Picture yourself stepping into a century-old building, perhaps a one-room schoolhouse, an old knitting mill, or a coach house. Beautifully restored to maintain the look and feel of the past, while accommodating the comforts of the present. Now envision that space full of diners enjoying fine food in a relaxed, upcountry atmosphere. Lucky for us, the owners of many Hills of Headwaters dining establishments had the foresight to restore and preserve local heritage buildings so that we too may appreciate them from both the outside and inside.
There are a host of heritage dining spots across the region, specializing in menus that range from Afternoon Tea and light lunches to fine dining with fine wines. Beginning in the west of the region, there’s The Pantry Shelf Bakeshop and Tintagel’s.
The Pantry Shelf Bakeshop and Tea Room on Hillburgh’s Main Street is situated in a beautiful brick building built in 1892. Once a family home, a long staircase leads up to an upstairs room filled with unique gifts. Double French doors connect the front parlour tea room, done in Provençal-inspired design, to the kitchen bakeshop. Everything served here is fresh and homemade – from the daily soups like red lentil, served with a baked scone, to the fruit pies with whipped cream, to the full Afternoon Tea. Baked goods, preserves and The Pantry Shelf’s famous sweet raspberry vinaigrette are all available for takeout.
On the picturesque Main Street streetscape of the village of Erin is Tintagel’s Tea Room. This vintage 1895 building first operated as furniture and undertaking business, then was divided into two residences. The buildings have been rejoined, connecting the tea room with adjacent Minerva’s Spa & Boutique. In the high-ceiling dining area Afternoon Tea is a specialty, but you can also have soups, salads, quiche or even heartier fare. Those with good appetites will love the rich, meaty steak and mushroom pie, served with a side salad and buttered fresh bread, and many make a special trip to Tintagel’s for its liver and onions. There’s a wide selection of herbal, green and loose-leaf teas and specialty coffees to accompany the decadent desserts served here.
In Caledon East in the south-east of the region is Gourmandissimo, in the building that was home to the Imperial Bank of Canada from 1907 through 1955. Through thoughtful renovation, an old country charm remains in the design of the catering and fine food shop downstairs. Gourmandissimo also offers fine dining upstairs in the Bartlett Room, open for theme dinners, wine tasting events, and private parties. For a special dining experience, gather a group of eight friends for a multi-course meal prepared by Gilles Roche at the Anjou Cooking Class Station. Enjoy a delicious menu paired with fine wines, while you learn the secrets of making dishes like seared foie gras, tender grilled meats, and fine desserts.
Two other dining favourites in classic surroundings are in the north of the Hills of Headwaters. The Globe Restaurant, just off Highway 89 in Rosemont, was built in 1859 as the Globe Hotel, a local pub and stopping point for the stage coach. All three dining rooms feature fireplaces, and in the front dining room you’ll see a beautiful wooden bar, a reproduction of the original, which is on display at a nearby museum. The Globe Restaurant offers regional cuisine prepared simply and well. Enjoy perfectly cooked fish or grilled meats with an array of vegetables. All meals are accompanied by a selection of Beth Hunt’s special chutneys and preserves, including peppered blueberries, spicy rhubarb and apple mint. Buy a small jar or two to take home for a tasty reminder of your visit.
The lovely country hamlet of Violet Hill west of Rosemont is home to Mrs. Mitchell’s, originally a one-room schoolhouse built in 1889. The name of the restaurant is a tribute to Mrs. Esther Mitchell, who taught at the school for 20 years. Lovingly restored by the Baufeldt family, the restaurant has wood-panelled ceilings, deep bay windows, and two woodburning fireplaces, one with a huge hearth. Afternoon Tea at Mrs. Mitchell’s is a small feast of freshly baked scones and sweet potato muffins, served with whipped cream and strawberry preserves and a choice of excellent tea or coffee. A selection of lunch and evening fare allow you to spend more time in this warm, inviting atmosphere.
In the village of Alton, near the central part of the region, is the heritage property The Millcroft Inn & Spa. Built in 1881 from stone hewn from local Inglewood quarries, it started life as a knitting mill using the water power of Shaw’s Creek. The building survived the 1889 flood in Alton, but was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1917, operating as Dods Knitting Mill until 1965. In 1977, after extension renovation and investment, The Millcroft Inn opened its doors. Retaining all of the mill’s historic charm and serenity, the renovation featured the addition of steel and glass observation pods that overlook the millpond, waterfall and stream adjacent to the inn. As a fine dining destination, The Millcroft Inn has from the start featured local fish, meat and game alongside vegetables, fruits and herbs grown in its own gardens and from local organic growers.
Dining in a heritage building offers something unique, and a connection to all the people over the years that have graced the same four walls. Thousands of people enjoyed the foods and beverages of their time served within the very environments that we may dine within today. On the hottest days of summer, the metre-thick stone walls still offer us a respite from the heat. And on a stormy winter’s evening, the crackle of a woodburning fireplace still sets the mood for comfort in from the cold.
Richard Kitowski and Jocelyn Klemm are Caledon-based sommeliers, and authors of the best-selling book Clueless about Wine. For more information, visit www.thewinecoaches.com.