Niagara Parks: A Culinary Explosion

Charting the epicurean evolution at Canada’s No. 1 Tourist Attraction.

Driving along Ontario’s 56 km Niagara River Corridor, stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, I thought of my childhood visits to Niagara Falls. We’d ride the Maid of the Mist, get soaked by the spray and walk around the streets full of wax museums and candy floss outlets. The food back then was strictly carney style – bland boil-in-bag chili, greasy hot dogs and frozen fries. This time I was accompanying a small group of foodie bloggers and my mission was to sample the fare at a number of Niagara Parks restaurants to see if things had changed. Read on to see how far things have come…

Legends on the Niagara Restaurant.

Legends on the Niagara is the area’s top public golf course and Chef Dan Willick has created a menu to match the course’s premier rating. Gourmet sandwiches included Northern Spy apple and Gunn’s Hill grilled brie with arugula, dried cranberries and maple-Sriracha aioli and Battlefield Grilled Chicken with seed-to-sausage bacon, arugula, caramelized onion jam, hot house tomato and Devil’s Rock blue cheese mayo. I can’t have a sandwich without a salad, so I chose the Caprese salad with Niagara butter lettuce, Roman cheese bocconcini, heirloom tomatoes, and crisp basil with a rosewood honey balsamic vinaigrette. Craft beer, hard cider or Wayne Gretzky Founders Series Baco Noir were the beverages of choice. Good thing we had a designated driver.

Queen Victoria Place Restaurant

This second floor restaurant has amazing views of Niagara Falls. With a gift shop and other establishments on the main floor, it’s a little incognito and it took us a minute to find the stairs on the left side of the building. Chef Sidney Krick served up a stuffed Chicken Supreme with Thornloe blue cheese, grilled Bosc pears, Vineland sundried cherries and a VQA Shiraz glaze. This sat on a bed of celery root rosti and roasted Den Boer Farms root vegetable fritter. Delicious.

White Water Walk

Since we we eating all this rich food, we needed a little exercise and headed to the White Water Walk. We had to take an elevator down to the riverbank level, walked through a tunnel and then were able to traverse the boardwalk. The turbulent Niagara River, a roaring class 6 white water rapids, was magnificent. Viewing stations allowed us to get a little closer to the water and numerous plaques outlined the Niagara Gorge’s 410-million-year-old rock layers, animals and plants. It was amazing to think about the amount of electricity generated by the falls. There are three power generating plants on the Canadian side of the river and and two on the United States Side, generating a total of 4.9 million kilowatts, enough to power almost four million homes.

Whirlpool Restaurant

The highly rated Whirlpool Golf Course’s restaurant did not disappoint. As we watched golfer tee off,  Niagara-on-the-Lake raised Chef Tim Vandelaar served a lovely, light house-made linguini with Chardonnay cream sauce, Brandt’s pancetta, 100 km edamame, Miller’s Asiago and crispy basil. Wayne Gretzky’s Estate Series Chardonnay proved a smooth complement to the dish.

Queenston Heights Restaurant

What a view!  This extraordinary venue, built in the 1930s, was located on a sprawling, verdant lawn and had a spectacular vantage point looking down on the Niagara River. Chef Bill Greenan whipped up slow roasted Ontario beef short ribs, Bright’s extra old cheddar mashed potatoes, Simcoe County asparagus spears, green peppercorn jus and crispy shallots.  This rich, melt-in-your-mouth dish was nicely paired with a Queenston Mule made with ginger beer, lime and 99, a Wayne Gretzky whiskey.

Elements on the Falls Restaurant

On the brink of Horseshoe Falls, this restaurant has a primo position on the upper level of Table Rock. We took a moment before entering to marvel at the rushing water, shining rainbows and non-stop spray. Once we were inside and seated, Chef Elbert Wiersema, who worked in Paris, London and Bermuda, told us he loves classic French cuisine, but that he gets his ingredients from local purveyors. The Manitoulin rainbow trout, Fogo Island cod fillet, northern pickerel soufflé, maple wood smoked scallop, asparagus, roasted fennel Riesling reduction was cooked to perfection. The Wayne Gretzky Estate Series sauvignon blanc was a fitting match. To top it all off? A baked Northern Spy apple tart, Crimo Farms heartnut marzipan, sea buckthorn berry gelato and cranberry Anglais sauce.

What a day.  These restaurants deserve major kudos for upping the Niagara Parks culinary image. Bravo!

Insider Tip: Since 2014 all five of the Niagara Parks full-service restaurants have received the Feast On certification. They use 25-50 per cent Ontario grown and made food and 90 per cent Ontario  beverages. That’s why the food in these restaurants is so good.

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