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New leadership, subtle changes enhance Oakwood’s off season offerings

5 Oct


Dave's PubBy Diva Jennifer Mossop

GRAND BEND – I recognized him instantly, and my jaw dropped as I took in the scene before me. Mark Craft, the owner of the renowned Church Restaurant in Stratford was clearly giving directions to the dining staff at the Oakwood Inn Resort in Grand Bend.   My curiosity well peaked, and the former journalist roused, I made it my business to find out the story.

overheadshotofpatioAfter about three decades at the helm of one of Stratford’s flagship fine dining establishments housed in a stunning old Baptist Church, Craft has sold the business. And, now he is at the helm of the food and beverage operations of this 130-room resort on the sandy shores of Lake Huron.

Under his care are three main services – the conference and event business, the Oak Dining Room, and Dave’s Pub and Grill. Sitting in the Pub there is no visible indication of a change. The airy room is pleasing and welcoming with plenty of wood, stone and massive windows overlooking the picturesque golf course. The server is cheerful and efficient. But there is more change. Craft is not the only new face. The kitchen is now under the culinary baton of Chef Chris Howard.

Opening the 4-page menu, it’s evident the new leadership understands change doesn’t have to be dramatic. The offerings have a Dave's Pub and Grill Oakwood Resortfamiliar feel but there are enhancements and a few new offerings in the generous list, which make it easy to find something for everyone. The new California Burger, colourfully adorned with a swirl of rich guacamole, is moist and flavourful. The return of Fish Tacos is a welcome favourite.

Food and drink come together each weekend in the Chef’s Table Menu, where ever-changing kitchen creations are well paired with new wine list options. For example, the most recent weekend offered Mediterranean Pasta with sundried tomatoes, green olives, artichokes, arugula, red onions, rosemary olive oil, served in multigrain olive bread, paired appropriately with Ruffino Chianti. Duck Breast with orange maple glaze was married with a Jackson Triggs Merlot, and the Grilled Mahi Mahi brought a Ruffino Pinot Grigio.

While the new fall and winter menus provide plenty of choices to test over the coming cooler months, it should be noted that Oakwood will be hosting its annual traditional Thanksgiving buffet ($37.95 per person, $17.50 children five to 12, free four and under – plus taxes and gratuity) in the Oak Dining Room on Saturday, Oct. 10 from 5 p.m. to p.m. It’s a great option for those who’d rather not spend the long weekend in the kitchen but perhaps, instead, on the golf course or at the Lakeside Spa. Maybe even a dip in the indoor pool, which is now open for seasonal memberships and one off visits.

And then maybe, just maybe, the pace will settle down just a bit for the new food and beverage guru. Craft admits that things are going so well he has yet to make the one block walk to the private beach to take in one of Lake Huron’s legendary sunsets. But perhaps he’ll get there before the winter winds transform the aquamarine waves into an Alaskan landscape, and the torches outside Dave’s Pub and Grill once again beckon winter wanderers to cozy up by the fireplace for a satisfying sip and sup.

Party in Bayfield has decidedly local flavour

26 Sep

foodcharter1By Diva Heather Boa
BAYFIELD – Five one-ounce plastic containers of wine huddled on a paper plate. Each held a taste of wine made from grapes grown right here in Huron County, at Maelstrom Winery.

foodcharter3I started with the Frontenac Blanc, worked through the Chardonnay and then moved on to the reds. There was Pinot Noir and Tempest. And, finally, Marquette, a big and bold red that happily chased down a pastry from Cait’s Kitchen filled with thin slices of pepperoni from Metzger’s Meat Products and a creamy jalapeno cheese from Blyth Cheese Farm. Beside me, a local criminal lawyer sampled a Prison Break Pilsner brewed in Guelph. On my other side, a friend sipped on a glass of Pinot Noir, her favourite from the Flight of Wine.

