Sunday, October 12, 2008

Prince Edward County: Taste! & Wineries

When I told R we were going on a Thousand Islands tour for his birthday, he was excited but also stressed. Being that my birthday is about a month after his, he always feels pressure to make sure my birthday is as good or better than his was. I think in the back of his mind, he figured he would take me to Thousand Islands for my birthday. So, I guess you could say that I stole his idea.

I decided to make his life easy and said, let's go to Prince Edward County (PEC) - not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, a province in the Maritimes.

Prince Edward County is a region about 1.5 hours east of Toronto that is quickly becoming a popular wine, arts, camping, and outdoor destination. It's a similar type of experience to Salt Spring Islands, save for a greater emphasis on wine than arts, being surrounded by Lake Ontario rather than the Pacific Ocean and much flatter landscape in Ontario.

In a moment of insanity, I said, "Hey, let's invite Giz!" Well...the idea stuck. So, R, Giz and I made plans to meet up and spend a couple of days in the area. Little did we know that every place in the county would be booked. Turns out a popular annual event, called Taste!, was on. Finally, we found a place to stay.

Although we were only there for just over 24 hours, we packed so much in that we're splitting it into two posts. First, I'm going to tell you about the wineries we visited and Taste!, the food event. Giz will tell you about the rest in her next post.

Taste! is an annual event in its 77th year celebrating regional cuisine. Like many food and wine shows, you pay to get in, which includes a wine glass, and then purchase tickets (worth 50 cents each).

You then line up to buy sample of food and alcohol. Samples range from 1 to 6 tickets, with about an ounce of wine costing 3 tickets.

You can see a full list of participants here.

It actually works out really well to go as a group of three because you can have two people in line and one floater, to go between the lines, figure out the next plan of attack, or just go find more wine to drink while the other two suckers line up. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about who took this role.

Since there isn't really a coherent order to the food we ate, I'll just go through the pictures one-by-one.

First up is poutine. I've heard that poutine is making appearance in more upscale dining lately and Jamie Kennedy Kitchens' certainly shows that. They served an "Elk goulasch poutine with a 5 year old Black River cheddar". You should have heard R's assessment of it - it sounded like he was a poutine connoisseur. The general sense from our group was that the poutine was "just ok". One of the main components of poutine is gravy and it lacked the necessary gravy to start melting the cheese. Actually, I ended up added gravy from a second dish to it. We also found the cheese to be strong. It was probably intentionally strong to match the elk, but I am used to St. Albert cheese, which is much lighter in flavour. Overall, not a favourite. But the lady working that station was very nice.

Actually, it was the gravy from this dish that I used.

This is Le Chien Noir's "Leavitt's black angus beef braised with Huff Estates merlot, succotash of organic county vegetables, county themed biscuits". It was quite good. Nice flavour - but I'm having a hard time writing about it, so it couldn't have been orgasmic.

Perhaps the longest, and therefore most frustrating, line was for Graham Farms. I understand wanting to serve freshly prepared food, but if that preparation means that everyone waits in line for 45 minutes, it's time to go to "plan B". Even when we were very first in line, we still waited for a few minutes to get our food. However, in looking at their website, I see that they are actually a farm and not a restaurant, which could explain the long lineups.

In the end, none of us were particularly impressed with the skewer. The elk burger was better, but the highlight of the dish was probably the bun. Admittedly, the presentation was quite nice, but I'd rather wait 10 minutes for food slopped on a plate than 40 minutes for nicely plated food (if I'm waiting in line, that is).

While Giz waited in the elk burger line, R lined up for Buddha Dog turkey dog. At the Buddha Dog line, you would place your order at one window and wait about 10 minutes for your dog in another line. The red-ish sauce is a cranberry sauce. Overall, the taste was ok - but the best part by far was the bun.

My favourite dish came from Oak Heights Winery. They served both a ratatouille on yorkshire pudding and a roast beef on yorkshire pudding.

The ratatouille wasn't bad, but it paled in comparison to the roast beef. I should probably just come out and admit that I love horseradish. I love it so much that I will plan entire meals for the sole reason that the dish will allow me to eat horseradish. I have also been known to sit down and eat matzah and horseradish for lunch. So, when I saw roast beef, I was very excited about the excuse to eat horseradish.

So, the glob of white stuff on the roast beef is my attempt to not insult the chef by smothering his food in horseradish. Don't get me wrong - the roast beef was delicious too. The sauce was very flavourful and I wanted more as soon as I finished my portion. Only complaint is that we had to eat the roastbeef and yorkshire pudding by hand. I would have preferred some cutlery.

For dessert, we had Dinkels/Paulos Restaurant's "Apple fritters with creme anglais". They use a local orchard's apples and a local cider. The fritters were quite good and made for a great last dish of the day.

I really liked the emphasis on locally grown/produced food and mutualistic use of each other's products.

