Food Tips

Lake Erie renaissance

Lake Erie renaissance

Fresh Lake Erie fried perch
Photo by Christine Picheca
Image by: Fresh Lake Erie fried perch <br/> Photo by Christine Picheca Author: Canadian Living

Food Tips

Lake Erie renaissance

The secret is out: South-western Ontarians and motorcycle enthusiasts have known for years that Port Dover and the Erie beaches are fantastic vacation destinations. A mere hour and a half from Toronto and an easy day trip brings families and travelers to wide sandy beaches and, a Mecca of fresh food finds and nostalgic retro digs.

Suddenly Port Dover is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and with good reason. It’s not just Port Dover but the whole stretch of sandy beaches along Lake Erie’s north shore that has reinvented itself while maintaining the nostalgic cache of its historied past.

Heading as far west as Long Point, Long Point Bay’s shallow marshy waters are a perfect environment for the Bass fisherman who flock here every July for opening day. Cottage rentals are economical and campsites and trailer parks are numerous and well maintained. Adventure outfitters supply vacationers and sport enthusiasts with hunting, fishing, and outdoor excursions of every kind. At Play Adventures offers accommodations, house keeping cottages and custom guided excursions from fishing and sight keeping charters to horseback riding to team building experiences. Chef Kendal at the Causeway Restaurant is cooking up gourmet farm fresh breakfasts. Raised on a farm in a local community, she has an in with the surrounding farmers where she fills her daily shopping list. The Causeway will also cook up your very own catch of the day after a satisfying fishing excursion. Long Point was once part of a dry township, and residents have never had the plebiscite to rectify the anti-liquor laws. However, the LCBO is located close by in Port Rowan and you’re welcome to enjoy libations within the walls of your cottage.

Driving east from Long Point, the tobacco kilns that dot the landscape speak to the areas history as a major tobacco growing area, until that industry collapsed. Recent years have seen farmers reinventing themselves in all manners, and the results are paying off in imaginative – and often delicious – ways.

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Ernie and Nancy Racz turned to peanut farming in the ’80’s and started Kernal Peanuts, now recognizable by the giant circus elephants out front. Ernie grows Valencia peanuts, the sweetest of the four types of peanuts, and he prides himself on his quality crop producing red and unique black-skinned varieties. Nancy gilds the lily turning a great peanut into a myriad of candies, snacks and gifts. You’ll find all-natural peanut butter, brittle and fudge, and all manner of peanuts enrobed in dark, milk and white chocolate.

Head down the street and around the corner from Kernal’s to Cider Keg Cidery for a refreshing apple cider slushy. Famous in the area for their pressed and sparkling cider, they also have an excellent farmers market stand featuring local produce and every type of preserve, all made from passed down family recipes.

Just a 10-minute drive north up highway 24 leads you to the outskirts of the picturesque town of Simcoe, where Jensen’s cheese has been selling and distributing cheese since 1940. Master Danish cheesemaker, and patriarch of the Jensen family, Arne Munck Jensen started out making cheddar cheese in Canada in 1925. His sons expanded the business and began making their cheeses in Odessa, Ont. Three generations later, Jensen’s distributes across Canada. Jensen’s is famous for their aged cheddars and cheese curds, a great snack to pick up in the way to the beach.

Visit Sharon Judd at Meadow Lynne Farms, where strawberry varieties abound. You’ll find over fourteen different types of strawberries, ranging in flavour from candyfloss sweetness, to peach hints and even melon. Meadow Lynne is open seasonally for pick-your-own or for picking up pints at the roadside stand. Sharon also holds strawberry tasting events right in the fields.

Going back south on highway 24 (keeping a watch for blueberry, lavender and Saskatoon-berry farms along the way), follow the signs to Turkey Point until you arrive at Long Point Eco Adventures. Along with zip lining, mountain biking and star gazing in observatory, this new venture the company is currently working on is a vineyard. This will be the newest of three wineries in Norfolk County, Ontario’s up-and-coming wine region. Andre Lipinski, wine maker for Niagara-based Megalomaniac and Organized Crime wineries, is consulting in the venture. Specifically, Lipinski wants to give these wines a unique regional twist by using the old tobacco kilns to dry grapes, creating an amarone style wine. The first vintage will be available this fall.

Nearby Turkey Point has two miles of groomed sandy beach offering safe shallow-water swimming for all ages. Fishing, hiking, water sports and golfing are also readily available in the area. Annual events in Turkey Point include Pottahawk, a large-scale adult party held in the waters adjacent to Pottahawk Island, and family-oriented Turkey Point Summer Fest in August.

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Continue east across the shore through Normandale and Port Ryerse and arrive in the jewel of the Erie Beach communities, Port Dover. Long a haunt of motorcycle enthusiasts who converge here every Friday the 13th, Port Dover has something for everyone.

Beach goers have been heading to the Arbour since 1919 for their footlong hotdogs, orange glows and hand cut French fries. Stroll to the end of the peer or join the anglers looking for a bite under the lighthouse. Wander the strip for art, novelties, and nostalgic paraphernalia or drop in at Imaginations Fine Foods run by Chef Anthony, resident chef at Florence Winery and pick up a picnic lunch.

*editor's note: Imaginations Fine Foods has changed ownership, and is now Jasmine's Eatery.

For an iconic meal, head to Erie Beach Hotel for a perch dinner. The upstairs Terrace Room has a more casual atmosphere where you can enjoy platters of perch with a cool picture of beer after a hot day on the beach. Downstairs in the Cove Room enjoy old-fashioned cocktails served by skilled servers who shuttle trolleys of fresh salads that include sour cream smothered thick-cut cucumbers, coleslaw, horseradish jellies and pickle trays of beets, apple rings and pumpkin cubes included with your entree. Although the Erie Beach offers a full menu, the reason customers have been coming here for decades is for the platters of perch and pickerel; lightly coated pan-fried fillets curled into neat rows served with fresh lemon wedges, house-made tartar sauce and cubes of oven hot butter-slathered celery bread.

The Port Dover museum is well worth the stop even without the free admission. See remnants of the many shipwrecks, done in by Lake Erie’s treacherous waters. Lake Erie is rich with history from tales of Al Capone’s Rum Runners, to the private hunting camp known as “The Cottages” which once housed well-heeled families such as the Kennedys, Eatons and Rockefellers. The Cottages still exists, plunked right in the middle of provincially protected land and only accessible by boat. For more fascinating folklore and stunning vistas, take a pleasure cruise aboard the Kayloe, which offers great views from the lake and a chance to be regaled with a witty history of fishing, shipwrecks and rum runners. When you come ashore, pop into the fritter shop across from the dock for apple fritters, peeled and cooked fresh while you wait, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and maple syrup – a decadent treat! If you’re lucky, next door you’ll find fresh perch for sale from the morning’s catch, but don’t look for store hours, this fisherman only stays open until the catch runs out.

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Food Tips

Lake Erie renaissance