Live Small Town Magazine‘s town-by-town, hidden-gem by hidden-gem, Guide to what’s new, hot, and legendary in Haldimand County. (Spring 2017 Issue)
All the stuff you absolutely must eat, do, buy and indulge in to make the most of your time off the sofa and loving our country!
WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED (Reeve Bed & Breakfast and Julia’s Bistro) BY JAY PERRY
Over the past five years, it’s become something of a tradition of mine to spend my free time traveling to small pockets of Ontario, documenting my day trips online. Whether it be stories of unique individuals, delicious food, historic landmarks, or local history, I detail every event through photo, video, words and my own unique perspective. These towns, and the people housed within them, hold such a huge place in my heart, because they embody the true definition of what it is to be a neighbour.
Sometimes my trips are planned well in advance, and sometimes I simply let spontaneity take the wheel; but on this occasion, rumor and curiosity were the fuel that powered me to my destination. I had been hearing local chatter about a massive burger lurking in Dunnville, at a greasy spoon area residents knew as Julia’s Bistro. This mythical creation was said to contain a full beef patty, a full pork patty, three secret ingredients, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and back bacon. If that wasn’t enough, it was then supposedly crowned by a deep-fried pickle! Sounds like the stuff of legend, right? How could I resist checking it out!
When I arrived, I sat at the bar, found this monstrosity on the menu, and added fries and a milkshake to my order, just for good measure. After ten minutes of saying my prayers and getting my affairs in order (just in case), the kitchen door opened and out came Julia herself, carrying what looked to be a cross-section of a mountain on a plate. To say it was massive would be an understatement, but I dove in with reckless abandon, a cheering squad of regulars rooting me on.
It was a lot of food, but I actually managed to finish it…and it was delicious! And, coincidentally, I was also extremely impressed with how Julia and her husband Paul treated their staff: kind, caring, and supportive, the stuff of true small-town values.
After dinner, I thought about doing something I’ve never tried on any of my previous excursions, and after some internal debate, I decided to spend the night. I had also never stayed at a bed and breakfast in Canada (my lone experience being a bad one in Norway), so I decided to roll the dice, settling on The Reeve Bed and Breakfast to hunker down for the night (The Reeve B&B is currently for sale and closed).
As I pulled up to the entry, I was pleasantly surprised by its architecture, which was quite impressive. More old-time castle than house, my “room” actually turned out to be multiples, something more akin to a guest house than a hotel room. It was massive, and decorated like something out of a fairy tale. The intricate wood work was incredible, and the high ceilings and many other details has survived intact from 1869, the year it was built. The owners, Lisa and Luke Rossi, welcomed me into their home and treated me like royalty. If I needed anything, all I had to do was ask.
Once I settled in, I somehow began to feel hungry again (and a bit thirsty). Luke recommended I walk down to Queen’s Merritt Room Pub. The place consisted of two small rooms, and tin tiles lined the ceiling. Three older gentlemen sat at the bar, and a bartender warmly welcomed me to the pub. I ordered a plate of perogies and a cold pint. The food was delicious, the beer was cold, and the three gentlemen were great company for the next hour. I felt at home.
Returning to The Reeve a short time later, I climbed into the king-size bed and had an incredibly restful sleep, spent dreaming about the mouth-watering breakfast that awaited me the next day.
I leapt out of bed and bounded downstairs like a newborn fawn, a fresh fruit appetizer of sliced strawberries with Greek vanilla yogurt and topped with Chantilly cream and lime zest, greeting me as my first course. Next, I was served seeded (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, and date) bread, served with a peach and lavender jam from Purple Haven Lavender Farm. My meal was then capped with a locally-sourced sausage and egg breakfast sandwich, barbecued and topped with Brie cheese, sliced avocado and a fried, free-run egg from Lauray Farms; this was paired with a side arugula and tomato salad, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The food was heavenly, and I could honestly write an entire book about my experience at The Reeve. I can’t wait to return.
In the morning, before heading to my next location, I popped over to a candy store that I had seen the night before, affectionately known as Sweet Retro-Spect. I was greeted by walls and walls of treats, candy in sizes, flavours and styles that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid; candy I couldn’t possibly leave town without!
I also made a quick stop around the corner at The Minga, for a quick tea, and ended up talking to the manager for half an hour about their philosophy of sourcing locally, organic and fair-trade products.
Next up was Richardson’s Farm and Market, where I was about to embark on a serious maple syrup tour, in the form of a guided wagon ride around the property, educating you on the process of making syrup and followed by a pancake feast. I wasn’t sure if I could eat anymore after my giant breakfast at the B&B, but who could ever turn down pancakes, especially when they’re covered in locally-sourced, organic syrup?
A group of us hopped in the back of the hay-filled wagon, and the tractor pulled us on our way. The tour was quite educational and our guide, John, was so much fun. He joked with the children in our group, and was somehow able to convey all the detailed intricacies of syrup to them, as well as to the adults. I really had no idea the amount of time that goes into making a single bottle of maple syrup!
After the great wagon ride and tour, we ended up back in the farmhouse, where we all got to taste their famous maple syrup on top of the fluffiest pancakes ever, where a side of sausage and a glass of orange juice accompanied my second breakfast of the day, And the best part… you could buy some of their syrup on your way out. So, as you may already have guessed, my fridge is host to a large jug of Richardson’s syrup sitting quietly waiting for my weekend breakfasts.
After a great morning, I decided to drive west and explore. I ended up on Haldimand Road 17, which eventually brought me to a town I’ve driven through many times but never actually stopped in: Caledonia, where I parked my van and took a quick walk along the Grand River. It was a bit windy but a cluster of fishermen lined the river, all equipped with smiles and hellos as I walked by. I asked one of them if Caledonia had any antique shops, and he chuckled and said, “You’ve never heard of the Haldimand House?” I looked it up online and the summary read: “Haldimand House is a consortium of independently owned boutiques, shoppes, and stores operating under one roof! Visit our indoor boutiques and our outside market stalls to experience Caledonia’s finest!”, so I promptly made my way over to check it out. It was an incredible place to do some shopping, and I learned that it also dated back to 1834! If you love antiques and history, you’ll want to check it out.
What I’m about to say next, might come as a bit of a shock (because it did for me): I got hungry again. I had heard of a cool place close by, so I called up my friend Gord, drove up number 6, and met him at Main 88 Pizza Pub in Hagersville. Again, another place I’ve driven by a bunch of times but never thought to stop and check it out. Boy was I glad I did! I ordered the Breakaway Pizza, a medium 6-slice pie, topped with ham, mushrooms, green pepper, bacon, and onion. The food was great, and the entire decor was perfect. Daily specials written on a chalkboard, tv’s for sports fans, and a staff that’s as nice as they come. It was heartwarming to see Main 88’s owner, Paul, come out and talk with us at our table. He was genuinely interested in how we were and where we were from, which is probably one of the reasons this small town pub thrives.
It was almost time to head home after 24 hours in Haldimand County. Still digesting the previous night’s late dinner, two pints, the best sleep ever, two breakfasts, a candy-filled sugar high, warm tea, a wagon ride, shopping, fishermen encounters, and a late lunch, the only thing missing and the best way to conclude my visit would be a stop at Hewitt’s Dairy Bar.
Their motto is “Meet your friends at Hewitt’s Dairy Bar”, and that’s exactly what I did. I called up my friend Christina, who was in the area, and lickety-split we were eagerly standing in line waiting for a cone. Ironically this was my first time at Hewitt’s, and I had grown up in Stoney Creek, a ten-minute walk from Stoney Creek Dairy, which was my go-to place for iced dessert. But since it’s demolition a few years back (insert sad face), I’ve yet to find a place that feels the same. Sure, I could find a delicious tasting ice cream anywhere, but not the charm. Not the bar-style seating. Not the waiting in line. I felt like a kid again.
I drove home, I reflected on what it is about small towns that draws me. It is most definitely the people that truly make each town unique and a joy to visit. The world needs more people who are caring, compassionate, friendly, unique, and community-minded, like our small-town friends. It is also important to recognize that we can all live the small-town lifestyle, because it’s not the size of the community we call home, it’s the neighborly mentality that we can all bring to them.