Flavourful Escapes: Your Guide to Ontario’s Small Towns + Cities | Ontario Culinary
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Flavourful Escapes: Your Guide to Ontario’s Small Towns + Cities

When it comes to big flavours, these bite-sized towns and cities in Ontario really pack the punch. Keep reading for how we’d spend two days in Orillia, Whitby and Picton/Wellington! The best part? You can enjoy these escapes mid-week to avoid the crowds.

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Farm to Table Fare in Orillia

Orillia may have just over 30k people but it punches well above its weight when it comes to eats sure to make you drool. From open fire kitchens and artisan chocolatiers to heritage sites and more, you’re sure to like this two-day escape.

When to come: We recommend rolling this itinerary out on a Wednesday-Thursday but it can easily be moved later in the week or to the weekend if you’d like!

Day 1 in Orillia

We recommend landing in town mid-morning and heading straight to Couchiching Beach Park to stretch your legs out after your drive. Trust us, you’re going to want to get a few steps in before setting out on this smorgasbord of goodness. This park boasts 14.5 acres along Lake Couchiching with picnic tables and paved trails to enjoy the beauty of spring!

Once you’re finished at the park, head to the Eclectic Café for lunch. This hidden gem is run with Chopped Canada Chef, Melanie Robinson at the helm and has a strong focus on local producers.

 

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As such, the menu changes every month along with the growing seasons. Pop in and grab a made-from-scratch soup, fresh salad, shakshuka, sandwiches and more.

After finishing up your lunch, head out through the downtown to explore a whole number of shops, bakeries and more! If you walk from Eclectic Café, you can find DWN Craft Chocolatier, 3 Crows Speak (a local community fav), Gilbert Guitars (Ontario’s largest collection of guitars north of Toronto) and the historic Mariposa Market all within walking distance.

Stop halfway for a craft beer at Couchiching Craft  Brewing Co. and try their beer barbacoa nachos and a pint of Black River Stout to really embrace the big flavours of this brewery.

Next, continue on to Bee by the Sea to stock up on some great bees-wax products. This whole run should only take about 15 minutes of walking. Head back towards the start and you’ll come to The Common Stove.

When dinner rolls around, we hope you saved a little room because there’s no way you’ll be able to resist the temptation of The Common Stove.

 

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Head Chef Ben Kersley mans the kitchen here, the heart of which is a massive wood-fired grill right in the middle of the restaurant. Grilling up locally sourced meats and produce, this dedication to supporting local has earned The Common Stove a Feast On® certification. It’s a testament to the way people can gather and connect over a meal as they share the hearth together.

fired grill at common stove

So what’s on the menu? A whole bunch of sharable dishes. Think heirloom carrots grilled to perfection and classic russet fries. Think modern dishes like Pork Jowl Pappardelle and Celeriac Kebabs served up alongside classics like their Halibut with a lobster demi-glaze and Cowboy Rib Eye.

patio at common stove

When it comes to cocktails, you gotta try the Edmund Fitzgerald- a cheeky homage to Gordon Lightfoot whose song about the boat put Orillia on the map. Think refreshing citrus notes of Meyer lemon gin, Lillet Blanc and Ferrand’s Dry Curacao.

Finally, wind down for the night by taking a stroll by the water and checking into the historic Champlain Waterfront Hotel. Not your style? Explore your options.

Day 2

Rise and shine! It’s time to grab some breakfast. Head to 125 Breakfast Club to indulge in French takes on breakfast classics, benedicts and some sneaky twists on your favs. What should you try? We recommend checking out the Crepe Madame with a potato waffle or the Banana Foster Crépe.

Next, go for a little drive up to Georgian Chocolate. Arts and culture come together at this delightfully sweet spot where the chocolatiers work with local artists to design their packaging. Pick up a treat (or ten) here that feature single-origin bean chocolate bars. From toffee and sea salt to Venezualen pistachio and cranberry, there are so many to choose from!

Ready for lunch? Tuck into PICNIC Tapas and Wine to hide away and enjoy a cheeky meal, tapas-style.  Inspired by the cuisine of Southern France and Northern Spain, this restaurant collides with an old-school grocer in the heart of Orillia.

overhead shot of hand reaching into grab an oyster next to a bowl of hot sauce

Snack on oysters, lamb meatballs and mushrooms paired with Manchego cheese alongside a great selection of Ontario wines (try the Lo-Fi pinot noir from Rosewood), craft beers from nearby Quayle’s Brewing and a selection of cocktails and mocktails that would please any foodie!

