We can’t really call it “Borington” anymore — at least not in terms of great eats. It might surprise you to find out, but over the last ten years, Hamilton’s neighbour on the lake has become a well-known culinary destination for both tourists and local residents.
It’s quite a contrast to the Burlington that I moved into about 40 years ago. At that time, the town seemed like a sleepy little bedroom community, where well-to-do Hamiltonians aspired to retire. Along Lakeshore Road, many of the small houses were converted from summer cottages, attesting to their origins in a beachfront community and the only place in town for “fine dining” was The Estaminet. It’s nice to know that at least this one aspect of Burlington’s heritage has been preserved. The Estaminet’s historic wooden building remains as a very busy restaurant, with casual dining downstairs at Emma’s Back Porch, and The Water Street Cooker upstairs, where the view is arguably still the best in Burlington and the rare roast beef is mighty enticing.
Times change. The quiet town became a city. New people moved in. High rises and Mcmansions elbowed out the wooden cottages. Hideous amounts of traffic converged on Lakeshore Road. Political wrangles — the pier, the lakeshore, public art — became more “spirited.” But one of the happier results of all of this progress was a wealth of new dining opportunities. No longer did anyone have to drive to Toronto, or Hamilton, or Oakville, to enjoy an interesting dinner. And now, hungry residents can choose from Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Vietnamese — along with Chinese, Italian or French cuisine — or steak, or seafood — without driving down the highway.
This culinary cornucopia has become so important to the city’s persona as a sophisticated metropolitan area, that since 2008, Tourism Burlington has been running a programme called “A Taste of Burlington.” Taking place twice a year, in summer and in winter, “A Taste of Burlington” is Tourism Burlington’s attempt to entice residents to experiment with new and different restaurants by providing three weeks of prix fixe menus, both lunch and dinner including appetizer, entree and dessert, for a reasonable fixed rate. (Lunch prices range from $15 to $20 and dinner from $30 to $40.) The promotion began in 2008 with 12 restaurants participating. This year’s winter programme, which runs from February 17th to March 10th, includes 23 restaurants. The menus and participating restaurants can be checked out at http://www.tasteofburlington.ca. And Go Cooking, who is partnering with the Burlington programme, has chosen to preview several of the restaurants in our own cooking sessions to give you a chance to get to know some of the chefs a little bit better.
I had the pleasure of attending the public launch party for this event on Tuesday, where a dizzying display of tempting tidbits were being served. (Linda Cvetanovic, the Marketing and Sales Co-ordinator from Tourism Burlington, was thrilled to note that the tickets for the launch had been sold out two weeks prior to the event.) The problem at the party was to choose — braised wild boar sliders from Paradiso or sweet potato gnocchi from Pepperwood Bistro, mini lobster rolls from Walker’s Fish Market or Korean short ribs from the Garden Cafe at the Royal Botanical Gardens — well, you get the picture. I can eat a lot — but 23 snacks in three hours is pretty daunting even for a champion gourmand.
Anyway, check out the website, peruse the menus and make a plan and reservations! What a great diversion for the pre-spring doldrums.
And here’s a recipe that Mark Daley from the West Plains Bistro, one of the participating restaurants, whipped up for our Go Cooking event.
Roasted Fennel Soup
recipe from Chef Mark Daley, West Plains Bistro
2 fennel bulbs
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion
1 small potato
6 cups light chicken stock or broth
1) In a large bowl, toss the fennel with salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2) Add to a baking sheet and place in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
3) In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and add fennel, onion and potato.
4) Reduce the heat to medium low and let the vegetables sweat for ten minutes, taking care not to let them brown.
5) Stir in chicken stock.
6) Bring mixture to a boil.
7) Reduce to a simmer and cook for one hour.
8) Remove the pot from the heat and let the soup cool for a few minutes.
9) Transfer the mixture to a blender and, working in small batches to avoid accidents, puree until smooth.
10) Return to the pot, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and season with salt and pepper.
Simple, delicious and wonderful to have on hand on those cold winter nights when you come home from work late and don’t feel like cooking a big dinner.