Clusters of people filled the cabaret-style setting, while in the background, The Blacklist Social, a local band, comfortably sprinkled original songs between a strong playbill of folk and rock music.

The Food Charter Launch Party at the Bayfield Town Hall on Sept. 26, organized by the Huron Food Action Network, had a decidedly local flavour.

foodcharter15According to its literature, the network has a mission of cultivating a sustainable, local food system to nourish all people of Huron County and beyond.

“Huron county is not only beautiful in its appearance but in its abundance,” said Nathan Swartz, who is the network’s food system co-ordinator. He said its rich soil produces an abundance of food.

As part of the launch party, the network handed out awards to what it calls Food Heroes.

“Superheroes do things we wish we could do. Perhaps more importantly, things we should be doing,” Swartz said. “We can’t depend on government and massive corporations to protect our food so it’s up to us and local food heroes.”

Award winners were: Red Cat Farm, north of Goderich on Hwy. 21; Bayfield Berry Farm, just east of Bayfield on Orchard Line; Part II Bistro of Blyth; and Maelstrom Winery, just east of Clinton on Sanctuary Line.

While I wholeheartedly support the network’s efforts, for me it was also a great evening out with friends in celebration of local food, drink and music.

Its next event should be a sold out affair. Watch for it.


Maybe I lost a bet or something, but I did also promise to publicly proclaim Caitlin Vail of Cait’s Kitchen as Croissant Queen of Goderich. There you go.

Firemen’s breakfast a hot ticket in Huron County

12 Jul

fireman8By Diva Danica Rush

I once creeped out Kirk Russell in a Toronto coffee shop.

Like really, seriously, totally creeped him out. As I stood second in line, ready to order my morning coffee, I noticed a gorgeous head of hair in front of me. When that wonderfully manly mane turned around my jaw dropped. I was staring right into the deep, mysterious eyes of Kirk Russell. The real Kirk Russell! I thought we were having a moment of instant soul mate connection. But this sense of I-will-leave-Goldie-forever-for-you quickly faded away as I realized the look in his eyes was actually that of terror and panic. I was clearly blocking his path to both the creamers and any probable escape routes. He ran away from me too fast before I could get out the only words on my mind – “I’ve loved you, Kirk Russell, ever since I saw the movie Backdraft as a little girl”.

Kirk, your smile lights up the big screen.

Kirk, your laugh is the center of Hollywood. Beep… Beep…

Kirk, yes of course I… beep… beep…would marry…

Beep… Beep… Beep….

The alarm was going off and pulled me out of Kirk’s awaiting arms.

My eyes popped open. It was to be my first local firemen’s breakfast! I quickly showered and got dressed. Then I got changed as I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that a push-up bra and fire engine red lipstick was a bit too much for this Sunday morning community breakfast. I mean it’s not like Kirk would be there… but could he be though?? The thought was nagging but I stuck with the tamer outfit and set off for Brussels Fire Hall.

I was not the only firefighter enthusiast to show up, though to be honest the other diehard fans had an average age of six, were accompanied by parents and mostly drank from bright blue sippy cups.

The fire trucks were beautiful and should be as much of a source of local pride as the community members who dedicate fireman10themselves to the local fire service. The firefighter who greeted everyone at the door told me they would be serving up to 2,000 people that day. Which is pretty impressive to a woman who can’t commit to making her own cup of coffee in the morning. The tradition of serving community breakfasts has been long standing; at least over 30 years the friendly firefighter told me. And what a breakfast! Warm toast, perfectly hashed potatoes, excellent eggs and two choices of meat… they sure do know their way around a breakfast plate. A perfect meal done by the firefighters joking around with each other in the cooking pit in front of the fire station. Of course these breakfast are fireman1no joking matter. In fact they bring in a good source of funds that are needed to keep up or buy new equipment for these local heroes and their station. The pay-by-donation breakfast not only fills you up, but you know your money goes to a cause that benefits the whole community.

