Eating your way around the Shaw Festival.

It's definitely worth doing your homework when it comes to eating your way around the Shaw Festival. In previous visits we have been too busy planning our theatre excursions to remember to plan dinner. This year we did it properly and I thought I'd share some of our favourite Niagara-on-the-Lake foodie experiences. Probably my favourite was one we made ourselves while cycling the Niagara River thanks to Grape Escape Bikes. Karl, who provided us with bikes, reminded us there would be fruit stands all along our route (once described as the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world by Winston Churchill).  We were cycling on a Monday rather than driving on a Sunday-  loaded up with goodies from Cheese Secrets, a deli place near the Court House Theatre.

Picnic food: Salami, cheese and apricot in olive bread
We ate cheese from Jordon Station including Niagara Gold and our favourite - the incredible maple smoked cheese which tasted like food of the gods, freshly baked warm olive bread as well as some great salami. The fruit we picked up along the way - cherries, apricots and yellow plums and from Neob lavender farm we bought lavender flavoured shortbread. We washed it all down later with a cup of tea from the Georgian McFarland House tea room. We like this place for many reasons - the beautiful garden, the herbs growing out of mason jars of earth on each table and the incredible looking dessert sampler. So big was this feast that two women on the next table took most of theirs home in boxes. It looked incredible and would put many an afternoon tea to shame.
Waiting for dinner at Peller Estates Winery looking over the vineyard.
One of the pleasures of visiting the Shaw Festival and NOTL are all the ways of exploring the wineries. Last year we did a biking tasting tour (on empty stomachs) with Grape Escape but this year we decided to reserve tables for dinner at a couple of them. Peller Estates Winery is a gorgeous location just five minutes from NOTL with a fine dining room and terrace. We opted to sit outside and watch the sun set over the vines. I cannot recommend it highly enough - see previous post for what we ate.

We also love Ravine Vineyard with it's rusting vintage car outside, rustic ambiance (see video below) and great food. Lingcod on crushed fingerling potatoes - my favourite meal of the week. My only complaint is when my companion pointed out her wine was not chilled enough the waitress expressed disbelief and then brought an equally warmish glass.

At a B+B on Simcoe Street our hostess Mary-Lou Turner runs a catering company so we lucked out on breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade chocolate zucchini cake and quiche. She left it for us to help ourselves while she was out rowing. Resident cat Al Capone kept us company on the gorgeous wisteria covered porch. Mary-Lou is an empty nester and has a beautiful home just a 10 minute walk from the centre of town. ($120 per room per night with shared bath 289.271.2820 )

Nina's gelateria is a classic on Queen Street boasting homemade Italian gelato with natural local ingredients. We favoured the chocolate mint ice cream and strawberry sorbet. We have also eaten homemade pizza here in the past which was an excellent cheap alternative to a pre-theatre dinner. We also are fans of the Irish Tea Room on Queen Street which does a fine cup of strong tea and plenty of pies and salads for an early bite before a show.

Lexi at Grape Escape bicycle hire. 
We ate a few breakfasts at Stage Coach diner which did an excellent Greek omelette, good crispy bacon and endless coffees. They seem a tad confused by egg dishes however. My friend's poached egg was actually fried and my scrambled egg was really an omelette. When you're hungry, not fussy about the shape of your eggs and want quick service this is the place to go.
We were staying our first few nights at the perfectly located Moffat Inn, part of the Vintage Hotel group, just seconds from all of the theatres used at the Shaw Festival. Staying there gets you access to the facilities such as pools at the other vintage hotels as well as a shuttle to wineries which we used to good effect. Our receptionist Raoul had some good tips and wanted to know which shows we would recommend. It seems to me they have a good staff training programme here and it really shows. Receptionists, waiting staff and drivers - all friendly and helpful. (see previous post for afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales hotel) Only one tiny quibble - terrible WiFi.

In the garden at the White Oaks Resort

Our last two nights were spent 20 minutes out of town at the White Oaks Resort, a family run hotel which started life as a health club in the seventies. Despite the cheesy exterior it had a definite upscale feel with an excellent restaurant. We celebrated a birthday (complimentary glasses of sparkling wine) and I enjoyed the wild mushroom curry with lentils and rice (way nicer than it sounds).  There are also unexpected appetizers throughout the meal (amuse-bouches). At breakfast the waitress was happy to ask the chef how my dish was made so I will be trying quinoa with soya milk, dates and dried morello cherries at home.

One of our favourite places in Niagara-on-the-Lake is Balzac's coffee house, an Ontario chain with a sense of style. The coffee is good but it's the extras we really liked - icy cold air conditioning (it was 31C during our visit) and excellent wifi meant we were in there daily. If you are instagramming, tweeting and facebooking your way around NOTL as we were, you need to be able to upload a photograph in seconds. This place is also a great location to star-spot and people watch. We saw several actors from the shows in here. Not only that if you are foolish enough to leave your camera on the bench outside they will keep it for you. Thanks for that.

Water for hot dogs at Balzac's

Just incase you missed it the first time here is my one minute (ish) video in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

More on the Shaw soon......including what we thought of the shows.

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