As Mother Nature sends out her spring wakeup call after a long, grey winter, there’s no better place to treat your taste buds to the fresh flavours of the new season than Ontario’s Southwest. Home to some of the country’s most fertile farmland, you’ll find delicious spring produce and products around every corner at local farm markets and roadside stands and in the delectable dishes of our region’s many talented chefs. If you’re wondering where to begin, here are few favourite stops for feeding your spring flavour cravings.
With travel restrictions in place, we recommend that locals stay home as much as possible and use this article to inspire future travel. Only venture out for essentials and if you feel comfortable doing so safely and in accordance with health guidelines. Better yet, buying gift cards and shopping online is a great way to show your support for these local businesses while staying safe.
Certified Greens Leads to Amazing Dishes
The certified organic lettuces, herbs, greens and micro greens don’t come any fresher than those you’ll find at Slegers Organic Greens in Strathroy. The plants are sold with the root systems intact. That live energy creates more vibrant flavour than anything you’ll find at the supermarket that has been picked and sitting in packaging for days.
If you can’t wait until you arrive home to get a taste of Sleger’s out-of-this-world greens, plan to enjoy a meal at The Clock Tower Inn, Bistro and Pub in Strathroy. Chef Mark Graham has passion in spades for the region’s farm-to-table ingredients. Chef Mark takes the 100-mile diet to a whole new level with his delicious 30-mile salad, featuring vegetables, eggs, meats and cheeses from his nearby neighbours.
Once you taste a dish prepared with freshly picked asparagus, the imported asparagus at the grocery store will forever disappoint. Chef Benjamin LeBlanc’s asparagus omelette is perfect proof. The former Chopped Canada contestant does such amazing things with local produce that the Iron Kettle, the charming bed and breakfast he runs with his wife, has become one of the region’s most beloved culinary destinations. Benjamin loves helping his guests build flavourful itineraries for their stay, providing recommendations for local wineries, breweries and more.
If a pancake breakfast at a sugar bush is on your spring bucket list, Ontario’s Southwest has some great options, like Richardson’s Farm and Market in Dunville and Jakeman’s Maple Products in Oxford County.
For a delicious example of how local producers incorporate the region’s maple syrup into their products, stop by Chocolatea in Ingersoll for a taste of their “Canadian Breakfast” chocolate, which is made with Jakeman’s maple syrup and maple candied bacon.
Fresh From the Ground
Chef Eric Boyar regularly takes to the land to source the freshest seasonal ingredients for his buzzed-about farm-to-table offerings at his restaurant, Six Thirty Nine in Woodstock. Time your visit right and you may be lucky enough to taste the magic of just-picked fiddleheads.
Speaking of utilizing what comes from the ground around the area, sip on the the sense of place at Wolfhead Distillery in Amherstburg. An incredible 95% of the grains used to create their collection of ultra premium small batch spirits are locally sourced and even the water has a distinct element. The neighbouring Amherstburg quarry supplies the limestone treated water used in production of all Wolfhead spirits giving it a sense of place similar to Kentucky with bourbon. The local theme continues into the kitchen of the on-site restaurant. Drawing from the region’s rich agriculture and food & drink production, the dishes on the menu feature 85% local ingredients!
Burgers, Birds & Brews
Ontario’s Southwest is one of North America’s premier birding destinations, and birders flock to the region to catch the miracle of the spring migration every year. In-the-know birders fuel up after their early morning sky watch at Jack’s Gastropub in Kingsville. In addition to burgers made with locally sourced ingredients, the restaurant’s nano brewery, Banded Goose Brewing, crafts flavourful pints that are well worth the trip. To learn more about experiencing the spring migration in Ontario’s Southwest, check out our Insider’s guide to the region’s best bet birding sites.
Continue the bird themed tasty journey to Harrow for EPIC wines. As you drive up the long road into Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards, roll down your windows and listen for the distinctive cry of the Cooper’s Hawk. If you hear it, your next challenge is to determine if it’s from an actual bird or one of the “squawk boxes” used in the vineyards to replicate the bird’s call and scare other birds away from the grapes. Rolling vineyards, an expansive patio and beautifully landscaped green space may make you think you’ve been transported to Napa at this stunning winery.
Neighbouring Essex County is Kent County, which continues the rich agricultural theme of the region. In Chatham, an all home-grown group of friends who’ve come together to form Sons of Kent Brewing Company and tap into their and the area's roots. Sons of Kent crafts premium craft beers using traditional methods with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible including hops, barley, grains, and more. The brewery is located inside a renovated movie theatre that the owners frequented in their youth and all visitors are invited into a feeling of community. Sitting at the bar or on the long picnic tables, the atmosphere invites you to mingle with fellow guests and even play classic board games as you enjoy the collection of brews and a bite from the on-site kitchen.