The 2011 season of the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com/) in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake on the shores of Lake Ontario in Canada’s Niagara Region was winding down, and a forecast of Indian-summer 70 degree temperatures and sunny skies prompted a last minute drive across upstate New York from my home in Albany to enjoy a flawless and joyful performance of My Fair Lady and a superb farm to table meal at the remarkable Treadwell in the historic Port Dalhousie area of nearby Saint Catharines. Ontario’s Niagara region forms a peninsula of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and with its orchards, vineyards, greenhouses and livestock farms offers an agricultural bounty, which Treadwell’s capable kitchen turns into mouthwatering farm to table dishes. The back of the restaurant’s menu proudly lists 16 of its local food sources ranging from Cumbrae Farms (beef, pork and lamb) to Tree and Twig Farm (heirloom vegetables and greens).
Treadwell’s picturesque setting on the old Welland Canal and Twelve Mile Creek was the perfect spot for lunch on a sunny afternoon. Although its spacious and comfortable main dining room is inviting with its large windows overlooking the creek, the perfect weather called for lunch outdoors at a table on a peaceful patio next to a patch of fragrant lavender plants still in bloom. As fishermen cast their rods in the nearby canal, I enjoyed a glass of 2009 Syrah [$8.00] from Lailey Vineyard [www.laileyvineyard.com/], deliciously dry, yet fruity and smooth with lingering flavors. Lailey Vineyards is one of the more than 100 wineries in Ontario’s Niagara Region. Treadwell’s website provides links to nearly 40 of the local vineyards, and its friendly sommelier, James Treadwell, the son of the owner-chef, Stephen Treadwell, has a wealth of helpful advice on wine selection. Diners near me conversed quietly for a few minutes with the younger Mr. Treadwell before deciding on a bottle of local wine.
Having skipped breakfast, while also burning a few calories on a pleasant hike along the long pier jutting out from Port Dalhousie into Lake Ontario, I decided to enjoy a large, hearty lunch. Nonetheless, the soup (butternut squash) and sandwich (bacon, cheddar and arugula) special (at a very reasonable $15.00) was hard to pass up. As a starter, the grilled Whitty Farms [www.whittyfarms.ca/] peach with local arugula, crumbled blue cheese and sunflower seeds [$14.00] was a perfect blending of ingredients in a delicious lemon truffle vinaigrette. The arugula was surprisingly young and tender for this late in the season, and the sunflower seeds added wonderful texture and accent to the sweet and tender grilled peach. The crumbled blue cheese was in the perfect amount and quietly added its flavor to this wonderful appetizer. My main course of homemade lamb sausage with Monforte Dairy [www.monfortedairy.com/] feta crusted potatoes and onion jus [$18.00] was a satisfying dish flavored perfectly and lightly with basil, pepper and tomato. My friendly waitress explained that the chef prepared the sausage after his own skillful butchering of a lamb raised locally.
Dessert was irresistible, and a pudding named “Treadwell Mess” caught my eye: Whitty Farm blackberries with crusted meringue and whipped vanilla cream [$10.00] was nirvana. Served unexpectedly along with delectable raspberry sorbet and tasty coconut macaroons, it was hard to leave this wonderful restaurant, but the tuneful Shaw Festival production of My Fair Lady propelled me up from the perfect lunch and back on the road to make the curtain raising. I look forward to another visit to the Shaw Festival during its 51st season in 2012 and another meal at Treadwell to experience its careful transformation of wonderful, local ingredients into flavorful, deeply satisfying dishes in a picturesque, canal-side setting. (FW Barrie, 10/12/11)
[Editor’s Note: Since the posting of this review, Treadwell has relocated to Niagara on the Lake, 114 Queen Street (across from the post office0, 905.934.9797, Lunch: Mon-Sun 12:00PM-3:00PM, Dinner: Mon- Sun 5:00PM-10:00PM, www.treadwellcuisine.com]