They may not be Hollywood stars, they may not be world-class chefs, but they are a local people dedicated to keeping us safe all year long and well-fed one morning each summer.

Disclaimer: The author’s boyfriend was horrified that a Hollywood movie was mentioned in this article. I give a whole-hearted apology to the firefighters who know that the reality of their work is not like the movies. But to everyone else, well, I don’t apologize for my lasting girlhood crush that got away one morning in a downtown Toronto coffee shop. Sigh…

Firemen’s Breakfasts Across Huron County

August 2 – Goderich Firefighters
August 8 – Zurich Firefighters
Sept. 12 & 13 – North Huron – Blyth Station
(in conjunction with the Threshers Reunion in Blyth)
Sept. 12 – Brucefield Firefighters
Sept. 20 – North Huron – Wingham Station

The Ashwood Bourbon Bar: New, yet pleasantly familiar

26 May
Even the bar is filled with patrons on this busy Saturday night.

Even the bar is filled with patrons on this busy Saturday night.

By Diva Heather Boa
BAYFIELD – It’s Saturday night on the American long weekend and there’s a sense of anticipation at The Ashwood, this village’s newest hotel with bourbon bar and restaurant.

In its first days of opening for The Ashwood Bourbon Bar, people have come to see first-hand what they’ve only seen in pictures

The Ashwood owner Kirsten Harrett at the front counter.

The Ashwood owner Kirsten Harrett at the front counter.

on the website and social media – the massive tree trunk that serves as the lobby counter, living edge highly polished tables with leather placemats, barrel vault ceilings above the bar that are lined with oak staves held in place by metal straps, an expansive L-shaped bar with oodles of bottles filled with all sorts of exotic liquids, and wait staff in aprons of heavy canvas and leather straps.

It’s all so new and intriguing and yet there’s something comfortably familiar about the bar. First, there’s owner Kirten Harrett who is greeting people this evening. She’s owned the Deer Park Lodge, just across the road, for a number of years, before purchasing the old Bayfield Village Inn and transforming it into its current state. There’s Peter Meades behind the bar, well-known for Meades Bros. Productions, which books entertainment at various venues in the village – and now he’s booked an eclectic lineup of Canadian and international artists with an emphasis on roots music and singer-songwriters for the bar. See what the summer season brings on its event listings. Some of the wait staff are the teenaged children of people we know. And, of course, there’s opportunity to stop at various tables to say hello to folks who haven’t been seen all winter long. Even before we enter the bar, we meet up with some friends who have spilled out of The Ashwoody Shuttle, its funky shuttle bus.

In these early days of opening, chef Robert Whyte has created a limited menu of lunch and dinner items while the staff settle into

The Ultimate Ashwood Caesar, with King crab leg, is a favourite.

The Ultimate Ashwood Caesar, with King crab leg, is a favourite.

the routine. Tonight there’s a Mexican beef soup – I’ve forgotten it’s name, but I know that if I close my eyes while eating a mouthful of the spicy soup that’s topped with chopped avocado and sour cream, I am once again in Ajijic, Mexico. Also on the menu are: pan seared 10 oz New York steak with crispy fingerling potatoes, green beans and horseradish butter ($29), ratatouille with arancini and parmesan tuile ($18.50), lamb burger with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese, dressed with a tzatzki and tomato jam, served with chick pea fries ($16), trout with roasted fennel and tomato purée served with wilted spinach and a panzanella salad ($22).

It’s a wise decision on the chef’s part to create a small menu, and our service is seamless. Water glasses are always full and drinks are efficiently replaced. My lamb burger special ordered with no bun did indeed arrive bunless and, as requested, my glass of red wine arrived with the meal. I would dearly have loved to have ordered the Ultimate Ashwood Caesar, which comes with a King crab leg, or the Don Draper ($14), a mixture of double Makers Mark, bourbon soaked cherries, giant ice cubes and a Popeye smoke, but alas, I’m driving.