Before you go, check out their provisions that range everything from beautiful tinned fish and wine to housemade dips, locally-made snacks, olives, cheeses and more.

 

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Your final stop combines heritage and…well, really great food. Spend your afternoon at Leacock Museum National Historic Site. You’ll learn about the Leacock family and the well-known Stephen Leacock- a Canadian writer, teacher and humourist.

Wander exhibits on everything from Boating Old Brewery Bay and 75 Years of Laughs (a look at the road to Leacock’s Humourist Medal) to From Wars to Wonders: Mapping Escapism in a Time of Turmoil amongst others.

When you’re done, grab the audio guide of the grounds and wander the acreage it all sits on! Coming this spring, a new outdoor exhibit entitled Leacock and the Montreal Melon will also find a home on site.

Once you’re finished head over to Fare. This restaurant is nestled right onto the museum grounds and is nothing to miss. Start your Fare foray with their nacho skillet or breadboard with fresh rosemary and thyme butter, honey and roasted garlic.

 

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Follow it up with the main event: braised short rib, the Fare Burger which is notably topped with maple pepper bacon and is a mix of ground chuck and bison or for the plant-based folks, the Korean Fried Portobello!

overhead shot of the spread at fare

Enjoy (we know you will)!

Eat Your Way through Picton and Wellington

Wine and beer and cocktails- oh my! Mix in a little spa treatment, a trip to the beach and a pinch of farm-to-table fare and this trip to Prince Edward County and the small towns of Picton and Wellington is a total bullseye.

We recommend a Thursday-Friday for this one but you can also make it a weekend escape!

Hop in, bestie! Let’s go.

Day 1: Enjoy a Taste of Wellington

Start your epicurean escapade in Wellington and start by making a splash at Wellington Rotary Beach. Soak in some spring rays and dip your toes in (if you dare). It’s all about the art of doing nothing and this spot will surely set the tone.

When you’re ready for a bite, head down to La Condesa for a lunch that will have you whispering sweet nothings to your potato flautas (which you need to try by the way). Known for their made-in-house tortillas, tinga tostada and punchy Conchita style pork taco, your taste buds are in for one hell of a party.

overhead shot of two hands squeezing lime on corn and a spread of food at La Condesa

If you’re coming Thursday-Sunday, a quick rip over to Decanter PEC is a must. This spot is a oenophile’s (that’s a fancy way to say wine lover’s) dream, filled with Ontario wines (plus craft beer, cider and mead).

Swirl, sip and savour a few before picking out what you’d like to bring home with you. It’s a well-known fact that wine is one of the best souvenirs around.

As the spring sun begins to set, dip over to The Drake Devonshire where we recommend cozying in for the night. This uber-cool accommodation and restaurant could be a getaway all its own so don’t blame us if you have trouble pulling yourself out of bed in the AM.

two men sitting by the window enjoying a drink at the drake devonshire

With a menu that’s as creative as the local art that adorns the walls, The Drake combines the best of Wellington’s laid-back atmosphere with a dash of urban chic (actually…that’s pretty well the theme of Prince Edward County itself).

overhead shot of spread at the drake devonshire

You’ll feel like you’re dining in the cool kid’s living room (if the cool kid had impeccable taste in food and art). Enjoy a menu full of local goodness that has earned this stop a Feast On® certification. Garganelli hand rolled pasta Bolognese, a killer veggie burger (for real) and Jerusalem artichoke soup have all snuck onto this menu in the past. However, with a menu that changes with the growing season Forest Gump’s mantra says it best: you never know what you’re gonna get.

Not ready to tuck in yet? No worries! We recommend checking out nearby Karlo Estate Winery for a glass of vino, a fantastic charcuterie board and if you’re lucky, a little live music.

a two panel grid of photos. On the left, pouring rosé at golden hour into two wine glasses and on the left owners Sherry and Saxe embrace with wine in hand on the keystone bridge.

Day 2: Treat Your Taste Buds in Picton

Picture this: day two is so packed with flavour and fun, it’s like a mini-vacation for your taste buds and your soul. Embark on a fantastic adventure through Picton, Prince Edward County’s largest community.

Kick off your day at Beacon Bike and Brew where the only thing better than the coffee (and seriously…you gotta try their cappuccino) is their breakfast sandwich. Part bike shop, part café, this spot is filled with natural light and packed to the brim with flavour. Don’t rush, grab a seat and savour this start to your day.