After a couple of hours at Taste!, we decided to check out some local wineries. In PEC, there are couple of trails you can follow, the Taste Trail and the Arts Trail. It's very similar to The Salt Spring Studio Tour. Of course, there are places that aren't on these tours, but it does offer an organized way to see much of what PEC has to offer. We just picked and chose based on recommendations and proximity of sites.

First stop was to a cider producer. The County Cider Company is in a really nice area of PEC, Waupoos, near great views of Lake Ontario and a lot of orchards.

In addition to regular cider, they also have iced cider, sparkling cider and some wines. We picked up a couple of premium cider, which is a light carbonated cider. I'm a big fan of Strongbow, but this is a nice switch.

Looks like it's just about harvest time.

Next stop was the nearby Waupoos Winery.

Giz had sampled a really nice wine from Waupoos, but it turned out that they were completely sold out of the product. The wine producers must be doing pretty well because sold out products was a regular thing at the wineries we visited.

We did notice, starting with Waupoos and continuing with all other wineries that we visited, that there are signs near the sampling areas listing prices for samples. Personally, I'm not a fan of this. I can understand if you have a bunch of large tours coming through where people don't buy the products, but chances are that if someone is going to make the effort to visit your winery, they're going to purchase a bottle or more. So, charging one to two dollars for an ounce of wine, in my opinion, is tacky. I did find, however, that this charge wasn't always enforced. But it did make us feel a bit uncertain about even trying wines and whether we were "stealing samples" when we didn't pay for them in the end.

Next, we visited a very nice winery called Huff Estates.

Based on the size of their property and the number of restaurants that use their wines for braising, I would guess that Huff is one of the top wineries in PEC.

By about this point, we were all pretty exhausted. But the next day, we couldn't resist visiting a couple other wineries.

We definitely wanted to get to the The Grange to pick out some of their Cabernet, which we drank with our meal the night before (Giz will tell you about it).

Unfortunately, their wine selection was small, relative to the products that they produce. The cabernet was sold out. So, we went with the Assemblage instead.

Of all of the wineries we visited, I would have to say that The Grange was the most attractive. The main building was beautiful.

Just around the corner from The Grange, I spotted Prince Edward County Lavender. I love lavender. I couldn't resist picking up a couple of products

After the lavender farm, we returned to the hotel to pack up our respective cars and headed off in separate directions. It was a great weekend. I hope to return to try out the popular Sandbanks. StumbleUpon


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an amazing birthday--and the food and wine look great! I hadn't heard of that event.

My sister and her hubby just came back from a vacation in Prince Edward County, and they also said it was fabulous--thinking I must go, too!

That Girl said...

I'm so jealous of R's birthday!

PG said...

that girl - it was my and Giz's b-day this time...R's was Thousand Islands.

Ivy said...

Happy Birthday Psychgrad and Giz. Wow that sounded like an amazing trip.

Hopie said...

Wow, food, wine, lavender: sounds like a wonderful birthday! Happy birthday to you too :-)

Núria said...

What a great way to celebrate a Birthday!!! Congrats :D

Adam said...

Food and wine for a Bday, woooo! That's great. It sounds like you guys had a great time, even if the food was less than specataular. The roast beef with horseradish would of been my favorite dish too :)

I love wine tasting. I used to work at a winery, and Columbus day weekend through the holidays is def their busy season. I charged people a dollar to sample wine, but you got from like 8-15 wine samples, and if I liked you, you were in for a treat :)

grace said...

happy birthday indeed! that looks like one heck of an experience and one of the best ways ever to celebrate. :)

La Bella Cooks said...

Now that is a great birthday trip! With all of that food I would have been in heaven. There was a similar Taste even here where I love this past weekend that was a huge hit. A big Happy Birthday to you!

Bunny said...

Happy Birthday! It sounded and looked like a very nice way to celebrate. I bought white wine to make the Sesame Chicken recipe you posted, I love looking at all the different wines. I'm very interested in cooking with wine now, something I haven't done before. Thanks for the great post.

Emily said...

Ohhhh, I love lavender.

Sounds like a wonderful time! I'm so jealous.

Thanks for sharing.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Happy Birthday Giz. It sounds like you had a fantastic time in PE County. I have been there to Sand Dunes National Park ( I believe it is there...and on the ferries). We were married in Cobourg which I see on your map but it is still in Durham County I believe?

Rosie said...

sounds like a dream of a birthday and with good food and wine who could ask for more!

Rosie x

Darius T. Williams said...

Now lemme tell you - that apple fritter did look good!


Annie said...

Wow, sounds like a fun filled birthday. I wish someone would take me there for mine! I learned a lot reading through your other post about Thousand Islands; thanks for the history lesson :)
Btw, thanks for stopping by my blog, it's always nice to see new people checking in. Come again...

Anonymous said...

Wpow what a Birthdya event! I love all the food pics!

Lori Lynn said...

How fun to go wine tasting for your birthdays! Great reading all about your adventure!

MyMyMichl said...

Wonderful journal of your trip. This New York City guy wishes he was there with you. Prince Edward County is now on my To Do list. Cheers, Michael

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