The groundhog saw his shadow again this year so, as we wait patiently for spring, let’s head out on a road trip adventure in Ontario’s Superior Country in search of some heartening comfort food.
We’ll start our comfort quest in the pretty town of Red Rock, which is just a little over 100 kms east of Thunder Bay and right on Lake Superior. Here, you can take in some spectacular views and then fuel up your day with the Pebbles Breakfast at the Red Pebbles Café. This is a very generous plate, featuring two eggs, bacon, ham or bologna, pan fries or pierogies (!) and an order of toast. That you get such a bounty for under ten dollars has to be comforting too.
Comfort is the driving force behind the menu at Ducky’s Diner in Nipigon. Owner and chef Cory Ralke, aka Ducky explains that the look and feel of the restaurant as well as the menu are intended to evoke the warmth of his childhood.
“This is a place, and these are tastes that take me home”, he says.
You’ll be transported, too, with Ducky’s famous fried chicken which he uses in a variety of comforting ways. The chicken is brined for 24 hours, coated in buttermilk and Ducky’s dredge and (you guessed it) fried. It then becomes the centrepiece of sandwiches such as the Road Runner (bacon, ranch, house mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese) and the John Wayne (Buffalo barbecue, crispy onions, coleslaw, ranch), is made into chicken fingers served with fries or becomes part of an amazing poutine to which you can add Buffalo sauce and blue cheese.
When you think of comfort food, do you often finding yourself dreaming of Italy and mounds and mounds of pasta in all shapes and sizes? Travel east along the Trans Canada Highway to Schreiber where half the community have their origins in the town of Siderno, in Calabria, Italy for your Italian comfort food fix.
In 1905, Cosimo Figliomeni started work in Schreiber on the Canadian Pacific Railway and his letters home about his good fortune lured many of his village neighbours to join him. Cosimo is the grandfather and great-grandfather of many of the Italians living in this lovely little town.
It is this shared history that accounts for the strong sense of community in Schreiber (not to mention the confusing fact that so many of them carry the same name). It’s also a safe bet you can get some great Italian food here.
Cosimo’s descendant and namesake, singer and entrepreneur Cosimo Figliomeni, owner of Filane’s Restaurant with his wife Diana, chose the stage name “Filane” by using the first syllable of his last name and the last name of his favorite singer, Frankie Laine. Filane’s is a bright and cheery spot, known for its friendly staff and, yes, its great Italian cuisine. Try the deep-fried ravioli or the parmesan basil fries to start then tuck into Diana’s favourite, the double crusted, homestyle chicken pot pie. It’s one of the few things on the menu that’s not Italian but there’s comforting deliciousness in every bite.
Schreiber is also home to a fantastic railway museum, so be sure to check that out before you leave.
With a chic but rustic décor and a blazing fire to warm you, Drifter’s Restaurant in Terrace Bay is also renowned for its amazing Italian food like chicken parmigiana, fettucine Alfredo, seafood linguini, homemade gnocchi and much more. Stop by on a Tuesday after 4 p.m. for their “all you can eat pasta” event. For just $13 you get your choice of pasta and sauce along with garlic buns. Then add your protein for just a little more and enjoy.
Terrace Bay has lots to see and do. You can walk off those carbs on the beach boardwalk which features stunning views of Lake Superior and is just a five-minute walk from the restaurant. A ten-minute walk will take you to beautiful Aquasabon Falls and if you’re feeling more adventurous, the Casque Isles Trail is rated one of the top ten hiking trails in all of Ontario. You’ll be swept away by view after wonderful view.
Sweet treats are always comforting so don’t let the unassuming exterior of Best Friends Bakery and Coffee Shop in Manitouwadge fool you. Friends is just the spot to delight your sweet tooth with date squares, mocha brownies, peanut butter brownies and peanut butter surprise brownies, cinnamon buns, cheesecakes, 12″ cookies, cookie sandwiches, scones, butter tarts and much more including soups and sandwiches. It’s well worth the drive north from the Trans Canada Highway – and it’s all made fresh daily.
Manitouwadge is a four-season playground for both indoor and outdoor adventurers. This time of the year, you can ski and snowboard at the Kiwissa Ski Hill and Chalet with 3,480 metres of groomed trails over 9 runs and a vertical drop of 94 meters. Manitouwadge has lots of snow and lots of trails and, as such, is a snowmobiler’s delight. Just outside of town you can take advantage of some of the best ice fishing anywhere. There are miles of cross-country ski trails and skating and curling rinks too.
Also north of the Trans Canada about 130 kms from Nipigon is the Municipality of Greenstone, home to the towns of Beardmore, Caramat, Geraldton, Jellicoe, Longlac, Macdiarmid, Nakina and Orient Bay.
Macaroni and cheese is possibly the ultimate comfort food so let’s take a look at the options at Longlac’s popular Grill 26. Choose from noodles in a creamy homemade garlic cheese or the bacon or Southern mac and cheese. The Southern dish is amped up with the house Creole seasoning and can be topped with crispy or oven-baked chicken, a hot dog or a smokie. There are no bad choices for this delicious dish.
Continuing with the comfort theme, they also have pizzas and deep-fried stuffed pizzas and other appetizers with their signature special spin. They host “Fall Off the Bone” rib nights about every six weeks when ribs are the only item on the menu and takeout is the sole option due to the demand. Phone ahead to guarantee your order as they sell out fast.
Grill 26 is known as well for its healthier options but, hey, that’s not what this story is about!
As we wait for winter to wind down, there’s lots of contentment to be found in restaurants and cafés all around Ontario’s Superior Country. Where will your comfort food odyssey begin?