By the time we’re offered dessert, there’s only one taker for the bread pudding with a bourbon caramel sauce ($9), although the spoon does get passed around, with agreement that the sauce is just a bit too boozy.

When we leave, the place is full, with a long table of people who are filling time between a wedding and its reception, Americans on vacation, and locals who’ve come to check out the newest hotspot in Bayfield.

It’s shaping up to be a great summer in the village.

The high ceilings and line of windows give the bar an airy feel.

The high ceilings and line of windows give the bar an airy feel.

Eddington’s of Exeter: These gourmet pizzas are way outside of the cardboard box

30 Mar

2015-03-26 20.58.51heather boaBy Diva Heather Boa

EXETER – To get the full experience, you should probably order all three wood oven gourmet pizzas that are offered on Thursday nights at Eddington’s of Exeter.

Maybe it means a few slices are boxed for late night snacking or breakfast, but if you don’t order all three, you’ll miss out on a unique taste experience.

For example, March 26 featured three pizzas: garlicky, bacon-riddled three-cheese with hunks of perogies; slices of tomatoes and pieces of meatballs in a punchy tomato sauce, topped with a glorious helping of mozzarella cheese and fresh basil, and; pieces of caramelized chicken and cinnamon-laced apple slices lying in a creamy layer of brie cheese.

The pizza, par cooked in a wood oven, is finished at a high temperature. Photos by James Eddington.

The pizza, par cooked in a wood oven, is finished at a high temperature. Photos by James Eddington.

The thin-crust pizza was just the right consistency of tender-chewy, which is an added bonus for me since I eat pizza with a knife and fork and it can be frustrating to try to cut through a crisp crust.

The consensus at my table was that the caramelized chicken, apple and brie pizza was the favourite, but the beauty of Gourmet Pizza Night at Eddington’s is there are three new offerings every Thursday night for eat-in or take-out. (To order all three is $47, including tax.)

We rolled into the restaurant a little late in the evening for the Huron County crowd, after finagling an 8:30 p.m. reservation, and were greeted at the door of this renovated century home by none other than chef James Eddington.

Without prompting, we hung our coats on the hooks at the end of the foyer, just as we would at home, and made our way through the restaurant, which is blocked off in rooms. (In the summer, they open a quiet patio at the back of the building.) At that time of night, there was just one other table, finishing off their dinner with a celebratory birthday sundae with a sparkler on top. Our waitress was efficient and casual, the feel of the restaurant was friendly and welcoming, and the atmosphere was quiet – which was surprising since that one nearby table of six was celebrating a birthday.

It’s a little bit formal with linens and heavy cutlery, but jeans and a nice shirt will get you through the door.

We didn’t even look at the menus, and ordered three 10-inch pizzas along with a couple pints of Honey Elixir from Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas. The strong, tasty brew paired nicely with the pizzas.

Chef James said he is working on a plan to offer only micro-brewed beers at his restaurant.

Now, I don’t want to leave people with the impression that Eddington’s is in the business only of making pizza.

Because that just isn’t so.

Chef James was carefully building lunch and dinner menus around local meat and produce long before the local food movement became a trend. His menu changes seasonally to reflect all that southwestern Ontario has to offer. For his efforts, Chef James was recently named Culinary Feature Artist and will be featured in the live auction at the annual Conservation Dinner hosted by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority on April 16.

“When James prepares a meal, it reflects much of the inspiration, creativity, expertise, and visual appeal found in paintings and visual art,” said Paul Anstett, Chairman of the Conservation Dinner Committee, in a press release.

For more information on dining in Huron County, please visit Ontario’s West Coast website.


Gourmet Pizza Night

Choose from three unique wood oven gourmet pizzas.

When: Every Thursday night

Where: 527 Main St., Exeter. Eat-in or take-out

Reserve:  By calling 519-235-3030

More information: Lunch 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; Dinner 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday Evenings; Closed Sunday/Monday


Driving distance:

From Seaforth: 25 minutes

From Bayfield: 30 minutes

From Masonville Mall, London: 30 minutes

From Goderich: 45 minutes

From Stratford: 40 minutes

It’s all about the maple syrup

24 Mar
A horse-drawn sleigh carries its passengers along the main street of Saltford.

A horse-drawn sleigh carries its passengers along the main street of Saltford.


By Diva Danica Rush

What is it about maple syrup that brings people together?

Is it the wonderful sugary finish that completes a lazy brunch? The warm amber glow that signals spring is on the way? Whatever the reason, there is something about maple that unites Canadians to rural counties.

My friend Lauren, her two kids and I recently spend the afternoon at Samuels in Saltford. This lovely

maplesyrupsamuels9restaurant partnered with local producers Robinson Maple Products to host “Maple Magic Fest”, a two-day celebration of everything maple. Everything MAPLE!! Since neither Lauren, her kids nor I can resist anything maple, we had to check it out.

Everything, I mean everything, was maple.

Maple Cheese Cake. Maple Crème Brulée. Maple Walnut Truffle. Maple Mousse. Maple Cream Fudge. Maple Tarts. White Forest Maple Cake. Maple Macaroons, Maple Walnut Peanut Butter Cookies.

Maple! Maple! Maple!

maplesyrupsamuels10Our eyes cruised over the treat selections as we sat down to enjoy the homemade chili and hot chocolate that was served as a main dish. As the cheese melted into my chili, my mind focused on the task at hand. Which desert would I get? ! What can I bribe the kids with to make them share their maple treats with me? I tried in vain to calculate how much maple a reasonable adult could put in her mouth before strangers would look at her funny.

maplesyrupsamuels2We made our selections: A well-executed plan of divide and conquer. Iris narrowed in right away on the maple mousse. A wise choice. Emmett took his time, pacing up and down in front of the display till he finally picked out a Maple Macaroon for him and his mom to share. My heart stopped. NO! That was what I was going to pick! I panicked. If I pick the same treat as Emmett then my game plan of sneaking a bite of the kid’s treats would be thrown out the window. I could feel my personal feast of everything maple slipping out of my grasp. Fortunately, there were other wonderful treats to choice from. I quickly regained my composure, took a deep breath and brought a Maple Crème Brulée to our table.

You know a dessert is good when the only sound coming from the table is… mmm… mmm… mmm. Heads are bend over their own treats, no bites are shared and no crumb is shown mercy. I only had the Maple Crème Brulée, and it completely satisfied my maple lovin’ soul.

Filled with sugary bliss and chili good times, we gathered with other locals on a horse carriage that took us around Saltford. Signs of spring were upon us and it was good to simply be outside with others. Maple does that to people; it brings us outdoors at the end of winter, it warms our bodies and makes us feel young at heart. On the way home I asked Emmett what his favourite thing about maple is. He said, “It’s maple-y… and it’s from Ontario.”

Yep, sounds about right to me.

For more local maple events check out:

Robinson’s Maple Products Sugar Shack

Where: 85351 Harper Line just north of the Belgrave Road and east of the Dungannon Road.

maplerobinsonWhat: A tour of a sugar shack to see how maple syrup is made. Product for sale.

When: As long as the sap is running. If steam is coming out the stack, maple syrup is in the works.

How: Call 519-529-7857 to book your tour or come by chance.

St. James Church Pancake Brunch and Sugar Bush Tour

What: St. James Anglican Church in Middleton hosts its annual fund-raising sugar bush tour and breakfast.

When: Saturday, March 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Where: Horse-drawn hay rides leave from Pine Lake Campground Recreational Hall, 77794 Orchard Line and travel to Rick Schilbe Farm for a tour of the sugar bush and shanty. The Bayfield River Valley Trail Association will also lead groups of walkers through the Schilbe maple bush to visit the shanty for the tour. Walkers will depart at 10 a.m. and again at 10:30 a.m. This is an easy ¾ km walk along an old bush road.

Cost: The cost for the brunch is $10, adults; $5, children 12 to 6 years; and youngsters aged five and under are free. Proceeds from the event will go to world outreach.

48th Annual Belmore Maple Syrup Festival 

What: A community festival for all ages with crafts, dancing, music to celebrate maple syrup.

When: Thursday, April 9 to Saturday, April 11, with pancake breakfasts served daily.

Where: Belmore Community Centre,91122 Belmore Line R.R.#1 Wroxeter.

Cost: Admission to the community centre is free. Meal prices: $10 adults, $5 children ages 6 to 11, free for children under 5.

Blyth Creek Maple Farm Tours

What: Sugar bush tours, tree identification, hot chocolate, pancakes and maple syrup

When: Tours by appointment.

Where: 42232 Moncrieff Rd, Blyth

Contact: Phone Val at 519-357-7558


Extend the season by picking up some pure maple syrup and try this recipe at home. Remember to store your syrup in the fridge once you’ve opened the package.


For crust

  • Twenty-four 5- by 2 1/2-inch graham crackers
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup pure local maple syrup (preferably Grade B)

For filling

  • Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Accompaniment: pure maple syrup if desired for drizzling


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Make crust:
In a food processor finely grind graham crackers (you will have about 3 1/2 cups). Melt butter. In a large bowl stir together graham cracker crumbs, butter, and maple syrup and press evenly into bottom and up side of a 10-inch springform pan. Wrap bottom and side of pan with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil to avoid leakage.

Make filling:
In bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment or in a food processor beat cream cheese on low speed, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until smooth. Add syrup and eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and cream and beat until just combined.

Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 1 hour (cake will not be set in centre but will set as it chills). Cool cake in pan on a rack. Chill cake, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 4 days.

Remove side of pan. Serve cheesecake in wedges, drizzled with maple syrup.


Goderich Makers Market carries hint of spring

7 Mar
The smell of freshly ground coffee from Coastal Coffee Company assails every visitor at the Goderich Makers Market.

The smell of freshly ground coffee from Coastal Coffee Company assails every visitor at the Goderich Makers Market.

By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – A sure sign of spring? The first sighting at the Goderich Makers Market of tender green pea shoots with stems that grew long from trying to reach the winter’s sun.

peashootsShoppers gravitated to the patch of greens so neatly tucked between plastic containers of chicken broth and jars of beets and carrots, in a building full of vendors selling roasted coffee, honey, chocolate croissants, soft pretzels, soups, soaps and other homemade offerings. True, the pea shoots were grown in a greenhouse, taking advantage of the sunny winter days, but they were still prized for all that they promise in the months to come.

One wall of the market, held at Goderich’s MacKay Centre on the first Saturday of the month through the winter, was once again taken up with baskets of carrots, potatoes, turnips, beats, cooking onions and apples, much to the delight of shoppers. Folks commented on the vendor’s absence through the dead of winter.

makersmarketOut on the floor, neighbours stopped to compare winter holiday stories and chat about summer markets, planting techniques and all things sunny and warm.

A quick door check of one shopper yielded a bag of potatoes and a bag of beets, pepperettes, two cartons of eggs and some chocolate dipped pretzels for the road. All that while balancing a cup of coffee from Coastal Coffee Company.

The winter market is the brainchild of Amy Zoethout and Donna-Jean Forster-Gill of Feast for Good, who wanted to share their love of locally produced food and goods.

The market continues through April and May, until the opening of the Goderich Farmers Market opens Saturday, May 16.

Other communities throughout Huron County also host farmers markets through the summer months. For more information on these summer markets, visit online.

If you go to the Goderich Makers Market:

Date: First Saturday of the month. April 4 & May 2.

Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Location: MacKay Centre, 10 Nelson St. E., Goderich

Things you should know: Best to bring cash rather than relying on debit or credit.



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