Before leaving for my trip across Eastern Canada, my mother joked that the hotels had better have treadmills because staying in shape while on the road is nearly impossible. Until my stop in Kingston, her words, like my waistline, carried little weight.
Four days of gastronomy in a city which lays claim to having among the most restaurants per capita in North America meant I was an oversized kid in a gourmet candy store. Although no one could give me a definite answer on the exact number of eateries in the city of about 117,000 people, there are 95 places to eat in the downtown district alone, which is where I stopped for lunch and dinner.
Pan Chancho Bakery
A sister to the town’s most recognizable restaurant (Chez Piggy), Pan Chancho is a country store styled café that serves urban cuisine with a flair. The cold Asian salad is an absolute can’t miss and the weekend brunch is spectacular, or so I’m told. An outdoor patio behind the bakery brims with a mixture of college students, young families and a few select groups of elderly women enjoying a midday wine. A few local businesspeople also sit down for a bite but most grab takeout from the front of the bakery, which also has a large selection of wonderful salads and imported cheeses behind the deli counter. Next to those are Pan Chancho’s famous freshly baked breads, scones, biscotti and pain au chocolat. The latter however, is no substitute for the cheesecakes and other desserts.
King Street Sizzle
Four hours later, I’m at the King Street Sizzle Restaurant on King Street East. There’s a bar on the left and kitchen area on the right. The tables are down back, between two large mirrored walls that extends the restaurant’s intimate undertone. The Sizzle Salad, made with spinach, Asiago cheese and grilled jumbo shrimp topped with toasted sesame honey orange vinaigrette, is nearly a meal in itself. I’m halfway full already. But judging by the salad’s presentation, the main course, the Sizzle Signature Pasta, will be worth the wait. And it is. Lobster stuffed ravioli, seasonal vegetables and tiger shrimp and chourico sausage served in a lobster Cognac cream sauce is the best seafood dish of my entire trip.
Kingston may be full of cafes, eateries, lunch boxes and places to have dinner, but growth in the city’s west end has brought a spectrum of different tastes and atmospheres not found in Kingston’s downtown district. Kelly Hale, owner and manage of J.A.K.K Tuesday’s Sports Bar, a hole in the wall sports bar on Progress Avenue, claims he’s the only official sports bar in the city. "We’re the Cheers of the west end," says Hale. "You could pull up to the bar and within minutes the guys would start talking to you about sports. They would treat you like one of the regulars." Go there often enough, and Hale may even invite you to the Christmas party or his annual charity golf tournament. Like any good captain, Hale gets his team-mates involved – whether they’re on the payroll or not. A strong supporter of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hale isn’t afraid to back his team with a bet either. Ask to see the photo album but only after you’ve looked at the menu.
Serving traditional pub fare with a healthy mixture of sports, J.A.K.K’s can feed the appetite of any sports fan, and at a very reasonable price. Hale recommends the Pepper Burger. The autographed memorabilia – a picture of Canadian golfer Mike Weir or stick of NHL Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey – alone will hold your attention if the dozen TVs and two giant projection screens don’t. Hale has even ordered two LCD TVs for the men’s washroom so you don’t miss a minute of the game.
A few hundred yards down the road, in the Cataraqui Town Centre, is Moxie’s Grill. If you’re looking for steak in the west end, go to Moxies. The premium casual restaurant offers a relaxed atmosphere and outstanding service perfect for families and couples alike. I started with the Szechuan green beans then moved onto a juicy 8oz piece of AAA grain-fed Alberta beef that was grilled to perfection.
Whether you want something as simple as a sandwich or steak and seafood, Moxie’s diverse menu is aimed at pleasing the needs of every customer. How a franchise such as Moxie’s survives in a market saturated with so many choices comes down to customer service and dependability says General Manager Dennis Williams. "People know that they’re going to get great service and great food here like they would at a Moxie’s in Calgary or Toronto."
Frat houses and fajitas (Tea and Tex-Mex)
The Tea Room
Over on Queen’s University campus is the future of eco-friendly coffee shops. Leave it to a group of students to create a framework for sustainability and act on it. Following a strict set of principles, the Tea Room limits the amount of waste by using biodegradable coffee cups and composting its organic waste. Lights turn off to save energy in unused sections of the cafes while a set of solar panels mounted outside on the back of the building generates five per cent of the required electricity. While the focus is on being green, the student-run Tea Room entered its second year in the black. The campus’ usual catering company passed on the opportunity after it deemed the location wasn’t good enough. But students and faculty don’t seem to mind.
The food consists mainly of sandwiches, wraps and sides like the chick pea salad with minced onion and celery. There’s a long list of bagged and open leaf teas along with six different cold tea and juice drinks to wash it all down with. And of course, there’s always coffee.
Lone Star Texas Grill
Being back at university gave me flashbacks of a time when the real world was just a reality show on MTV. It hit home even harder the next night at dinner at Lone Star Texas Grill on Ontario Street on Kingston’s waterfront. Hungry for some of the best chicken fajitas on the planet, a brief conversation with the hostess revealed a mutual friend of ours. Everything is bigger in Texas but what a small world. Here I am, in a town thousands miles from home, in a Texan themed restaurant with pictures of Canadian Idol winner Ryan Malcolm hanging on the wall beside my booth and my hostess is a close friend of my roommate in senior year. After my delicious and sizzling do-it-yourself fajitas, I passed on a very tempting deep fried ice cream for dessert, said my goodbyes and headed out the door into a rainy Kingston evening.
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