Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada: The Cutest Town You've never heard of
When I started planning a trip focused on Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, I happily discovered a coworker who was living in Buffalo and had great advice. When I asked her about our trip plan, she said, “If I were you, I’d spend more of your time in Niagara-on-the-Lake.” I have to admit, I’d never heard of it.
Niagara-on-the-Lake (or “NOTL” as people refer to it) is an adorable small town in southern Ontario, with delicious restaurants, restored 19th century buildings and more wineries than you can see in a weekend. It’s known for the Shaw Festival, a theater festival that I have to admit we did not find time to attend (next time). And it was less than an hour’s drive from Buffalo.
We spent most of our September Niagara-on-the-Lake time sitting in the sunshine, sipping Canadian wine and beer. And narrowed down many great choices for two fabulous restaurants for dinner.
Trius Winery’s restaurant was my favorite dinner on this trip. The winery sits next to the gorgeous dining room where we were able to watch the sun set over the vineyard. The décor and the entire place is set up to have the most Instagrammable backgrounds you can imagine. The light fixtures in the dining room look like bursting fireworks and there are lots of “posing” areas with cute neon signs. We saw a lot of selfies going on all around us and out in the field of grapevines. Luckily for us, the food and wine pairings lived up to the surroundings.
The meal started with “snacks” which were an adorably sized cup of corn soup and little savory cones of fish mousse, paired with a slightly effervescent wine. The creativity of this course and our fabulous server got this meal off to a great start. Next came a burrata strawberry salad, sprinkled with toasted nuts and a roasted carrot dish with cheese and prosciutto. I chose the halibut with vegetables sitting on top of shrimp in a lovely broth, while my husband had fancy take on steak and potatoes. The desserts were perfectly sized after this array of food – we choose the playful peanut butter and jelly bars with roasted wine grapes and peanut brittle, plus the cheese selection (mmm, goat cheese), partnered with a nutty cake.
It would be hard to compete with the dinner at Trius, but on our second night in NOTL, we enjoyed another great meal, this time in the quaint Old Town area at Treadwell. Whenever we talked to locals and they asked where we were eating and we said Treadwell, the response was, “Well, you can never go wrong at Treadwell.” They were right!
Treadwell calls its concept, farm-to-table, which I would roll my eyes at…but they opened in 2006, so they probably were one of the first to use that term. And everything was fresh and a lot of the menu mentioned the local farms for the ingredients, so they definitely are on point here.
We started with a local tomato salad that had an amazing scoop of basil sorbet that made every bite pop and a generous appetizer of cured yellowfin tuna in a niçoise salad. The second course was a mushroom ricotta gnocchi in a truffle cream sauce and seared sea scallop upon creamed corn with chorizo and chili oil. At this point, we actually could have called it a meal. But we powered on as you would not want to miss a bite at Treadwell. I chose the seared halibut (yes, two nights in a row!) because we you pair something with lobster and ricotta ravioli, I have to say yes. Mike had perfectly cooked pork loin with fingerling potatoes, a Pommery mustard caramel and apples. At this point, I honestly thought I might explode, but thankfully the desserts were not super-sized. Mike got the cheese plate and I picked the dark chocolate and hazelnut tart with buttermilk sorbet.
Because we were not in a hurry to get to a show at the Shaw Festival like the majority of the patrons at Treadwell, we enjoyed a lingering dinner with appropriately attentive slow service (we asked for it and we got it).
After dinner, we strolled down the beautifully manicured flowerpot lined streets to the Prince of Wales Hotel. It was built in 1864 and is well worth a visit to walk through and see the inlaid floors, the stained glass in the lobby and the royal vibes. The Churchill Lounge pub was a wonderful place to people watch and sip an after dinner drink — it felt more like old England than Canada with it sophisticated furnishings.
In between these special dinners, we spent time driving through the vineyard lined country roads and stopping for sips and treats. We enjoyed and recommend these NOTL establishments:
L-R: Enjoying a cozy tent looking over the vineyard at Ravine. Silversmith Brewery is in a vine covered old church. Inniskillin offered a flight, cheese and a great view on a beautiful fall day.
Inniskillin — this is one of the oldest wineries in NOTL, famous for ice wine. Ice wine is made from late harvest grapes that are left on the vine until frozen. Apparently the first time ice wine was created – it was in a last ditch effort by a winery to save the frozen grapes from being trashed. Now people love ice wine and Canada is the largest producer. Ice wine is very concentrated and sweet and pairs perfectly with cheese or dessert. On a Saturday afternoon, the Inniskillin parking lot was jammed with tasters and shoppers. We patiently made our way through and enjoyed a wine tasting sampler and a generous cheese plate, sitting outside on a perfect warm fall day looking over the vineyard.
Garrison House — a gastro pub in the middle of NOTL and the wineries. We had a wonderful snacky lunch of fried mushrooms and sauteed Brussels sprouts along with a Canadian cider. Cider was served on ice in Canada, which I turned out to like. And like everywhere we went, service with a smile and a friendly warm welcome.
Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery — located in St. Davids, this farm and vineyard was on the way between Niagara Falls and NOTL. Known for their pizzas, Ravine was the perfect place to stop for a snack. The giant tented dining area offers a view of the vines, but also keeps families and groups warm and happy on a crisp fall day.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a perfect weekend getaway and for us, a great way to make our Niagara Falls trip a romantic escape.