 

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Next, pop down the road to The Royal Hotel. Just a two-minute walk, it’ll feel like a world away as soon as you step in. Book yourself into their spa for a treatment (be sure to do this in advance) and you’ll feel like a brand new person! Dang, we like this new you.

photo into kitchen from the bar at The Royal

Why stop at blissful relaxation when you can add gastronomic joy to the mix? Lunch at the Royal is an affair to remember. We recommend their espresso Manhattan (far superior to its more popular cousin, the espresso martini, if we do say so ourselves) or County G & T with house-made tonic for a refreshing addition to the meal.

close up of apps at The Royal

Discover fare that ranges from crispy polenta and genoa-topped pizza to potato gratin and…and now we’re drooling.

As the afternoon wanes, saunter across the street to Russ & Co. for a drink or two (who’s counting?). Not us. Pop into this small cocktail bar and you’ll be dazzled by the wood bar back with glass cupboards (it was imported from an old Hungary pharmacy) and round leather stools as well as cozy low tables.

Of course, the real star of the show is the impressive cocktail menu, expertly mixed in front of you. Try the Gap Year with brandy, green chartreuse, black currant, pineapple and star anise bitters or the Orchard Park, a bloomy little concoction with buffalo trace, cynar, amontillado sherry, yellow chartreuse, mole, forest and smoked apple. Don’t worry, we weren’t sure what all those ingredients were either but we do know we loved it.

two-grid image. On the left, a close up a fancy cocktail at russ and co. On the right, zain and andrea cheers their drinks.

The grand finale to your day in Picton awaits at the newly Feast On® certified Parson’s Brewing Company for dinner. This spot is a community hub layed out on an expansive property with great tasting beer (a must) and a kitchen that’ll make those taste buds sing.

What would you say if we recommended the Caesar salad? Basic, right? WRONG. Parson’s take on this classic is wildly flavourful. Topped with cojita from Lighthall Cheese, eloté corn and pickled onions- it slaps (as the young kids say).

two image grid at Parsons: on the left the bartender in tie-dye holding a beer, on the right a close up of the elot´corn caesar salad

What else should you try? The birria nachos for starters and of course, the “busted” roti with jerked chicken. Pair it up with their Yuzu Pale Ale, Crushable Pilsner or a flight!

So there you have it, a day in Picton that’s as delicious as it is delightful. From the first sip of coffee to the last drop of beer, it’s a journey through taste and relaxation that leaves you wondering, “Is this what happiness tastes like?” Spoiler: it is.

Wander Whitby on a 2-Day Adventure

Whitby is under an hour from Toronto and promises a world of flavour. Consider this little getaway your culinary passport to a two-day escapade full of vibrant and varied flavours.

Day 1: Get to Know Whitby with your Taste Buds

One of our absolute favourite things to do when we land in any small town or city is to visit the local farmers’ market. It’s our belief that this is where the coolest people and biggest flavours can be found. It’s a place to find not only the freshest produce (and if you’re coming in spring that means rhubarb, asparagus and even early June strawberries) but also tastes of place unique to wherever you’ve landed.

woman handing fresh produce to another woman at the farmers' market

The Whitby Farmers’ Market runs on Wednesdays starting May 15th (hence the mid-week escape) and it shouldn’t be missed but if you do miss it, you can catch it on Saturdays in the Village of Brooklin.  We recommend packing a little cooler so you can bring a taste of Whitby home with you! Vendors in years past have sold everything from produce to honey, baked goods, spices, fresh juices, Two Blokes Cider from Seagrave, just north of Whitby(and if you like that, be sure to check out this blog) and so much more.

For lunch, make your way to 12welve Bistro, a spot where creativity meets comfort food in a delightful symphony of tastes. Expect the unexpected in a way that feels adventurous and utterly satisfying.

Sharables like edamame, duck fat fries (yum) and Bavarian pretzel sticks stand beside things you technically could share but you’re going to want to keep for yourself. Think Jamaican jerk burgers, smoked brisket mac n’ cheese and their signature bistro fingers. Yes, those are chicken fingers and no you don’t have to feel guilty for ordering them. We all love them.

Top that lunch off with a visit to pick up a case at Brock Street Brewing Company. We recommend grabbing a few of their Munich Lager which comes peppered with notes of caramel and molasses cookies but a slightly bitter finish to take the edge off any sweetness. Want to try it in a pint? Good news, you can right next door at 12welve Bistro where you had lunch.

flight at brock street brewing

Alternatively, try their Blond which was the winner of the bronze medal in the Light Beer Awards at the Canadian Brewing Championship. Refreshing and approachable, it’s a perfect transition beer from spring to summer.

