Travel Ontario: Lunch at the Black Dog in Bayfield, a Biking Tour and Dinner at the Little Inn
After our morning hike on the Sawmill Trail in Bayfield we were ready for lunch and listened to the suggestion of Tyler Hessel, co-owner of Outside Projects, who was going to be our bicycling guide this afternoon. He pointed us straight across the street to the Black Dog Village Pub and Bistro. But before we could head off for lunch he introduced me to his neighbours, Jim and Linda Taleski, who run the Main Street Gallery. Bayfield is a popular destination for art lovers and the Main Street Gallery carries a wide range of paintings, glass works, sculptures and even handbuilt ships made by Jim Taleski himself.
After this foray into the art world, it was definitely time for a solid meal at the Black Dog. The pub’s attractive outdoor patio was packed on this gorgeous Thanksgiving Monday, so we had to wait a bit inside until we got a nice window seat overlooking Bayfield’s Main Street. The first thing that impressed us was the eclectic collection of soups, appetizers, salads, burgers and main dishes. The lunch menu features such exotic choices as Spanish Tapas Shrimp & Chorizo, Herbes de Provence Mushrooms with brie on a toasted foccacia and many other dishes with exotic ingredients. My travel partner and I enjoyed a spicy black bean soup with a crispy baguette, followed by Escargot with Herbes de Provence mushrooms, and a Black Dog Cesar Salad for me.
As a real beer lover, my travel partner was impressed by the large number of beers on tap at the Black Dog: the pub serves 20 different draught beers and 5 additional bottled beers. Owner Ted McIntosh joined us briefly and told us a bit about his business. He even showed us the Black Dog Pantry next door, “Bayfield’s Finest Food Shop” which he runs together with his wife, Catherine Sloan-McIntosh who is a well known food writer and has just published her 9th cookbook.
Ted explained that his eatery is not simply a pub in the traditional sense, but a gastro pub where visitors can enjoy good food with down-to-earth yet sophisticated culinary choices. And it is named after Danny Boy, his beloved black lab, who is immortalized in an oil painting at the back of the pub. The building where the pub is located dates back to 1850 and is the oldest commercial building on Bayfield’s main street.
As a trained sommelier, Ted is an expert in wines and spirits, and his pub has won the VQA Wine Award every year since it opened. A huge scotch and whisky selection rounds out the beverage offerings at the Black Dog Pub which also holds regular special events, for example the upcoming October Fest where a $40 ticket will get you a keepsake beer glass, a sampling of dozens of beers, a bratwurst dinner and some live music.
With a belly full of good food, we were now ready to embark on our afternoon cycling adventure and headed back across the street to Outside Projects to meet up with Tyler Hessel who was going to take us out on a guided bike ride of the area. As an avid cyclist who often cycles up to 500 km a week, Tyler is in superb shape and we had to make sure we were able to keep up with him on the quiet roads south of Bayfield.
Tyler has a background in recreational studies, but also worked in sales before starting his business -“Outside Projects” – together with his wife Heidi Martin, who is equally passionate about outdoor recreation. Today Tyler and Heidi offer guided hikes and bicycle tours, snow-shoe tours and even team building events for corporate clients. The bicycle sales and rental business has also been very successful and Tyler has built a thriving collaboration with various inns and bed and breakfasts whose guests can enjoy his outdoor recreational programs.
Just about 8 km outside of Bayfield we stopped at the Lake View Christian School and Tyler explained that the area is home to a large number of conservative and progressive Mennonites. This school is run by conservative Mennonites, and summer and winter, local Mennonite children can be found on the ball diamond playing baseball or soccer. Many Mennonite families are located along Bronson Road and the large families are running very successful farming operations. Along a 2 km stretch of road there are nine family farms named Steckle whose roots are originally in Switzerland. About 200 years ago they moved to Bavaria and later, in 1829, to Pennsylvania before settling in Ontario in 1860. It is now the 4th generation of Steckles that farm the land around here.
Then we cycled up the hill to Goshen Line, which represents another ridge rising up from Lake Huron from where we had a great view over the surrounding agricultural areas as well as the lake glimmering in the distance. Tyler explained that the most important cash crops here are feed corn and soybeans, but local farmers also grow some white and red beans and winter wheat. A new initiative has been in the works for the last few years: Huron County has been investigating the option of becoming a wine-growing region. Indeed, the recent soil and weather testing have showed that the area is very suitable for viticulture, and soon there will be some sample plots of grapes that will attract investors. As a regional councillor, Tyler is actively involved in shaping the future of the region and Huron County is considering tourism as one of its strategic pillars. Grape growing will be an essential component of the county’s future tourism strategy.
After more than 30 km we were almost back in town when we stopped at the Porter’s Hill Wild Bird Seed Company whose property was decked out in multiple attractive arrangements of pumpkins and fall flowers. The assortment was so colourful I just had to stop and take some pictures. By 5:30 we were back in town, a bit out of breath, but definitely enriched by the knowledge that Tyler shared with us about the local region. Then we rested up a bit in our cozy room at our B&B, Clair on the Square, before heading out for dinner to the Little Inn, Bayfield’s historic inn on Main Street.
The dining room was a bit quiet as most of the out-of-town guests had already headed back into the city. Renowned for its excellent cuisine, we selected some delicious choices: a finely spiced Butternut Squash Soup and an Heirloom Tomato Caprese salad, followed by a Lake Huron Pickerel with local corn risotto, baby shiitake mushrooms and a nasturtium leaf sauce. My main dish was a low temperature roasted Local Pork Belly, with unique heirloom vegetables and a Kimchi Piperada red pepper sauce. The meat of the pork absolutely melted in my mouth and the crunchy skin of the pork belly was a taste and texture delight. Although I don’t usually eat much meat in general, this pork dish was divine.
We indulged a little more and shared a heavenly Bailey’s Cheesecake and an Apple Sour Cream Cake with apple cider sorbet. Last but not least, we had a chance to meet Executive Chef Joseph Petrinac who is a master chef who trained at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and at various other upscale establishments in France and Spain. Joseph is also good personal friends with Ferran Adrià, the celebrity chef of El Bulli, voted the world’s best restaurant five times between 2002 and 2009 by Restaurant Magazine, who is often associated with “molecular gastronomy”.
Joseph explained that his cuisine is based on fresh, local and organic ingredients and that he purchases his meat from a famous local butcher by the name of Metzger (incidentally German for “butcher”). A local Mennonite family grows his vegetables and he picks every year what he wants to grow. I certainly had some unique vegetables: Romesco – a miniature cauliflower / broccoli vegetable, miniature Chinese artichokes as well as baby eggplants. Joseph commented that occasionally his menu goes a little crazy with his exotic ingredients. His unique choices are certainly a result of his international experience, which also includes stints in Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. When I asked Joseph what brought him to this rural area, he explained that he originally grew up around here and relocated three years ago to Bayfield to be closer to his aging parents.
I was truly impressed by the culinary diversity and sophistication on offer at the Little Inn of Bayfield and by the immensely personable character of its executive chef. We had indeed enjoyed a full day in Bayfield and were ready to rest up for a final day on Ontario’s West Coast.