops included Tiny Greens, where owner Lisa Bromley grows and sells both edible plants and ornamental succulents. All her food is plant based and made from scratch such as chick pea and dill salad, smoothies, tonics and sweet potato pasta with plant based alfredo sauce.

At Natas Café we had Portuguese style custard tarts and at Fresh Dreams (owned by a Spanish couple) we enjoyed sangria, gazpacho, paella and potato tortilla samplers. Charlotte Anne’s served us salmon, fettucine alfredo and red wine and Island Cream Caribbean Cuisine dished up curry goat, jerk chicken, fried plantain and roti done Trinidadian style with dhal purée.

The final stop was the highlight – Hunter County Cuisine – where owner Ryan Legault, a sommelier whom I’d met at the Inn at Mount Julien in North Kawartha a few years back, had created a wonderful farm-to-table menu. We sampled foraged morel mushrooms stuffed with wild boar chorizo on a pesto sauce. Legault buys his meat from Primal Cuts, his pecorino cheese from local Mariposa Dairy and so forth. Once a month he does a tasting menu with wine pairings.

The cost of this entire food marathon was only $35. Karen runs these once a week, normally on Thursdays for a maximum of ten people. Her husband Jeff plans to start motorcycle tours soon. (Both Karen and Jeff have been involved with motorcycles, motocross shows and the like for over 40 years.) www.aTasteoftheKawarthas.com

That evening Karen and Shari and I went for drinks (forget about more food) at the Holiday Inn Waterfront where I was staying. The inn had recently been through major renovations and the rooms were lovely but the hotel was still waiting for its bar and dining room furniture. No worries – we sat outside on the patio by the scenic Otonabee River.

Before tucking in for the night, I couldn’t resist however eating the artisan chocolates that the hotel put by my bedside. Made by Naked Chocolate on Hunter Street, I found them to be some of the most beautiful and best tasting chocolates ever.

I had two stops before I left town the next day. First to Monaghan Café for brunch. Just opened in March of this year, they are the new ‘urban diner’ in town open from 7am to 3pm and serving something to satisfy just about every diet: omelettes, garden and fish bowls, smoothies, pancakes, soups, bennies, sandwiches, all day breakfasts and more.

Finally, I had to see Primal Cuts, the butcher shop that had the town abuzz.

Butcher/owner George Madill had worked at top Toronto butcher shops before returning to his home town. He practices ‘nose to tail’ butchery, sources locally and works closely with farmers in every step of the process. Their signature rib eye is aged for 120 days, they have a full service kitchen for meals to take away or eat in and among other fine things they prepare in-house, nitrate-free, rare roast beef, turkey and porchetta deli options. www.primalcuts.ca  

Shari was right to be excited. This city of less than 90,000 is electric with good tastes.

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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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