It seems as though I am constantly on the search for something new. Born and raised just outside of Toronto, I have had the opportunity to explore the far reaches of Ontario with my similarly adventurous family. Traveling constantly one quickly learns to appreciate the moments when you find yourself realizing there is another rock worth overturning, another secret worth unraveling, a new story worth sharing.
And so I found myself zooming along the highway with my sister bound for Waterloo Region, an area of Ontario I was completely unfamiliar. I had spent the last few months planning a culinary tourism press trip with Waterloo Tourism and was looking forward to a three day adventure highlighting the regions tri-city offerings: Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. I always get this ecstatic feeling, those goosebumps, when visiting a destination for the first time. It allows me to create my own first impression which creates an honest clarity in how I perceive the overall experience. I told a few friends I was heading to Waterloo Region on a culinary tour and many scrunched their faces or raised an eyebrow or two. While Waterloo may not be as notable a destination as Niagara or Prince Edward County I was determined to suss out the “best in show” and share the bounty from my hunt.
Waterloo Region is best known for its unique Germanic culture and Mennonite communities. After spending three whirlwind days touring around the region I can say I was met with hundreds of smiles by local farmers, chefs and patriotic locals. The region really does offer a unique culinary tourism experience. The vast majority of restaurants offer classic German fare on their menus with pretzels, beer, schnitzel and pickled this and that in bountiful supply. The Mennonite community also offers an opportunity for visitors learn about their unique way of living as well as appreciate their famous farm fresh produce, summer sausage, pies and addictive apple fritters. The culinary experience was unique to Ontario and had me often day dreaming about my adventures along the Rhine and Mosel Valley, Berlin, Bavaria and Vienna.
Our first stop would be in the town of Cambridge where we enjoyed a massive feast at the recently opened Beer Town. We arrived shortly before 1pm on a Friday to an entirely packed out dining room. Beer enthusiasts take note you may just experience a touch of Nirvana.
After lunch we drove to The Waterloo Inn where we would be spending our first night in a fantastic two bedroom suite. Shortly after checking in we headed downstairs for a petite tasting at the hotels fine dining Rushes Restaurant. We had the opportunity to chat over cocktails with hotel management as well as a representative from the local tourism board. They did an excellent job at instilling a sense of patriotic enthusiasm for the region and showcased their proud Germanic routes by offering two plumed Oktoberfest hats for us to take home.
After our second restaurant review of the day (eyes crossed) we hopped in a black Escalade for our final feast of the evening at Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21. My sister and I both squirmed in our seats, petting our bellies, preparing our stomachs for one more go. I originally met Nick in October at the Ontario Tourism Summit as he was on a panel during one of the break out sessions. The restaurant is clearly a fan favorite for discerning palates in the region as every local we met along the way raved when they found out the restaurant was on our itinerary.
The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn to meet with the team at the Kitchener Market. The beginnings of the farmers’ market can be traced to the first Mennonite settlements in Waterloo Region. In the 1830′s, farmers produced more than their families could consume, held outdoor markets in the Village of Berlin (now the City of Kitchener) to share their abundance with others. The Kitchener Market is one of Canada’s oldest, feeding local families with fresh-from-the-farm produce for over 130 years! We spent nearly two hours saying hello to the upper markets food vendors (where we sampled a signature dish from each of their menus) as well as a brisk tour of the farmers market below. Highlights included…
Huevos verdes at Casa Salsa
Pupusas from Flor de Izote
Goat roti from The Caribbean Kitchen
A shnitzel centric feast at The Scrumptious Spud
Fresh squeezed orange juice and pizza at Bolero
Breakfast crepe from Everyday Gourmet
Breakfast Sandwich from Indulge Natural and Organic Kitchen
Latte at Serrinia Cafe
utopia for fromage fans at Bast Cheese
Charles Quality Meats chemical and drug free butcher with speciality in lamb
micro greens, raw, superfoods and mushroom specialists at Nature’s Nurturing
a vendor since 1951, Norris Bakery is a local favourite for breads, pies and pastries
a vendor since 1934, Gmach Produce sells the very best farm fresh vegetables, jams and pickles
Kitchener Market bustles throughout the weekend as locals fill their trollies with groceries for the week. Next up we headed to the other side of town where tourists from near and afar regularly visit the regions St. Jacobs Market where hundreds of food and craft vendors bring Ontario’s farm-fresh produce, meat, cheese, baking and hand crafts to the public. The region is home to a population of approximately 4,000 Old Order Mennonites who farm the surrounding countryside. Take Note: in the Spring, Summer and Fall you can enjoy a horse drawn Mennonite Farmers Tour, an intimate way of exploring their unique way of living. We enjoyed a delightful tour featuring the markets famous Apple Fritters, a hot latte while sitting by an outdoor fireplace, a peak at the livestock exchange, a sampling of summer sausage and what seemed like thousands of barrel of apples sitting in the sun.
