Those four years we spend in University create a magical sense of place in our imaginations. For many it features: the first of many beer infused parties, our first lover, our first time studying a la “all nighter,” our first home away from home and undoubtedly a hallmark in our unique coming of age stories.
I visited my old stomping grounds at the end of September, the last stop on my Ontario Culinary Tourism Awards tour coordinated by Guelph Tourism’s Taste Real. My heart skipped a few beats as my bus from Toronto shot across rural Ontario and into the University of Guelph. I would be spending the weekend on a culinary tourism adventure which would have me often reflecting on cherished memories from a bygone era. I couldn’t help but laugh as I saw a group of students running to class on Gordon Street. Four girls dressed in matching hoodies, sweat pants and Uggs. Seems like times never change.
I hopped off the bus and met with Stacey and her colleague Sue from Guelph Tourism. We drove directly to lunch at a recently opened French Country Cooking inspired restaurant, Artisanale. Over lunch I was reminded that Guelph is a relaxed community, smiles a plenty with hearts tapped into local.
After lunch I was dropped off at MacDonald Hall which is home to the school of Hospitality and Tourism Management. I come from a rather long line of Guelph grads. My grandmother studied Home Economics in the 40’s in this very building, my mother studied Human Kinetics in the 70’s and I graduated from the Hotel and Food Administration Program in 2007.
I hopped up the stone steps and took a left down creaky floors that were first laid down in 1903. I found Valerie Allen in her office: an old friend, academic advisor for the HTM program and professor who teaches Intro to Foods. After chit chatting with her about the development of the HTM program I popped by Joe Barth’s Wine Oenology class. I had an opportunity to speak at his two Friday wine tasting classes where I spoke to eager 4th year wine aficionado’s about the atypical career path I took after finishing my degree. I encouraged them all to hop on the social media train and travel and eat as much as possible to perfect their palates It was a great pleasure to inspire Prof Barth’s class, many of which followed up with a few friendly tweets. I had some serious deja vu moments as I sat with a glass of champagne listening to Joe passionately inform students on the horrors of chaptalization.
Once finished a few glasses of wine I bid the students farewell and hopped in a taxi bound for The Norfolk Guesthouse. As soon as I arrived I dropped my bags at the front door and filmed a quick tour of my Grandview Suite.
Janet Perry owner of the Norfolk has been providing quality, affordable guest accommodation in Downtown Guelph for over 23 years. Situated in one of the oldest and mature areas of Guelph known for its heritage architecture, the NGH offers up stunning boutique rooms with plush furnishings. I had the opportunity to personally get to know Janet over the course of the weekend and could see that running the Norfolk for so many years has given her great pleasure. Ms. Perry really does personify the notion that Guelph is a friendly community of local lovers. When we first met she offered me a glass of wine while we chatted about the history of the building and local food scene. She was kind enough to drive me to my first restaurant review that evening at Envers of Morriston.
The following morning I sat in Janet’s kitchen and enjoyed a french toast breakfast with Mark Kenny who would be my tour guide of the Guelph Farmers Market. Mark is the Purchasing Coordinator for Hospitality Services at the University who has been recognized for his leadership and passion for showcasing seasonal and local food on campus menus. We spent the next hour or so meeting with vendors at the Farmers Market and snapping pictures of the bounty of the region which included festive Thanksgiving treats such as pumpkins and gourds.
My favorite vendors worth checking out: Grain Revolution for their fantastic bread that seems to sell before 11am so get there early. Green Table Foods offering up hummus, tabouleh, soup, curry and gluten free baked goods. Backyard Bounty are champions of sustainable urban gardening and sell pristine vegetables which are grown on over 35 parcels of land throughout the city. Tuckamore Bee Company offering up local honey products. The ever so famous Feng’s Dumplings which are worth waiting in line for. River’s Edge Goat Dairy for milk, yogurt, cheese and handmade soaps. Thatcher Farms famous for their lamb, pork, beef and turkey products.
Once finished up at the Farmers Market I met Matthew for a light lunch and beer tasting at The Woolwich Arrow. After a quick bite we hopped in his car and enjoyed an afternoon of beer tasting at Wellington and F&M breweries which are located a stones throw from each other. Wellington offered up a memorable rich Imperial Stout while I quite fancied F&M’s Stonehammer Pilsner.
Our last stop on our rural romp was at Thatcher Farms (we had visited their stand at the Farmers Market that morning but now had an opportunity to come face to face with the living breathing beasts). A visit to Thatcher Farms is a must for any culinary tourist and their brand new storefront in Eramosa Township is a stunning culinary emporium with its roots in rural. After paying a visit to a few snorting pigs and murmuring lambs we sampled their delicious pork sausage off the grill and summer sausage which I chased with a cube of aged cheddar.
We hopped back in the car and waved salut to a grazing gaggle of turkey’s and zoomed back to the city. I enjoyed a relaxing jacuzzi and quick nap before grabbing a taxi for my restaurant review at Borealis Grille as the pitter patter of rain sprawled across my window.
After dinner Matthew and I paid a visit to The Albion Hotel where we met up with the GM for a few pints of cider. I used to frequent the Albion during my University years and was a big fan of their Saturday night Funk Night. The current owners have invested millions of dollars since 2008 revitalizing and modernizing the space to create a stunning main floor restaurant and fun atmosphere upstairs for Dancing Queens. The Albion Hotel is where Guelph locals and students come to let loose on the weekends. The properties rich history (they have the 2nd liquor license issued in Canada) is worth taking a moment to appreciate.
During the 1860’s, some hotels were known as “farmers’ houses”, with large stables but no room for vehicles. During the late nineteenth century, the Albion – and twenty other hotels in the immediate area – served the needs of farmers coming into town for the weekly market and the Provincial Fair in front of City Hall. Large businesses like the Bell Piano Company, Stewart Lumber, and Raymond Sewing Machines attracted workers and salesmen who needed temporary and long-term accommodation and refreshments. In 1913, rooms rented for $1.50 per day, including choice of wine, liquors or cigars and first-class stable accommodation. The Prohibition years slowed the Albion’s business considerably, but rumours persist that mobster Al Capone, or another notorious gangster, kept a mistress at the hotel during the 1920’s and that she still occasionally haunts the building.
The following morning I packed up my things and grabbed a quick breakfast before waving goodbye to Janet at the Norfolk. Matthew picked me up and we spent my last few hours adventuring around the outskirts of Guelph. We hummed and hawed on a pedestrian bridge that overlooks the the river and then visited his families horse farm where the smell of hay filled the air. In our last hour we took a quick hike through Starkey Hill Interpretive Trail where we ran into families going on a mid afternoon hiking adventure, couples walking their dogs (tongues wagging in the wind) and nature lovers who were looking for a bit of fresh air and exercise. I stared down at a patch of wildflowers and then closed my eyes and cranked my chin up into the air. The September sun shot across the sky and showcased a city covered in Autumnal foliage. As Matthew drove me to the bus bound for Toronto I took a deep breath and realized how relaxed I was. My little taste of Guelph’s farm to fork therapy.