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CHEF'S TABLE: Staycations offer chance to enjoy culinary gems

'With gas prices at record highs, maybe this is the summer we spend a little closer to home,' says columnist
2022-05-30 Wedding wine
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Summer is here and it’s time for a road trip.

School’s almost finished and our thoughts are turning to all the exciting activities we love to enjoy in the hot summer sun.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we’ve had a summer season fully open and ahead of us to enjoy. It’s a well-deserved reprieve and I know our family is ready for it. For our province’s hospitality and tourism sector, it’s a much-needed chance to get back to business after two long and difficult years. While we have our campsites booked and plans scribbled on the calendar, the one trip Kim and I were looking forward to was our weekend “staycation” getaway.

This trip was important for a few reasons.

First, it was to celebrate our wedding anniversary. In the past, Kim and I have spent our anniversary with the kids on a campsite, but this year we wanted to try something a little more romantic and with maybe a few less mosquitoes.

Second, any time I get a chance, I really love to stop in and see past students as they move on and up in their careers, so If I’m travelling I try to make a point of checking out places where our alumni can be found. And as fate would have it, Port Dalhousie in the heart of St. Catharines was just the place for those stars to align.

Georgian College culinary management graduates Jesse and Taylor Prior both work in Port Dalhousie and were happy to give an old chef a few recommendations for a weekend getaway. It would seem the couple were in the same frame of mind as last-minute changes and an opportunity for their own romantic trip overseas celebrating their wedding vows meant we’d miss a visit. Jesse was kind enough to recommend several “musts” for our stay in his neighbourhood.

In addition to dinner at The Twisted Pig, where Jesse is working, he suggested we check out a new hotel that was located right across the street from the restaurant. The Juniper Inn. This place! What a find.

The Juniper is as amazing and unique as they come. It’s a retro palace of cool in the centre of a dynamic and growing area that is friendly and inviting. Over the years, Kim and I have been lucky enough to do a fair bit of travel and stayed in many places, but here we instantly fell in love with this place.

The owner/operator, Adriana Sweitzer, was kind enough to sit with us and chat all about the local history and the struggles of getting a new venture off the ground during COVID. Her passion for the local community and hospitality expertise are very evident. It can be seen in the fine details and personal touches she has made an integral part of each of the six well-appointed rooms. This shows the best in what a hospitality operation can and should be with true commitment to customer service.

From the contactless check-in, unique art and décor, a commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability and a focus on practical, guest-friendly design, the Juniper Inn is definitely the area’s top boutique hotel. We could not have asked for a better spot to use as our home base for exploring the area.

With so much to see and do, it was hard to narrow down as few sights to see. I can tell you there is more than enough just within a short walk of the inn to keep you well fed and refreshed all weekend. It was a quick two nights for us and next time it will need to be longer.

Kim and I had a full itinerary set out for our weekend. Our first stop Friday afternoon was to the 13th Street Winery. This winery has an amazing blend of agriculture, art and community. We got to sample an outstanding flight of wines, walk the impressive outdoor sculpture gardens, see the expansive vineyards while enjoying a quick bite to eat in the outdoor café and then grab a few amazing butter tarts and baked goods from the onsite market store for later. Well worth a stop on our way into Port Dalhousie.

Once we got settled into the Juniper and freshened up, we set to exploring the local neighbourhood. I was giddy with all the cool spots and great independent operations right around the inn. It’s like a culinary amusement park.

Cool local brewery with a beer garden? Check.

Great little pub on the corner? Check.

Authentic Mexican with a margarita menu that is second to none? Check.

Freshly brewed coffee served on a garden patio? Check again.

Dog lover? Need to have your fur baby with you? No problem. As we learned, not only is the Juniper a dog-friendly inn, but most of the local patios are dog-friendly. Lock Street Brewing Co. even has a special menu for the pups.

The marina, piers, canal and beach parks all make for a romantic walk with spectacular views. The historic architecture and history of the area stand out and really set the vibe to make this one of the best staycation weekends Kim and I have had.

Saturday was spent exploring the areas in and around Niagara and seeing the sights. The last evening of our time was spent enjoying an outstanding dinner at The Twisted Pig. Authentic Italian fare, wood-fired pizza and a full complement of specialty cocktails and wines. The atmosphere was cool and casual with a young crowd of happy diners. It’s the kind of place the chef in me loves. It was a great way to cap off our weekend.

It’s hidden gems and new discoveries like these that I hope you are all able to find the time for this summer.

Our tourism and hospitality industry is ready to get back to doing what it does best. With gas prices at record highs, maybe this is the summer we spend a little closer to home and see what’s out in the neighbourhoods. Our provincial government wants to help get you out and about this summer.

Be sure to take advantage of the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit for 2022. Information on eligibility and details can be found here.

This certainly won’t be our last road trip. Remember, Ontario is “yours to discover.” Safe travels, friends!

“Love is the food of life. Travel is dessert.” – Amanda Jane Sturges

The Juniper Inn —

The Twisted Pig —

Lock Street Brewing Co. —

13th Street Winery —

Patio Andaluz —