Come for the Falls and Stay for the Food: A Culinary Tour of Niagara
Massimo's Italian Restaurant in Niagara Falls, which pairs delicious food with a spectacular view of the falls (pictured above), is among the many culinary heavyweights in the tourist town. Photo: Courtesy of Niagara Tourism
If you go to Niagara Falls and you don’t do the cruise into the falls — and I mean into the falls — then you are quite simply a fool.
There are wonders of nature and then there are wonders of nature. Sorry for all the italics but the Niagara Falls deserve them.
I’ve been to this legendary tourist town several times and I’ve walked the sights. And I was wowed. But earlier this month, I did the falls in every way imaginable, apart from tumbling over them in a barrel. I did the falls by boat, by helicopter, by e-bike, by cocktail bar … into the falls, behind the falls and above the falls. Believe me, I’ve seen them, heard them, felt them … and I will never get tired of them, even when soaking wet. I now know why they’ve attracted daredevils, entrepreneurs, shysters, royalty, movie stars, lovebirds and … us.
Our little group came for the falls and stayed for the food. We were three food journalists out to taste what’s going on in and around the town. And boy, were we pleasantly surprised. Fall is a beautiful time to visit. The weather is lovely and just cool enough for walking around and enjoying a patio.
Speaking of which, check out the Table Rock House Restaurant for up-close falls views, skillfully prepared locally sourced food, and a very good wine list featuring Niagara bottles from the likes of Flat Rock Cellars, Fielding Estate and Two Sisters. The restaurant is Feast On certified by the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, indicating that it sources from local suppliers. We popped in here after taking in the multimedia show, Currents, at the Niagara Parks Power Station, provides an immersive experience about the harnessing of the falls as a power source.
There’s a lot of history connected to this place, and not just in the Niagara Falls History Museum. There’s a three-generation family of Italians serving regional Italian cuisine at Casa Mia, where our seven-course lunch was punctuated with beautifully chosen wine pairings by sommelier Laura Oberlein, who has worked there for 20 years. The Mollica family — dad and mom in the kitchen with chef Claudio, their younger son, while the older son, Domenico, handles the front of house — deliver a taste of Italy plucked right out of the old country, as they have done since arriving here from the village of Strangolagalli near Rome back in the 1980s.
Niagara Falls is just a hop and a skip from wine country and some of Ontario’s most pristine farmlands. So our visit to AG Farm with chef-farmer Cory Linkson allowed us to view the produce that we would eat just a few hours later at his restaurant, AG Inspired Cuisine. Linkson is exploring the terroir in minute detail, growing or sourcing food from just kilometres away from his restaurant, such as a Linc Farm rack of lamb from Niagara-on-the-Lake, or Spring Creek quail from Saint Anns, each dish decorated with his farm-grown vegetables.
For a special treat, we were joined by chef Massimo Capra at his restaurant, Massimo’s Italian, in the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel. (And yes, we could see the falls the entire time.) Capra toured us through Italy, using a combination of locally sourced seasonal and imported Italian ingredients. A whipped salt cod and black olive antipasto was delicate and sublime, paired with a rare (in Ontario) Lambrusco, an Italian sparkling red wine. Multiple courses of handmade dishes made it hard to choose a favourite, but the agnolotti del plin — tiny pouches stuffed with ground turkey and sauced with veal roasting jus and Grana Padano — was rich and delicate at the same time. Oh, and Massimo and his wife made hundreds (maybe thousands) of them by hand. Imagine that.
By our third day, it seemed to me that our food options were only getting more varied. When you eat well — and talk to the folks who are doing things right — you find out things. Remember that as you tour around, and make sure to visit the Flour Mill Scratch Kitchen at the Old Stone Inn for a serving of “blunch” — a breakfast-meets-lunch gastronomic journey centred on an embarrassment of delicious bacon drenched in maple syrup. You must eat it to believe it. Speaking of maple syrup, a visit to Maple Leaf Place for a tasting of syrups will open your eyes to the depth and variance of this tree-sourced delicacy. You’ll never look at maple syrup the same way again — and you’ll learn just why it’s such an iconic Canadian gem.
As all good things come to an end eventually, we finally packed up and got ready to drive back to Toronto. But wait … that amazing dessert we had at AG Inspired Cuisine? The one I forgot to mention? It was made by Olivia Mollica, who also made our dessert at Casa Mia. She studied pastry in France with Alain Ducasse — so, we needed to visit her bakery, Café Fifty-Four, which — luckily — was on our way out of town. For the drive back to Toronto, we stocked up on pumpkin squares, croissants, spinach and ricotta tarts, butter tarts, donuts, cookies … and a few other things I can’t quite remember. We’ll just have to go back. I’m okay with that. I’ll need a good drenching.