Set your culinary compass – North Bay Bound

Pamela Hamel, Foods by Nature

This taste trail starts where flavours and highways 11 and 17 connect.  Known as the Gateway City, North Bay is the heart of the region’s authentic cultural food fare.  Dive into worldly flavours, take a banquet seat at a classic diner and fill your coolers on a trip to Ontario’s ‘Award of Excellence’ Farmer’s Market.

This burgeoning culinary destination can be a day trip from Toronto or anywhere in the Northeast region. Set yourself free on a tasting mission through the red brick downtown and Eastside brew pub neighbourhood – from coffee bean beer, to Korean BBQ and stacked up burgers.  Eating in North Bay doesn’t mean just grabbing grub – it’s a savoury celebration of Northern Ontario and the world. Stay at the Best Western with many locations within walking distance.

Did you know that Lebanese immigrants helped fuel the Northeast’s 1920’s gold rush with  restaurants, rose petal ice cream and date cakes?   The legends of Lebanese cooking continue to shine bright at The Cedar Tree Restaurant known for its Shawarmas, Baba Ghanouj, and Tabbouleh.  Opening in North Bay in 2009, before the exploding popularity of Shawarma in Canada, owners Roger and Yasmin took a giant leap of faith to pursue a life-long dream of owning a Lebanese restaurant. Always making a point to offer Lebanese food as authentic as possible, their recipes are from-scratch family heirlooms.  They import drinks straight from Lebanon.  All the while sensitive to changing tastes and preferences of the community, they offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options, even adding a Canadian staple to the menu with a Lebanese Twist. Ever heard of such a thing as a Donaire poutine?! Well, now you have. Fresh cut fries are topped with shaved Donaire meat, cheese curds and spicy garlic gravy.

Restaurant culture in North Bay is peppered with some 50 year old hot spots.  Dave’s Green Papaya is not quite that vintage, but David and Simone are two decades into their offering of quality dishes from their homelands of Malaysia and Thailand.  Their popularity enabled them to grow their small takeout and delivery restaurant on Lakeshore to a dine-in restaurant at 652 Fraser St. about 10 years ago.  They offer us a taste of different cultures, cooking up  Pan-Asian specialties like Korean BBQ Beef, their new Pho dish and Bento-Box lunches. They cater to vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free preferences, using a variety of fresh ingredients from eggplant to snow pea, mango and baby bok choy.

North Bay’s beautiful lakeside parks are an idyllic spot for a takeout picnic. You also stretch your legs, take a swim and walk your furry friends. There is an amazing food truck you can sample. Miso & Shiso is an impressive new one-of-a-kind addition to the region. It is plant-based, Japanese-fusion presented by Canadore Alumni and former chefs at the Kabuki House, Nicholas and Morgan. Located beside Gateway City Brewery, you can find collaborations between the two – namely the “panko pogo”, made with (and well accompanied by) their 626 Pilsner. Another must try is their Shiitake Fry, a vegan spin on classic Japanese fried oysters. An item so unique that I have crossed Canada and not found anything that compares to it.

Tourism North Bay’s Taste Trail encompasses Powassan, the majestic farm country to the south of Mattawa with a stay at the Beautiful Log Cabin. The City’s Winter Farmers market is largely sourced from Powassan Farmer Gate Community where you refresh your love with the countryside either for the day or with an extended stay.  Mark your calendars or think of running sap as a sign it’s time for the Sweet Spring Ritual. This Maple Syrup Festival is an interactive educational spring event set within rolling hills and lush farmland.

Dubbed the premier event of the season, this little countryside village swells from 2000 to 15,000 after a sleepy winter the sweet sap starts flowing as a beacon to new season.  Experience maple syrup-making: learn about tapping, taste test and grade syrups from the steamy boiling process. Great fun as a family event, group or couples get away, be sure to share your story with the producers and they will share theirs.  What will you make with your souvenir maple syrup? Pancakes or deep-fried cheese curds dipped in the wild sweet sap?   If you don’t get there in spring, be sure to check out the heirloom vegetables or endangered Chantecler chickens on the Farmstand Tour.   The chickens live in a camper trailer and make for a memorable stop. You can find artisanal forged door handles and hooks for your jam cupboard here, too.

Also on the short list of the many great eats back in the City are the hyper-local features at the pioneering White Owl Bistro, mussels at the Station Brew House and a good ole fashion breakfast at any one of the timeless diners such as Hoagie’s or the vegan Northstar

Diner.  You will have a hard time choosing but that’s the fun in it. You can always come back again (and again), if not for the food, for the friends you’ve made in this City of smiles.

It would be impossible to mention every one bringing this grand food culture alive, so be sure to check out Tourism North Bay’s taste page where they’ll be blogging and story-telling about their epicurean offerings.

See you in the Bay!