Written & Photographed by Liora Ipsum | Daily Hive
Being a Toronto Food Writer is awesome but also exhausting. The city moves so fast, the distance to cover is so vast and everything happens at such a frenetic pace, I�ve found myself looking for any excuse to escape it all on my days off.
This past Thanksgiving weekend proved the perfect opportunity. My turkey dinner wasn’t happening until Monday and cooking wasn’t my responsibility, so my partner, my dog and I packed up and drove west from Toronto to Windsor-Essex County.
Our to-do list was loose. We�d heard rumblings of good beer, distinct pizza and a burgeoning local food scene but we otherwise weren’t sure what to expect. We wanted to see the colorful fall leaves and eat at some place called Rino�s but other than that we didn�t plan a thing.
On the way in we detoured south and found ourselves in Amherstburg where we stumbled upon two farmers� markets in all their fall glory. Honey crisp apples, peppers, pumpkins? Check.
Even the gas stations out here dealt in homemade pies.
To eat, the menu offered a scratch-made selection featuring bowls of cheddar ale soup, fish and chips, burgers, salads and sandwiches.
The daily grilled cheese oozing with cheddar and piled with saucy pulled pork was among the highlights. So too was the Caesar salad tossed in garlicky dressing and studded with bacon, polenta croutons and crispy fried capers.
On the country highway north into Windsor we make a stop at this sprawling distillery and restaurant.
A thorough sampling of novel house spirits; grapefruit vodka, coffee whiskey liqueur and banana caramel, plus a bottle of apple caramel whisky to-go and we�re back on the road much later than anticipated. Worth it nonetheless.
We make it into Windsor just as the sun is setting and the first thing that strikes us is how the landscape is made up of a patchwork of parks, strip malls and low rise residential. Those shiny towers seen in the distance? They all belong to Detroit.
FRANK BREWING CO.
Thirsty after the long drive, we find our way to this unsuspecting brewpub that looks almost like a generic chain restaurant from the outside.
Inside the stools around the bar are populated with locals munching peanuts and sipping pints. We join them to discover the delightful nuttiness of the Old Comrade Amber Ale. Next, the Big Harvest Dark Wheat, that we only learn later was awarded silver at the Ontario Brewing Awards. Well deserved.
We stock up on stubbies and bottles of the seasonally-appropriate Pumpkin Spice Amber Ale to take to dinner on Monday. I know already I�m about to be the most popular guest at Thanksgiving.
THE WATERFRONT AT NIGHT
Warmed up from all the beer, we take a stroll across the waterfront before heading back to the hotel. Detroit�s skyline is illuminated in purple and pink lights that reflect onto the river.
My partner and I are terrible at sleeping in, even on vacation. Maybe it�s being dog owners? Maybe it�s the weekly routine that has us up before most people even hit snooze for the first time.
We�re awake and ready to go before anything is open and so we take a drive out to the Ojibway Prairie Complex and set out for a hike.
We�re not on the trail more than five minutes when a rustle in the woods grabs our attention.
There�s a deer!
A white tail deer is just inching towards the path ahead. It crosses and then there�s another one� and another one. Two more behind them get spooked and retreat. This is a great start to the day.
A DOG�S BREAKFAST
The discovery of Maiden Lane is welcome. It�s like a little pocket of hipsterdom in an otherwise industrial city. The tree-lined promenade boasts design stores, an ice cream shop and this lovely little breakfast nook.
We order the Lavender Pancakes with a side of candied bacon plus the French Benny featuring poached eggs on French toast smothered in hollandaise and served with delicious crispy chunks of pork belly.
We clean our plates but linger over teas as the friendly staff volunteer recommendations. ?Hit up Craft Heads down the street for sure,? we�re told, ?The beer is great and so are the lattes�? and so we do.
Just down the street from brunch, this microbrewery is just getting started at noon. Patrons are streaming in for the coffee; pour overs and espresso-based drinks made from Toronto�s own De Mello Palheta roasted beans.
The latte I have here is the best coffee I have all weekend. It�s a touch early for beer, but we�re intrigued by the 30 taps featuring small batch beers including selections like Wildflower Honey Wheat, Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, Cool As A Cucumber Wheat Beer and Salted Caramel.
There�s too many to try. We do a couple 5oz samples on the spot and then have a couple howlers filled up before heading out and wandering the neighbourhood some more.
MOTOR CRAFT ALES
Still full from breakfast and already a little buzzed, we head over to the Italian District only to stumble upon yet another nano-brewery, only this one doubles as a burger joint too. We�re saving our appetite for the next stop, but a few more souvenirs from the bottle shop couldn�t hurt.
The Dragula Black Lager featuring sweet malt and chocolate flavours sounds too intriguing to pass up so obviously we grab a couple bottles to-go.
RINO�S KITCHEN & ALE HOUSE
It�s closed! The sign next to the door lists Sundays and Mondays as off days. It�s right here written in capitals — SATURDAY ONLY — on my make-shift itinerary too. I feel defeated as I take a seat on the front steps knowing those pulled pork waffles and jerk seasoned lamb shanks are off the table now.
What should we do now? What�s the most Windsor thing we can do?
I�ve been asking everyone I meet in Windsor about the pizza and there is zero consensus on who makes the best one.
We start formulating a plan. Let�s get a few different pizzas and see how they stack up. There�s a big Jays game on today too� and we are in possession of an obscene amount of local beer.
Pizza, beer and baseball seem like an excellent way to spend a Sunday.
We whittle our running tally of recommendations down to just four pizza places then we set out ordering a small pie for pick-up by phone, and then ordering the next one while we�re on route.
Four pizzas later and we�re back in the hotel with the game on an a buffet of impressive beers to sample.
The pizzas are indeed distinct, the crusts are varied (some have a little lip to hold in all the toppings, others let the cheese bleed right into the cornicione), but the unifying characteristic is that vegetables are diced ultra fine, the pepperoni is julienned, and the toppings are applied generously.
Our obvious favourites can be directly tabulated from the number of slices leftover.
Sunday night of a holiday weekend is not exactly bustling in Windsor.
We leave the hotel mid-game to join in on the excitement at a sports bar down the street. The crowd is young and the beer selection isn�t nearly as discerning as we�ve already enjoyed elsewhere. We�re there to witness the Jay�s win in the 10th inning then we walk over the casino to see if this lucky streak continues.
The drive home is lovely. The trees are still very green in Windsor but bursts of yellow, orange and red dot the highways home.
Our souvenirs prove very popular with our family and friends. Pumpkin Spiced Beer from Frank and Apple Caramel Whisky from Wolfhead are right at home on the table full of turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes.