Most of you know that I love walking around downtown St. Catharines.
You probably also know how much I enjoy good food. So imagine my happiness when I found I could combine these two loves of mine in a great afternoon out.
Of course, everytime I’m in downtown St. Catharines, I’m having some good food somewhere. But this time I’m talking about a whole afternoon dedicated to discovering the yumminess that St. Catharines has to offer. Add in a bit of a historical walking tour, plus good times with other like-minded bon vivants, and you’re in for a special treat.
You can thank Niagara Culinary Tours for coming up with this fantastic idea.
Niagara Culinary Tours has a lot of those fantastic ideas though. Owned by Steven Lovelace and Kimberley Gunning, a dynamic husband-and-wife-team, they are always coming up with new things for their tours or special events. Last year, I attended their Niagara-on-the-Lake tour, their awesomely fun Ugly Sweater Holiday Food Tour, and a special Thai Cooking Event that they hosted with The Smokin’ Buddha. Each event I have attended was different and fun. I learned a lot and tasted a lot of fantastic Niagara food. They also offer tours in Niagara Falls and downtown St. Catharines.
As you can imagine, they’re both very busy, hard-working people. I was utterly thrilled to see their efforts pay off when they won the 2015 Ontario Culinary Tourism Experience Award.
There were so many good things about this tour.
First, we had a gorgeous sunny day when we started.
Everything was blooming, and the trees on our route shared with us their spring glory.
We met Steven, who was leading our tour, at the designated meeting place. We said hello to the other tour guests, and set off on our culinary adventure.
Our first stop was the Mahtay Café.
They gave us a tasting of three of their most popular sandwiches, and some of their special cold brew coffee. The vegetarian sandwich was my favourite. Honestly, I’ve found several places in Niagara that make really incredible veggie sandwiches. The ones I try to make at home aren’t nearly as good. I wish I knew their secret.
The food was tasty, the welcome warm. A great first stop.
Next we went through the extremely colourful Graffiti Alley – which is a great place for photos. My favourite one this time was the Jetsons.
We had a quick visit to Beechwood for one of their famous vegan doughnuts. All of the tour guests loved them. Who couldn’t love the amazing Beechwood doughnuts?
As we headed to our next gastronomic location, we walked through the Farmers Market, which was closing down for the day. Steven pointed out some historic spots as we went on our way.
Then we arrived at our next destination, Wellington Court.
I had heard many incredible things about this restaurant, so I was very eager to get a sampling of what they offer. Wellington Court opened in 1985 as a café by run by Claudia Peacock, and is located in her family home – the building itself has been in the family for sixty years. Claudia’s son, Chef Erik, took over the kitchen more than 24 years ago after studying at George Brown College in Toronto.
Inside, the restaurant space is elegant, but welcoming, with a bit of an urban vibe.
Chef Erik came to tell us a bit about the restaurant, and his approach to his menus.
And then this beauty came out.
I was amazed. It looked like a perfectly poached egg, in a lightly breaded coating, on top of a potato cake. But my mind couldn’t stop racing. I was trying to figure out how could Chef Erik put breading on a poached egg. A poached egg is hot, and slippery. How on earth would he do this?
You see how limited my culinary skills and imagination are.
Steven told Chef Erik of my curiosity, and he kindly came back out to tell me the secret. I, however, am not going to share it with you yet. You just might see something similar on the Highbrook breakfast menu one day soon.
All I can say is that I can’t wait to get back to the restaurant for a full meal.
We then continued our walk past more stunning historic buildings. So many beauties in downtown St. Catharines.
These are just a very few.
Steven was pointing out many places of interest, even where old mansions or shops stood once upon a time. I really wish I could go back in time and see ALL of the buildings from back then.
We made our way down to St. Paul Street. Steven showed us where the old Opera House stood, and talked a bit about the history of shipbuilding in St. Catharines.
I find the history of St. Catharines so fascinating. We kept chatting about it, asking questions and commenting on all the gorgeous buildings as we made our way to Rise Above, a vegan restaurant and bakery.
Rise Above has a light, relaxed, contemporary atmosphere. Artwork produced by local artists graces its walls.
We were given a selection of tasty vegan goodies – their Saucy Seitan Nuggets, Potato Dill Flatbread, and Stuffed Mushrooms, made with housemade cashew cheese and spinach pesto. The mushrooms were my favourite – so creamy and flavourful.
We all really enjoyed it, as you can tell by the smiling faces below.
Just as we were mentioning how full we were getting, Steven said we had one more place left. I was glad when he told us of the next location, as I had been wanting to get there for awhile too – Caffe Gatti.
As we entered, we all couldn’t help being drawn to the pastry counter.
But just look at it though….how could you resist?
We were were warmly welcomed, eagerly anticipating some of those decadent treats.
But we were told we would have to wait. We had to try some of their special pizza first. It was delicious.
Next, we each got an individual platter of antipasti.
Several of us indulged in a glass of Cabernet Franc from Big Head to go with it. At any of the stops on the tour, you are able to purchase a glass of local wine or beer to go with your food. I stuck with water that afternoon, but couldn’t resist a glass from Big Head.
All so good.
Then we were served those beautiful pastries. Alas, I don’t have a photo of them. We were all so eager to eat them, that I didn’t get a picture.
Trust me, they were amazing. We came home with a dozen ourselves. Just so I could share some with my Mom, of course. Again, in my excitement I neglected to get a photo.
I recommend you go to Caffe Gatti and try some for yourself.
Once again I’ll say, there’s a lot of good stuff happening in downtown St. Catharines. There are so many things to do, places to see and places to eat there. Maybe we can get Niagara Culinary Tours to develop a second part to the tour?
I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
A really fun and tasty afternoon. If you’re interested in joining a tour yourself, all the details are here.
**Ken and I were given complimentary tickets for the St. Catharines Tour, but as always, all opinions are my own.