As you drive down Niagara Stone Road, through Virgil on your way to Old Town, you start to relax. Your ears drop away from your shoulders as you are surrounded by vineyards, farms, cherry and pear trees. The air smells fresh, the landscape is beautiful, and you will find yourself smiling for no reason other than the beauty around you.
Your first stop on the way to Old Town is the community of Virgil. Virgil is full of working farms, wineries, and markets selling local fare. I highly suggest stopping at The Fruit Shack Farm Market and Bakery. You will meet some of the nicest people along your journey at this location. Their tree-ripened peaches are so juicy that you have to eat them over a sink! You will also be pulled in by their corn on the cob that melts your heart with the first bite.
Also available are seasonal vegetables, caramel corn and oh, those butter tarts! They are arguably some of the best in the region and will leave your belly smiling from the inside-out! Grab a copy of one of my favourite recipe books, Lynn Ogryzlo’s “Niagara Cooks”. Lynn is a top food writer from the Niagara Region and her beautifully photographed book guides you to local farms to collect your goods. It gives true meaning to ‘farm to table’ and you will find hidden locations that you didn’t know existed. The recipes are easy to make, they are delicious, and your family and friends will love them!
When you head out from The Fruit Shack, pop in next door and say hi to the neighbours who run a family-based sunflower business (seasonal) from the roadside. For $5.00 a bunch, the bright yellow flowers will look perfect in a vase or gift them to a friend! The owners often work by the honour system, so be sure to deposit your money in the cash box and follow the exit signs back to the main road.
If your stomach is starting to growl, drop by The Pie Plate which has been in business for over 15 years. It has a limited menu of artisan pizzas, sandwiches and salads. I highly recommend the Steak Melt and The Pie Plate salad! The menu is limited, but delicious. The various seating areas include a few tables indoors, intimate bench setting on the side porch or a solo table under a large shade tree. The Pie Plate has a great herb and vegetable garden which adds to the freshness of their delicious food.
As you make your way towards Old Town, make sure to stop at The Harvest. Their farm-grown vegetables are locally sources within a 100-mile radius of the barn. They bring in local and international foodie products to tempt your palate and they have a salad bar, a hot bar, warm soup and an in-store bakery to make your day even better! Aside from the delicious vegetables, I have to recommend their baked products and home-made bruschetta!
If you are lucky to hit the area on a Saturday, drop by the Farmer’s Market at the Village (May to October). Their produce is 100% Niagara-grown, sold by the people who grow it. (111 Garrison Village Drive). Drop by Bartel Farms, which is 100% homegrown goodness with stunning shades of dried lavender bundles in early summer. and gorgeous bouquets of bright flowers crafted right before your eyes. Don’t forget their organic seasonal vegetables which bring the ‘farm to table’ concept to life! The wide array of gourmet jams, jellies and preserves (with taste testing) leaves you wondering where to start! What you don’t know is the owner uses the funds generated to run her cattle farm. The Sweets and Swirls Café features quiche, muffins, blueberry scones, cookies and egg thingys: you may recognize them by a different name. Frankie’s Famous Toast carries on the locally grown, farm-to-table approach, with specialties such as whipped ricotta topped with cherry coulis or mascarpone, prosciutto, ribboned cantaloupe and basil on fresh bread. One of my favourite visits is with the Klassen Hobby Farm. Mr. Klassen, a long-time, experienced hobby farmer, showed me his prized sweet potato, which he weighed on an old-fashioned scale, at 1.7kg. That’s a lot of goodness packed in one place! Or Yolanda, who grows her own vegetables and makes her own sweet pepper and blended garlic spices!
The Wednesday evening SupperMarket shows the spirit and sense of community of Niagara-on-the-Lake residents and visitors. With food trucks, wine, craft beer, live music and bouncy castle, what’s not to love? This is a family=focused event with colourful picnic tables where strangers and friends share a meal together. There are many different foods to choose from, such as wood-fired pizza, curry, Thai food, burgers and so much more. It’s a social gathering and time to relax with families and friends, laugh and unwind. To borrow their slogan, “Meet you @The Market”.
You don’t have to go too far for your next stop. I highly suggest a visit to The Garrison House where you must try the Garrison Burger. Your first bite will leave your thinking ‘woah—where did that come from!’. Your eyes widen, you look at your burger and you smile. It’s just that good……with their tavern fries and a local craft beer, of course! (You’ll thank me later). Check out the high praise for The Garrison House food on Trip Advisor if you need more convincing!
One last stop to mention before you hit Old Town is Willow Cakes and Bakery. What a great spot to grab a cup of coffee and a decadent pastry with friends or linger on their patio with some tea and your newspaper watching the world go by. The friendly staff and homemade butter tarts, cakes, scones and breads will make you glad you did! Each bite a gastronomic delight on a little plate!
You have yet to visit the local wineries and the area of Niagara-on-the-Lake known as Old Town, and you have already discovered amazing places to recommend to friends and family. Niagara-on-the-Lake has so much to offer, aside from the main events. I hope you will take to check out the local stops and thank a farmer for keeping us happy and well-fed!
I leave you with one thought. There is nothing more beautiful than a vine-ripened peach glistening in the sun, just ready for harvest!
Until next time….
Need to Know:
The Fruit Shack: 1267 Niagara Stone Road
Hours: 9am to 6pm (mid-June to Thanksgiving)
Thanksgiving to mid-June: Thurs 9am-6pm, Fri/Sat 9am-5pm
The Pie Plate: 1516 Niagara Stone Road)
Hours: 10am to 9pm, Wed to Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Harvest Barn: Barn 1822 Niagara Stone Road
Hours: 9am to 6pm Monday to Saturday
Sunday: 9am to 5pm
Wednesday night SupperMarket: 111 Garrison Village Drive
Hours: 4:30pm to 9pm May to September
Saturday morning Farmers Market: 111 Garrison Village Drive
Hours: 8am to 1pm, May to early October
Garrison House: 111 Garrison Village Drive
Hours: 1130am to 9pm, Sun to Thurs
11:30am to 10pm, Fri and Sat
Willow Cakes and Bakery: 242 Mary St @ 55
Hours: 8am to 6pm, Mon to Sun