Not quite ready to dive into your next meal yet? No worries. If you’re looking to walk off all this great food – Historic Downtown Whitby has an eclectic collection of unique shops to explore.

Culminate your day by coming together at The Springwood for a dining experience that feels like a warm hug. With an ambience that’s meant to feel like you’re at a good friend’s dinner party (only your friend is an unreal chef), the Springwood is a celebration of local, seasonal ingredients, earning themselves a Feast On® certification as well.

table set out with food at the Springwood

This neighbourhood restaurant is tucked away and may seem unassuming but it’s a big player in Canadian culinary, working it’s way onto Open Table’s Top 100 Canadian restaurants last year. The menu is a true representation of what’s in season so of course, it’s always changing.

Past spring dishes have included beauties like Chioggia Beets from Cookstown Greens prepared salt roasted, pickled and shaved raw, topped with sauce bearnaise, espelette pepper, fine herbs and dill and beautiful scallops topped with foraged rhubarb and a rhubarb vinaigrette.

 

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Before you call it a night, enjoy an impressive, photo-ready cocktail at Surf Kitchen and Bar where they also have tapas-style small plates if you’re also looking for a late-night nibble. The vibes here will have you feeling all kinds of tropical!

 

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Finally, lay your head to rest for the night. Whitby has many options for accommodations from small cottages to larger chains so be sure to do a little research and book!

Day 2: Diver Deeper into Delights

No place will help you greet your morning better than Brunch. & Co. where breakfast (and brunch!) really is an art form. Where pancakes flirt with much more than syrup (lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes anyone?) and avocado toast is no laughing matter. Seriously, try it even if you aren’t a millennial.

closeup of blueberry pancakes at brunch and co

Next, indulge your sweet tooth at One More Cocoa– a haven for chocolate lovers. Way more than your average chocolate shop, One More Cocoa was featured on Oprah’s 2023 list of Favourite Things! So if you don’t want to take our word for it, take hers!

One More Cocoa celebrates the bright and bold flavours of Jamaica with every bite. From indulgent chocolate bars and the best hot chocolate to bon bons that will have you saying, “ok just one more”, One More Cocoa is serious about their chocolates.

On top of that, each bar, bon bon and container of hot chocolate is a work of art. Why not take a few home with you as gifts or to remember your time? Alright, now onto lunch.

Lunch at Butchie’s is a must (don’t fight it) for anyone who believes in the power of a good sandwich. We hope that’s you! This is no ordinary lunch; it’s a hands-on, messy and delightfully indulgent affair that pays homage to the art of barbecue and fry.

Owned by Chef Andrea Nicholson (you might know her from the Food Network), Butchie’s keeps it simple with classic BBQ offerings like Nashville hot chicken sandwiches and smoked pork shoulder served up with an assortment of beloved sides  that will bring you right back to picnics and poolside bbqs when you were a kid. Think deviled eggs, hand cut fries and even hush puppies. Now wipe that drool off your keyboard and keep reading.

andrea smiling at the camera at Butchie's

Stick around here a little bit longer or alternatively, head to 5 Paddles Brewing for a change of scenery! Sip and savour a whole slew of options here like their Pheonix Rubia Amber Ale that will bring life to your glass with a bold amber colour and hints of toffee or their  Midnight Paddler Canadian Royal Stout- touted as the first and only of its kind with an aroma that smells of a strong black cup of coffee mixed in with 70% cacao!

End your culinary foray through Whitby at Bistro ’67 at Durham College. You’ll get to savour a meal from up-and-coming chefs learning at the college. Sourcing much of their ingredients from a large on-site garden (actually let’s call it a farm) and other suppliers across the region, it’s a true taste of Durham.

 

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Head to this Feast On® certified restaurant to enjoy a creative and dynamic menu of eats from rainbow trout to harvest bowls and can’t miss desserts like sourdough ice cream, cinnamon toast and lemon tiramisu!

We hope you enjoy two quiet and unforgettable days in Whitby! As you go from bustling markets to cozy bistros and everything in between, take time to not just eat but savour every bite.

Enjoy Your Small Escape to Big Flavours

Wherever you wind up, we hope you enjoy discovering these hidden gems, culinary superstars and everything in between. Take your time, enjoying a slowed down pace and enjoy all the flavours that spring in Ontario has to offer.