If diversity ever becomes a popular food dish, you could say that it started in Downtown Collingwood. I have always said that Collingwood has more restaurants per capita than any other community of similar size. You don’t have to leave Downtown Collingwood to find a diverse offering of menu items at a variety of prices. Downtown Collingwood has some incredible eats and some remarkable talent and menu pricing to suit every occasion.
I found this out first hand when my wife Nancy and I took part in the Spring Restaurant Walking tour, involving a dozen downtown restaurants and co-ordinated by the Downtown Collingwood Business Improvement Area (BIA). It was a bargain at $25.00 per person.
We started at Molly Bloom’s on Simcoe Street, meeting our tour guides Joel and Carol Hawley on the sidewalk for 12.50 p.m. Joel made some notes, welcomed us and read some prepared notes about Molly Bloom’s. At 1 p.m., we were inside Molly Bloom’s, under the watchful eyes of owners Kevin Cross and his father Don, munching on some fish and chips and sipping some Guinness beer. They offer a lot of meal specials here as well as karaoke at this Irish-type pub.
Molly Bloom’s is a social meeting spot, with television as well as live entertainment to round out the food and refreshments. Regular patrons watch as we enjoy ourselves. There’s a lot of history in Molly Bloom’s building which was built in 1898. Today’s Molly Bloom’s building was once home to The Enterprise-Bulletin. Where Molly Bloom’s bar is today used to be floor space occupied by electronic typesetting equipment. Where the sun now shines through beautifully glazed windows which carry the Guiness name, at the front of the building, my office used to sit. I spent a dozen years in that office, as the E-B’s publisher before we built the new building one sees today half a block away.
Our hosts Joel and Carol put an end to my reminiscing and at 1.17 p.m., we were walking south on Hurontario Street to Espresso Post, where we were met by owner Mark Krause and introduced to two types of panini samples, one vegetarian and the other with salami. We also sampled delicious tomato fennel soup. Of course, as the name suggests, the backbone of Espresso Post is coffee and they had a variety of gourmet offerings.
The Espresso Post is located in a Heritage Building which once housed Collingwood’s first brick post office. That was back in 1897. What started out as a restaurant tour also became a bit of a history lesson.
At 1.35 p.m., we were on our way to restaurant and bar, 27 on Fourth. It was a glorious, sunny spring day and I was having a hard time keeping Nancy and our friend Judy Jamieson from shopping. They kept browsing then scurrying to catch up. There’s more than restaurants to tickle your fancy in Downtown Collingwood.
Sophie Blythe, general manager at 27 on Fourth welcomed us, explained how she got her start in the restaurant business in Collingwood. In four years, they have come a long way doing business in Downtown Collingwood. The colourful paintings on 27's walls, done by local artists, looked down on us as we enjoyed a sampling of South African white wine and a goat cheese turnover which carried a hint of onion. It was delicious and I found that I am as good at eating as Sophie and her staff are at offering delicacies and special features to make your dining experience all the more enjoyable.
The most difficult task that Joel and Carol had was to keep us moving, as per their schedule, because ours was one of 12 groups involved in the restaurant walk. In total 240 people were finding out about the culinary delights in Downtown Collingwood. David and Maxine Coutts-Reid were leading a group into 27 on Fourth as we departed.
At 1.53 p.m., we were on our way to the Simcoe County Restaurant to meet chef Doug Porter and his partner the ever-gregarious manager Carla Carbone. The Simcoe County Restaurant is listed in “Where To Eat In Canada”. Simcoe County Restaurant has been operating for three years and just recently added an outdoor patio. Doug and Carla, along with their staff, welcome us with mini-goatburgers on crackers and a shrimp-type salsa on crackers. We wash that down with samples of Creemore Springs beer. As often as possible, Doug and Carla purchase locally-grown products for their restaurant where they make things from scratch.
Georgian Hills Vineyard wine was offered at the Simcoe County Restaurant and while this wine comes from Puddicome Winery in Winona, Ontario, the grapes for it were grown in Victoria Corners.
Many Downtown Collingwood restaurants do more than offer fine fare to customers. They have also expanded in other directions. Simcoe County Restaurant is no exception and soon will be involved in a mobile food offering called Monty’s Catering Truck.
Just when we thought it would be difficult for any future restaurant experience to top what we were already enjoying we landed in the Zencha Tea Bar where they extol the art of living better.
I must admit, in my downtown strolls, I had passed the Zencha Tea Bar, but had never gone in because I thought it looked small and I already drink lots of tea at home. Our restaurant walk visit opened my eyes to Zencha’s many offerings and reminded me that dynamite comes in small packages. The tea bar literally explodes with a variety of teas and owners Harry Posner and Uta Messerhuber are knowledgeable about them all. I counted almost 90 types of teas on their menu and their origins could stand as a geography lesson.
By now, it was 2.30 p.m., and Joel and Carol were prying us out for the short walk to Tesoro where they feature traditional Italian foods at Schoolhouse Lane. Tesoro is another new-to-Collingwood success story. Owner Joelle Millar welcomed us to Tesoro. As we enjoyed a sample of red wine and some thin-crust pizza, Joelle told us about how Schoolhouse Lane, which dates back to 1885, was once home to a school, then to Bill Brown Lumber and eventually evolved into a business centre which is home to offices and restaurants.
Tesoro has expanded its offerings to include homemade ice cream from an adjacent shop called Avalanche. Tesoro also offers Italian specialties frozen fresh and ready to go. I started going to Tesoro soon after this restaurant opened. It was excellent then and it’s excellent now. If you think all pizza is the same, you’re wrong and can prove there’s a delightful difference by visiting Tesoro where they also have gluten-free pasta.
Time flies when you are having fun and at 2.53 p.m., Nancy and I were basking in the sunlight at the town’s largest patio at Admiral’s Post. I get my photograph taken with our host Mariana McElroy who extols the many virtues of Admiral’s Post, ranging from all-you-can-eat fish and chip nights, to Team Wings and seafood madness in May. Mariana served us a white wine sample along with a finger-licking-good, spinach-and-crab dip. Admiral’s Post is not new to me and as I sit within sight of the town hall’s clock tower I am happy that so many people are enjoying this restaurant. The restaurant business is a demanding business and I can see from my involvement with the restaurant walk that Downtown Collingwood restaurateurs are an imaginative and competitive lot. Not only are they good at their jobs, but many have websites and involve themselves in supporting various endeavors in our community. Each December, Admiral’s Post runs a toy drive. That’s to the benefit of everybody, because what goes around comes around.
Our eighth restaurant of the day is Trattoria Azzurra on Pine Street. It is just across from the parking lot in which the Farmers’ Market will operate on Saturdays from May 20 to October 7 (except for July 29 when the Elvis Festival is held downtown). Trattoria Azzura’s owner Andrea Greyerbiehl welcomes us to her new location, as we sit in the casual, fine-dining surroundings with a glass of sangria given to us at their door. A waiter brings around thin-crust pizza and once again we wonder how our next restaurants are going to be able to top the excellence of where we are. Trattoria Azzura is about more than pizza. Their contemporary and Italian menus range from Fegato to Penne con Panchetta and from handmade potato gnocchi to seafood stew. Trattoria Azzura has large windows which offer a great view of the streetscape, as well as let in light on art from a local gallery.
If I had to propose to Nancy again, I could do it at any one of a number of downtown restaurants, some evening by candlelight.
We move on and at 3.37 p.m., we are at Dags & Willow fine cheese and gourmet shop. Kelly Siskind and Steven Epstein are the owners of this shop which opened last December. Kelly explains about their wares as we enjoy non-alcoholic drinks and two types of nibblies. The first is a Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk and drizzled with honey. The second is a smoked salmon with optional horseradish.
If you ever need a trivia question involving Downtown Collingwood, here’s one: How did Dags & Willow get its name? The store was named after the owners’ two dogs, Kelly told us as she waved a package of smoked salmon and encouraged us to browse. Just as I can’t name every single, delectable dish we enjoyed on the restaurant walk, I can’t name all the cheeses in Dags & Willow. But I do encourage you to drop in and sample their wares. They do entrees and salads too.
Close to 4 p.m., we troop to Café Chartreuse for a welcome from manager Ruth Bourachot, as her husband, chef Patrick, toiled in the open-area kitchen. Soon trays of nibbles were swirling through our group. But the swirls I remember most were the meringue swirls filled with fruit. Delicious! I can remember when Café Chartreuse’s corner location was a diner-type restaurant and variety store, as well as the local bus depot which has since moved across the street. There is no doubt that the Georgian Triangle area has attracted a lot of talent and the transformations that result are a benefit to our community, as well as envied by others.
Chef Patrick brings with him flavours of the world. He came to Downtown Collingwood from Paris, working for some major names such as Fairmont along the way. If Café Chartreuse’s popularity is any indication, this is going to be their home for some time to come. Daily, their chalkboard menu will challenge your meal-ordering, decision-making.
Duncan’s Café with its high-backed booth seating and old-time high ceilings was our next restaurant stop. Chef Sean Cripps was outside Duncan’s front entrance carving from a roast pig and welcoming us with pork on a bun. Inside, more samples of Creemore Springs, or water for some of us. Today, at Duncan’s we have no trouble finding a seat. But I know from personal experience that Duncan’s already has a loyal following which often fills this restaurant to capacity time and time again; especially during the ski season. Duncan’s menu is diverse.
By 4.30 p.m., it is time for our next restaurant, the Bamboo Terrace which is across Hurontario street from Duncan’s. Gin and Betty Yuen built this business into a Chinese food powerhouse before retiring after decades on the main street. Today, co-owners are Eddie Chan and Edward Soo-Hoo and they are carrying on the traditions established by the Yuens. Waitress Jovette Algerson, found her way from Rimouski, Quebec, via Sudbury, to Collingwood and greets us enthusiastically before leading us back to the Bamboo’s meeting room, just past the main restaurant area. Snacking and nibbling as repetitively as we have been this afternoon, one must marvel that we had any room for more food. However, our walk participants wolf down four different kinds of goodies from hot chafing dishes and drink Chinese tea. Jovette introduces us to Eddie Chan and we applaud their hospitality.
The restaurant walk was well organized and Joel and Carol cap it off with a goodie bag for each of us. Inside each bag were discount coupons for some of the restaurants we had visited, as well as business cards and menus.
By 5 p.m., we are on our way home impressed by what Downtown Collingwood restaurant owners have done and keeping in mind that we had only visited some of the downtown restaurants. There are other restaurants in Downtown Collingwood and many more in the area.
They came. They invested. They renovated properties. They brought their respective culinary talents. They captured our taste buds.
As we walked from restaurant to restaurant, many in our group of 22 got to know each other.
Downtown Collingwood businesspeople used to worry about shoppers going to Barrie. They worked hard to reverse that trend. In our restaurant walk group there were participants from Barrie and Innisfil Township. The tide is turning.
The next restaurant walk is coming up on October 22nd. Come out on a guided walking tour and sample the fares' of 10 of Collingwood Downtown's finest restaurants including:
- Café Chartreuse
- Tesoro Italian Restaurant
- Admiral’s Post Pub
- Huron House & J.J. Longs Lounge
- Zencha Tea Bar
- espresso post
- 27th on Fourth
- Simcoe County Restaurant
- The Olde Town Terrace
- Bamboo Terrace
Tickets are only $25.00 and are on sale now! Tour takes place from 1pm to 5pm. For more information, call 705-445-9463.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Retired editor/publisher George Czerny is the author of a travel guide, George’s Georgian Bay and operates Georgian Blue Bed and Breakfast in Craigleith on southern Georgian Bay. He also maintains the Highway 26 portion of Ontario Highways on the www.milebymile.com site. For more information about Georgian Blue B & B, click on www.bbcanada.com/9740html.