This article was published in The Toronto Star on July 11th, 2007.
Can a hot dog be worth a two-hour drive?
Yes, if the hot dog is an all-beef beauty served at Buddha Dog in Picton, the unofficial capital of this County.
The County – a jagged peninsula jutting into Lake Ontario south of Belleville – has lately come alive as a foodie destination, luring Torontonians hungry for unspoiled ingredients in a casual setting.
Buddha Dog, a hip restaurant with Formica tables and indie music, plays its part. It serves the ne plus ultra of franks. Fiercely local, a large wall map pinpoints area suppliers. The condiments are creative (sizzling crab apple sauce, anyone?) and even the ketchup is made on site, smoky with ancho chilies.
The dense dogs ($1.50 each, plus 25 cents a topping) snap audibly under the teeth. Only four inches long, it’s best to start with two. The sweet-tangy pairing of red pepper jelly and cheddar is a classic, and the chili dog has respectable burn.
(Owners Andrew Hunter and Andrew Mackenzie have just opened Buddha Dog at 163 Roncesvalles Ave. in Toronto. How the local focus will translate remains to be seen.)
If hot dogs don’t appeal, here’s where to buy local and artisanal foods, whether for a picnic lunch at Sandbanks Provincial Park or during a stroll down charming Main St.
Slickers Ice Cream
Of all the ice cream stands and shops in the County, and they are legion, Slickers in Bloomfield delivers the real deal: creamy, homemade and starring local ingredients. Tinier than one of its baby scoops ($2.50), the store uses three homebaked apple pies in each batch of apple pie ice cream. Rhubarb-ginger blushes pink and packs real ginger bite.
The Marshmallow Room Bakery & Tea House
The front room of the Bloomfield Carriage House restaurant, in Bloomfield, stocks exquisite homestyle desserts and picnic fare.
Chef Scott Kapitan makes his own boar sausage. His wife, pastry chef Jacqui Vickers, takes care of the luscious quiches, artisanal breads and preserves. Vickers uses local produce in her old-fashioned cakes and tarts ($2.25 to $3.75) to great effect, such as a buttery rhubarb cake made from stalks from her garden. Anything with sour cherries, like the sour cherry-almond tart, is to die for.
The sign at this Picton bakery may have seen better days but not Peter Grendel’s hearty multigrain breads ($3.75). Butter buns (45 cents) are the love child of a dinner roll and a sexy croissant, pillowy and inordinately buttery. (Telltale stains appear on the paper bag almost instantly.)
Beside it, scone-like oat rolls (45 cents) seem almost prim, their solid respectability undercut by a naughty hint of molasses.
A cross between a country store and a Tuscan hill town, this Picton coffee shop also makes gelato in about 12 flavours. None are newfangled and some – like pistachio and hazelnut – are mislabelled but the texture goes down smoothly.
Around the corner is Picton’s newest food retailer, Pinch Gourmet, opened by Karin and Michael Potters of Harvest.
This highly tempting Picton candy store (is there any other kind?) is the outgrowth of a Kingston confectionery. Owner Stuart Davidson taps into the Loyalist roots of the area with a wall of British candy, including Cadbury Buttons. Nostalgia reigns at the soda fountain and in-store lemonade stand.
Taste Your World
Unlike the larger but snootier Cooke’s across the street in Picton, Gordon Chan stocks a well-edited selection of international fine foods to tempt even the casual browser. I found organic black Kerala peppercorns ($12) from Maldon and a shelf devoted to the handy Lonely Planet series of World Food Guides.
Black River Cheese
This small retail outlet, near Milford, offers a glimpse of the factory beyond through a window framed with prize ribbons. Cheese is the draw, sharing space with local preserves and boxed crackers. Cheddar is aged up to four years ($30.80 a kilo), while mozzarella comes in such flavours as horseradish (effective) and salsa (like dried soup mix). Bargain hunters snatch up blocks of ends ($14 a kilo) or the blended cooking cheese ($11 a kilo).
Around the bend from Black River Cheese is organic poster girl Vicki Emlaw’s roadside stand. She sells eggs from “grass-eating, bug-scrounging” chickens ($5 a dozen) and a half-pound of salad greens for $4.50. The stand is unattended; just leave your money in the old Virginia tobacco tin.
County Cider Co.
Many a Toronto restaurant offers Waupoos Premium Cider on tap. At the source, near Picton, is a historic stone barn with products not for sale at the LCBO, like a sweet cider ($8.95/litre) made from feral (late-season) apples. There’s sparkling cider and even ice cider, the juice squeezed from apples frozen on the branch. The patio restaurant, with its wood-oven pizzas, has the best view of Lake Ontario in the entire County.
Green Egg Squares
Adapted from Vickie’s Veggies. The original called for Black River cheese and local spinach; I used Balderson cheese from Winchester, Ont., and swiss chard from Holland Marsh. The greens should weigh 1-1/2 pounds cooked. Serve with field tomato salad and corn on the cob.
• 3 lb (1-1/2 kg) swiss chard
• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup 2% milk
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 tsp each: baking powder, salt
• 1 lb (450 g) marble cheese, grated
• 2 tbsp butter, melted
Trim chard from stems, reserving stems for other use. Wash chard in sink full of cold water. Transfer to large pot with water clinging to leaves. Steam, covered, on medium-high heat until crumpled, 5 minutes. Drain in colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess liquid with hands. Chop finely.
In large bowl, whisk eggs with milk.
In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk flour mixure into egg mixture until thick and smooth. Fold in cheese and chard.
Transfer to greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Bake in preheated 350F oven 25 minutes. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings.