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It’s a sure sign of Spring: Beach Street Station is open

21 Mar

beachstreetstation1By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – The main attraction at The Beach Street Station is a bit of a toss up. Is it the intriguing menu of fresh, local foods carefully crafted by Chef James Welsh or is it the spectacular, ever-changing view served up by Mother Nature?

A close third place might be simply to glimpse the inside of this former CPR station, which was moved from one location to another with painstaking precision that drew a crowd daily in the summer of 2013, with its hipped roof over the central portion and a cross-gable and lunette trackside. Original interior features include a true ceiling with three large medallions, wooden screens, interior doors, fixtures, trim and decorative plaster. Its kitchen lies beyond a glassed wall so that diners can see their meals in the works.

On August 3, 1988, the last train stopped on the bridge to blow its whistle for a final time.

mainNo matter the reason, it’s the first Saturday of a new season, and at 6:30 p.m. the main dining area at the Beach Street Station is packed, much to the satisfaction of owner Herb Marshall. He has picked out a table in the middle of the room for us, but offers to seat us elsewhere if the glorious light of the sun becomes too much. But those of us on the west side of the table bob and weave in order to block the setting sun for our dinner companions. It’s the price we gladly pay for a clear, sunny evening in late March.

IMG_0110IMG_0119IMG_0130Herb’s wife, Sherry, and his daughter, Brianna, are also on the floor this evening, serving and visiting with guests.

The menu is expanded this season, with familiar dishes such as Yellow Perch and Chips ($18), and Great Lakes Pickerel ($24), and then there’s Five Spice Duck ($24) and Chicken Milanaise ($19). Vegan and gluten-free items are indicated on the menu.

IMG_0131Our table starts with: The enormous Huron County Charcuterie ($18), a mix of local cheese, cured meat, bread, marinated vegetables and mango chutney all served on a butcher block; a Roasted Beet Salad ($9), that’s divine in its simplicity; and an old favourite, two Crab Cakes ($12), served with a fresh corn relish and cilantro oil.

IMG_0125As a main, I choose the Great Lakes Pickerel, with its perfectly pan-seared fillets resting atop a mixture of roasted red-skinned potatoes, cauliflower and asparagus. It’s colourfully finished with a cascade of fresh salsa and dots of green that I fail to identify.

The fellow beside me passes around pieces of pork back ribs, which fall off the bone as he proffers a forkful across the table. Others also choose the pickerel, something of a must-have in a restaurant on Lake Huron.

IMG_0134By 7:30 p.m., the restaurant is much quieter, and the sun is just giving its final show on the horizon. There’s now a flourless chocolate cake sprinkled with icing sugar and a crème caramel topped with a chewy cookie being shared at our table. Both are delicious, according to those who test them. And the coffee, although not local, is strong and hot.

A perfect end to the day and a promise of a long summer on the lake.


Beach Street Station

Location: Goderich’s Beachfront

Hours: Effective March 16, from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 9 p.m. Subject to change as the season gets busy. It’s always best to call ahead and ensure the kitchen is open later hours.

Reservations: 519-612-2212

Website: Check online for menus, history, photos and videos.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Morris.

Auburn Grill offers a hearty breakfast menu

28 Feb

auburnrestaurantexteriorBy Diva Heather Boa

It’s obligatory for a reviewer to order the signature dish at a restaurant. And the top breakfast menu item at the Auburn Grill & Family Restaurant sounded pretty tempting – a Belgian waffle topped with corned beef hash, eggs and a special cream sauce.

So I ignored the usual offerings of eggs, omelettes, pancakes and sandwiches and put in an order for the Breakfast Special ($8.50) and a cup of coffee, then took note of my surroundings. The Sunday morning patrons were the usual rural crowd of ball caps and plaid and fluorescent work jackets, which in my books means the breakfast will be hearty and traditional, and the coffee will be refilled regularly. The melamine tables and crown-backed chairs were arranged around the work area, where customers pay for gas from the pumps outside, frozen meals and other convenience items, or fresh pastries from the glass case. Behind a piece of wood lattice, the cook prepared food in the kitchen.

Outside the picture window, the occasional vehicle drove by on Cnty. Road 35 (Blyth Road)  and on the other side of the road a farmer’s barren field lay exposed, a row of orange-tipped sticks all that remained to mark the trail snowmobilers would travel to come for a meal.

I was surprised to hear rock music playing in the restaurant, a little heavier variety than one usually hears in public places. I liked it well enough.

Breakfast arrived – a prepared crispy waffle with a light inside, corned beef (but no potato to make it hash), nicely scrambled eggs, and a thick cheesy white sauce that would stick to your ribs on a cold morning.

auburnrestaurantBut I might have made a tactical error in ordering the Breakfast Special, and I’ve since learned that the restaurant is really known locally for its generous portions of standard breakfast fare – eggs, meat, homefries and toast. I’ll make a note of that for my next visit.

No matter what the meal, coffee is a deal breaker for me. Is it hot enough? Is it strong enough but not bitter? Is it refilled on a regular basis? And on all fronts, this coffee did indeed stack up.

The Auburn Grill and Family Restaurant also has a complete lunch and dinner menu, plus children’s menu, and is open seven days a week until 7 p.m.


Coffee roasting 101: All you need is a skillet or a popcorn maker

23 Jan

By Diva Heather Boa

ZURICH – A friend who is a psychologist once told me that addiction to coffee isn’t measured by how many cups one drinks but, rather, by the depth of emotion that one feels for coffee.

Well, I love coffee. Hot, rich, smooth, black coffee. In large quantities.

So when the invitation came to attend Coffee Roasting 101 at The Coastal Roastery in Zurich today, I was excited.

Many people are familiar with Coastal Coffee Company, with its green logo of a stylized pop-up top Volkswagen van, a regular at many farmers markets in Huron County. Perhaps not so many people are familiar with its coffee shop in downtown Zurich, where there’s always a pot or two of coffee and some baked goods available, along with everything you need to prepare a good pot of coffee. At the back, beyond the retail shop, burlap sacks of green beans – which are really the seed of a coffee cherry – grown by micro producers in Nicaragua, Columbia, Rwanda, Peru or some other exotic country sit ready for the gleaming Toper brand roaster in the centre of the room.

Today, the four of us in this class are not going near the commercial roaster.

Instead, we’re learning to roast micro batches of coffee using a few methods that adapt to our own kitchens or campfires. The class ratio is a phenomenal 1:1, with staff sharing their considerable knowledge and skills.

Jason Wiebe kicks off the demonstration with a cautionary note that a butane burner should not be used indoors and a popcorn maker should not be modified in any way.

coffeeroasting5Then he fills a dry cast iron skillet with 250g – that’s one cup, for those of you still on Imperial measurements – and we watch as he flips the beans like a chef making an omelette, chaff floating into the air. In time, the beans turn from green to yellow to deep brown. And there is a cluster of cracking sounds, like sluggish popcorn, at two intervals in the process. We’re told the green beans smell like wet grass in the first few minutes, then like hay, then like fresh bread as the sugar in the beans start to caramelize. When they’re done, Jason flips them onto a baking pan to cool.

coffeeroasting8To watch a short video of coffee beans in the skillet, check out their Facebook video post on Jan. 23.

coffeeroasting9Ben Gingerich takes an even smaller portion of beans, just 80g, and pours them into an old, sturdy popcorn maker that’s been modified with the addition of a steel can missing both top and bottom fitted like a miniature smoke stack. The hot air tosses around the beans and every now and again he gives the popcorn maker a shake. We shine a penlight onto the beans, checking their colour because we can’t hear the beans crack above the noise of the machine. In a shorter time than it took to skillet roast the beans, this batch is done.

2016-01-23 14.46.03There is a third process for roasting coffee at home, but it seems to be the least favourable choice: using a relatively pricey electric drum roller with presets.

At the end of the two-hour class, we grab homemade cookies and yet another cup of coffee, we are given green beans to roast at home, and we get a sample of the beans we roasted.

Even if my sample of green beans never hits a skillet or popcorn maker, I have a much deeper appreciation for coffee, which is a big part of my day.


What: Coffee Roasting 101

When: Saturday, Feb. 27, starting at 1:30 p.m.

Where: Coastal Roastery, 17 Goshen St. N., Zurich

Cost: $40

RSVP: Space is limited. Email:





Cooking like a chef at Samuel’s Hotel

18 Jan

samuelsspencer6By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – They’re five basic ingredients: flour, kosher salt, eggs, olive oil and cream.

But they hold so much potential, as a dozen aproned people discovered during a Saturday morning pasta-making class led by Chef Spencer Vail at Samuel’s Hotel Inc. just north of Goderich.

In three hours, those ingredients were mixed, kneaded, rested, pulled, cut, filled, folded, pinched, and shaped into delicate pasta packages stuffed with all sorts of delicious mixtures. Chef Vail, of Cait’s Kitchen, demonstrated a few fundamental techniques, a few simple sauces, and a couple of cheats for making pasta on a weekend that would result in easy meals through the working week. The students gathered around the kitchen island to watch intently, ignoring the winter river scene out the hotel suite’s patio windows.

samuelsspencer11There was butternut squash baked and blended with cinnamon, fennel seeds, peppercorn, cloves, and star anise, which were piped onto waiting pasta to make a folded agnolotti, then fried in butter and sage.

There were braised chicken thighs, flavoured in a stock of onions, carrots, water, salt and peppercorn, which would be pulled for the filling for ravioli, then topped with a sauce of the stock reduction, along with mushrooms and kale.

There were aged cheddar, Swiss, and jalapeño goat cheese filled into pasta shaped into tortellini and topped with a mixture of simmered cherry tomatoes, chopped onions and smoked garlic, with a touch of cream added at the end.

samuelsspencer9“Any paste you like the taste of you can use as a filling,” Chef Vail said, as students pulled pasta through the pasta-making machine and cut shapes in the dough.

As one budding cook pointed out, all we needed was a good bottle of red wine – or a bad bottle of red wine.


What: Cook Like A Chef, with Chef Spencer Vail

Where: Samuel’s Hotel Inc., 34031 Saltford Rd., Goderich, ON

More details: Learn some pretty great kitchen skills and share in the meal prepared. Stay Friday or Saturday night in a cozy room with a fireplace and enjoy a hot breakfast the following morning. Classes are held Saturdays. Packages priced per couple. Additional guests taking part in the classes are $70pp.
January 16 ~ Local Ingredients, International Flavour
January 30 ~ That’s How I Roll
February 13 ~ Get in the Game
February 27 ~ To be Announced

February 6 ~ Valentines Crash Course: Beyond Making Toast and Boiling Water – Learn How not to Suck at Cooking (This class is for men only. Craft Beer is included in this class)

To register: Email, phone 1-877-524-1371 or 519-524-1371




There’s a hint of spring at Goderich Makers Market

10 Jan

makers market 1
By Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – Environment Canada issued the snow squall warning just as I was unpacking into the fridge a dozen fresh eggs and a bunch of carrots and putting into the cupboard a jar of fermented turnip and carrots from the local market.

On this Saturday morning, about 300 visitors were greeted by the aroma of chickpea, quinoa and spinach soup, made by the Goderich Makers Market creator, Amy Zoethout, of Feast for Good. A few steps into the lobby of the Huron County Museum, percolating coffee from Coastal Coffee filled the air with wonderful smells of beans from around the world, all roasted in Zurich, Ont. Beyond the glass door, in the History Hall the historic storefronts and imposing locomotive shared space with tables of canned goods, natural soaps and lotions, baked stuff, knitting and jewellery. In the exhibit hall, farmers from neighbouring communities sold produce.

makers market 2

I spent a good 15 minutes just within the front door, as friends stopped to chat about Christmas holidays, winter getaways, and the disadvantages of a Facebook account. Then I walked through the halls, talking to vendors who have become friends over the years of regular visits to various farmers’ markets.

As I write this, the wind throws snow against the window and I’m convinced that winter is finally here. But thank goodness there will be monthly markets to get me through to springtime.


What: Goderich Makers Market

When: First Saturday – Feb. 6, March 5, April 2. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. After that, find these vendors at the Goderich Farmers’ Market, starting May long weekend.

Where: Huron County Museum, 110 North St., Goderich

Cost: Free, or goodwill donation to view the museum exhibits.

Dinner at Hessenland with a heaping of precision, consistency

7 Dec

hessenland1By Diva Heather Boa

ST. JOSEPH – There are two reasons to be a fan of the simply elegant European dining experience at Hessenland Country Inn: Precision and consistency.

With the ownership team of Liz Ihrig at front of house and Frank Ihrig in charge of the kitchen, there is a never-failing attention to detail that is almost spooky.

We’re here for a business meeting of eight women – the annual meeting of the Ontario Travel Divas, with a photography seminar provided by Erin Samuell of A Simple Photograph, division of blog ideas for the next year, and dinner. We’re in luck because the restaurant is open this weekday night to accommodate a Christmas party in its vast main dining room, with a wall of windows and patio doors that provide a picturesque view of the countryside near the shores of Lake Huron.

IMG_4928We meet in an intimate space at the front of the restaurant, and hear not a peep from the party.

Twinkling white Christmas lights in garland border the window and stockings carefully hung on the mantle serve as a backdrop to a table perfectly laid out with silverware, carafes of water set at intervals.

I could order with my eyes closed: Kalbs Schnitzel Wiener Art ($24.95), which is a Huron County veal that’s been breaded and sautéed, with just enough smooth, brown gravy to make it decadent. And on the side I choose spaetzle, a soft egg noodle that is delicious without adornment, and red cabbage, made interesting with clove and something sweet. This is the same order I have every time, and every time it looks and tastes just as wonderful (unless it’s Mongolian Grill night, when I choose a whack of raw meat and vegetables and take it outside to the grill for frying and spicing by Frank.)


On a visit this past summer, the kitchen also made a special order birthday Pavlova, a fussy dish with its meringue base, topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Our waitstaff finds the perfect balance between professionalism and friendliness, somehow always managing to appear when we’re in need but disappearing from the cozy dining space when we are settled.

Hessenland also serves its own beer, Hessenland Helles Bavarian style beer, and this spring will begin planting grapevines with the expectation of pouring its first glass of wine in 2018.

Hessenland is currently running pre-Christmas hours, Friday and Saturday for dinners only. Group reservations for 20 people or more on the remaining weekdays until Dec. 17, at which time it closes until Spring.




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.