Since it looks like we're going to have summer after all, I'm getting mail lately about eating possibilities near theater and festival sites -- after all, visiting a restaurant is often part of a fun day out. So today I'll give some suggestions for Niagara-on-the Lake, Ont., the home, of course, of the Shaw Festival.
It could be said that NOTL is now as much a restaurant town as a theater town. Yes, the plays are as great as they ever were, but in many ways the village has been a victim of its own success. What was once a dignified -- and let's face it, maybe even slightly square -- village has turned into a place where you can barely walk on the sidewalks during season. Every other storefront on Queen Street is selling something to eat -- a lot of which is being carried out to those sidewalks, all the better to spill on the passers-by.
That's not to say I don't still love the place, but I choose my restaurants carefully, trying to stay away from the pretentious and the grungy (and wincing only slightly when I add in the vast Canadian taxes).
So, for the thoughtful diner, the eating can be very, very good. Some suggestions:
I like the Stone Road Grille, 238 Mary St., for a civilized lunch or dinner. Don't be put off by its location in a strip mall on the edge of the tourist district. Stone Road has no gift shop, it's a pure neighborhood eating place with sophisticated ambience, dark red walls and whimsical art. And, as mentioned, the food is really good.
The restaurant has a serious, well thought out commitment to local, seasonal foods, reflected in its ever-changing menu.
For instance, currently one of the menu items is Charlie Baker Chicken Sautee, served with a little warm potato/bacon salad and fiddleheads/wild leek pesto, but that obviously won't be around much longer. Maybe the Roasted and Raw appetizer (marrow and beef tartare) might last a while. But listen to your server's advice about food and wine. He knows. (One more nice feature: At dinner, you can order half-plates.)
A good place for lunch is right in the center of things. The Epicurean is at 84 Queen St., right across from the Royal George Theatre. This is a cafeteria with very French decor -- think Pierre Deux. The line moves quickly, and the place features wonderful salads, sandwiches and hot dishes.
I always order the Leek and Mushroom Quiche with a wonderful green salad, but let's hope you aren't as inflexible as I am. Lots of choices here. Once you get your meal, take it out back and eat under the trees.
I also like the Olde Angel Inn, 224 Regent St., next to the Courthouse Theatre. It bills itself as Ontario's oldest inn, having been built in 1789 and refurbished after the war (the War of 1812, that is). If there isn't a ghost here, there should be.
Though places that spell "old" with a final "e" usually make me very nervous, I can't deny the place is charming -- pub ambience, slanted floors, low ceilings and all.
Oh, what the heck -- order Bangers and Mash while you're at it, or the Steak, Guinness and Onion Pie.
And finally, if you're feeling flush, you might want to investigate Il Giardino in the Gatehouse Hotel at 142 Queen St. It's Italian as you have probably guessed, but if you're thinking Mamma and red-checked tablecloths, think again. This is the Italy of Milan -- very Armani, very sleek, very stunning. Also sleek and stunning is its contemporary menu.
Bring a sturdy credit card.
Next week: Lewiston and Artpark.
Did we miss your favorite place? Have a question about another town or neighborhood? Send comments and queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.