Are you a history buff who likes to tickle your taste-buds with the best of local grub? Well, if not now you surely will be after you spend some time with the fine people at Taste The Town Tours in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This spring I had the immense pleasure of experiencing NOTL with a fresh pair of eyes (and lips).
Having lived here in Niagara for five years, despite going out of my way to constantly try new things and go new places, sometimes I miss great experiences that are right under my nose. It surely happens to the best of us and Taste The Town Tours is one such Niagara experience that I cannot believe I hadn’t participated in until now.
Owned by Jodie Finora – Taste The Town offers you aof some of the sights and architecture of this pristine lake-side village and, in between the history and stories of yester-year, you will stop at six different spots to indulge in some delectable Niagara culinary creations.
The morning of the tour I made sure to double-knot my runners and put an umbrella in my shoulder-bag … this tour happens rain or shine. The good news is that the walking is leisurely (unless you’re trying to take pictures the whole time like me … I found myself constantly scurrying to catch up) … but that’s neither here nor there unless you’re a photo-holic like me. Ahem, where was I? … That’s right – the good news is that the walking is leisurely. Anyone, regardless of fitness level, would likely be comfortable on this tour of the town.
Our group was a small one – four of us in all. Often-times the groups can include up to 12 people which I’m sure adds to both the fun and organized chaos of any guided adventure. Bill – our guide – is quite the character full of both knowledge and fun; he is a great balance for everything a Niagara ambassador should be.
GREAVES JAMS & MARMALADES
We started our morning at Greaves Jams & Marmalades – founded in 1927 by Mable and her husband this jam company is still using many of Mable’s original recipes. And, they are in the same retail location that they were almost 90 years ago! The building itself pre-dates Greaves by almost 100 years as you can see by the plaque on the side of the brick. Many buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake are from the early to mid 1800’s and are built in historical ways – Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian, Halloween’in (okay, maybe not the last one but there are a few that definitely snuck by the NOTL by-laws).
If you live in an area where you don’t have any Greaves Jams, you are going to have to move ~ Bill
In the five years I’ve lived in Niagara would you believe I’d never been into Greaves until Taste The Town Tours?! Shame on me because there are now six little jars of jam in my pantry just waiting to be popped and devoured on toast. Oh, and word has it that Jodie’s mother makes the little scones that the Greaves Jams we sampled were served on – if only those were also for sale because I would have bought a bushel! We sampled their black currant, strawberry rhubarb and no sugar added peach fruit spread. After Greaves we took a turn around some of the back streets of NOTL as Bill showed us some of the oldest buildings in the area.
THE IRISH TEA ROOM
After walking past the Burke House – where lawyers and officials were billeted during the 1800’s and where their dining room houses a dining room table dating back to the 1700’s – we soon found ourselves back on the main street and had wound our way to The Irish Tea Room. I have been in the store before but never really into the little tea house in the back. And so, this was quite a nice extension of my ever-broadening view of Niagara-on-the-Lake. All homemade, the Irish Tea House boasts pastries and cakes, coffees, teas, soups, sandwiches and a very quaint back patio.
Lo and behold, would you believe that I bumped into some Muskokan friends in this little tea shop?! It certainly is a small world. And, knowing these wonderful people to be world travelers and to have commendable taste for delicious foods, I knew I was in for a treat. We were served out on the patio, mug-sized soups and homemade breads. Had there been more time I would have indulged in one or two of their desserts – just one more reason to head back I guess.
SOMERSET BED & BREAKFAST
After the tea room we wound our way down main street towards the Niagara-on-the-Lake golf course. I had no idea it is the oldest in Canada – what a great reason to play this “public welcome” course. Of course I will have to spend some time at the driving range first developing my swing but no doubt it would be worth my efforts.
Just a few minutes down the road from the golf-course sits Somerset B&B. Built not-so-long-ago, Somerset Bed and Breakfast will set you back around $350/night for a room and no wonder because the decor, service and view is absolutely spectacular. This B&B sits right on the mouth of the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and in your view is the U.S.A. Fort Niagara; talk about the “real deal”. We weren’t able to go inside but we did head around back to the yard on the water where we enjoyed a vanilla cupcake with buttercream icing with Grande Marnier and lemon and Niagara custard with maple leaf fudge from Lovin’ from the Oven in St. Catharines. The custard was so creamy and delicious, I could have had a coquette full instead of the little nibble as part of the tour.
Our next stop was Bistro Six-One. Again a location that, despite my half a decade in Niagara I’ve never graced with my presence. Here we sat at a great cafe-style table near the bar and were served a midi of Great Lakes Brewery Red and shared a wood-fired Mediterranean pizza. At Bistro Six-One the wood-fired pizza oven was imported from the great city of Fourno Bravo in Italy and the pizza is heavenly.
Until Bistro Six-One my favourite wood-oven pizza was from The Old Winery but I think that this bistro has given them a run for first place. Hmm … The Canuck Pizza Truck is also right at the top of my list. Maybe this is now a three-way-tie? Well, that’s a little fib because my favourite pizza to-date I actually ate in Vicenza when I was there in 2006 with my Nonno, but that’s a whole other story. So, three-way-tie for Canadian pizza at least.
Next we went to yet another shop in NOTL that I’d never been to – Cheese Secrets. It really is a secret shop because it’s located off of the main street back near the Angel Inn. Inside you will find many of my favourite cheeses including the one that was featured during Taste The Town called Niagara Gold made in Jordan (Niagara) at the Upper Canada Cheese Company.
I noticed as I was walking through their shop that they also sell Pingue meats – but not prepackaged like most other places – they serve it deli-style where you can order how many slices or grams you’d like. Here, Bill led us into the back-yard where we sat, stood and ate our cheese in silent bliss. I will never get tired of anything made by the Upper Canada Cheese Company.
MAPLE LEAF FUDGE
Last, but certainly not least, we made our way to Maple Leaf Fudge. I am a fudge fan but often save my indulgence for when I am in Collingwood and head to The Olde Stanton Store. In this case, however, I’m glad that I gave in – we tried Maple, Chocolate, Cookies and Cream and a few others. Made on-site it is rich and creamy and melts in your mouth and I should have left with a brick.
Founded in 1967 they’ve had plenty of time to get their recipe right. And, what I love about Maple Leaf Fudge is that this summer – Summer 2013 – they will be moving their shop down the street in NOTL to a bigger facility where they will be able to make fudge right before your very eyes! Now that is something I’d like to see.
It was just outside of Maple Leaf Fudge that Bill and the rest of the group parted ways. It was hard to believe – because we’d had such a pleasant time – that nearly three hours had passed. Thankfully the fun wasn’t over because part of the Taste The Town Tours brochure is coupons for each of the five shops that we visited. Fantastic! And so, I weaved my way to the shops again to take advantage of my discounts.
Once all was said and done I sat down in my car, my goodies from the day filled the back-seat and sighed a smile. That day, care of Taste The Town Tours, I experienced Niagara-on-the-Lake like I hadn’t before in all five years of living here. I loved the combination of history and goodies and would certainly recommend this walking adventure to anyone – tourists and locals alike – you will not be disappointed. What you will be is full of jam, soup, cupcakes and custard, pizza, cheese and fudge – not to mention an appreciation for the history and heritage of this great and picturesque town. So what are you waiting for? Go have a taste!