Once finished our tour of the market we made a visit to a local Mennonite farm which sold tubs of maple syrup, preserves, frozen chickens and fresh duck and chicken eggs. Our last stop was to the quaint town of St. Jacobs where we stopped in to visit Stone Crock Restaurant (which has a fantastic bakery, cheese and meat shop attached), Benjamin’s Restaurant and Inn, The Home Hardware Museum, Maple Syrup Exhibit and a birds eye view over the magical world of model trains. We also whizzed by a local art gallery and shop which makes straw brooms from scratch. An absolute must when visiting St. Jacobs is a tour of The Mennonite Story, a thoughtful introduction to Mennonite history in Europe and North America featuring exhibits which showcase the communities unique way of living.
I certainly ended my tour of Waterloo Region with rich whipped cream and a sweet cherry on top. How does one truly describe the experience at Relais & Chateaux Langdon Hall? Ranked as the Top Hotel in Canada by Conde Nast Traveller Readers Choice Awards for the past two years, a visit to Langdon Hall is an unforgettable one. Built in Canada by the son of an English man who inherited American wealth, the grand home was intended as a summertime contrast to life in New York, London and a chateau in the Loire Valley. Now owned by William Bennett and Mary Beaton, their Country House Hotel is now known around the world for its creme de la creme service, exquisite dining, relaxing spa and stately suites.
My sister and I were greeted at the front desk upon check in by two valet’s who assisted us with our luggage as we marched over to our suite. Our room featured two plush beds, fireplace accented living room and a relaxing bathroom featuring marble countertops and tub where a bubble bath creates a perfect escape. The grounds are surrounded by lush forest and in the Spring and Summer an outdoor pool, British gardens and hiking trails provide outdoor adventures for guests.
At 3pm we marched over to the lobby where we spent the next thirty minutes peaking about the property. My sister and I joked that we felt as though we were walking about the board game Clue. Sneaking through the bar, past the billiard room and into the conservatory…was it Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick in the Library? We sat down at a private dinning room at 4pm for a wine tasting with one of the restaurants sommeliers. Every Saturday night Langdon Hall offers this wine appreciation class for guests, a perfect way to loosen up before dinner. On that particular night we sampled a selection of Southern Rhone Wines.
Shortly after 6pm we enjoyed a few fantastic cocktails and wee bites in the conservatory hosted by the always smiling owners, William Bennett and Mary Beaton. We chatted about our love for Relais & Chateaux, my newfound appreciation for the unique culinary scene in Waterloo Region and told them my own personal blogging story. We all shared an appreciation for fine food, bountiful beverage and a memorable travel adventure.
We bid them farewell for the evening as we were escorted through the lobby, past a live pianist and across a candle lit dining room where we would be enjoying a thirteen course tasting: this is Dinner at Langdon Hall. After feasting for over four hours, endlessly sipping and always pausing to appreciate the beauty on each plate we waddled back to our suite for a much needed rest.
The following morning we woke up just before 9am for Breakfast at Langdon Hall. We sipped on hot cups of coffee and circled around the restaurants overflowing harvest table with smug mugs. After a leisurely snack we marched into a private dining room where Langdon Hall’s Chef du Cuisine offered up an informative cooking demonstration. The hotel offers these cooking demos every Sunday at 10:30am which allow guests an up close and personal opportunity to chit chat with talent from their kitchen.
Sadly all adventures must come to an end. My sister and I packed up our suitcases and made one last visit to the front desk to return our keys. I was delighted to have a chance to say goodbye to the ever so gracious Mary Beaton one final time. We shook hands and walked out the front door where she handed me a little present filled with a fresh loaf, home made butter and a maple wood cutting board prepared from trees on property. She whistled in the wind for the Langdon Hall mascot, a massive Burmese Mountain Dog which excitedly greeted us before we hopped in the car, waved goodbye and consciously kept our memories wrapped tight around our hearts.