I’d been hearing about the White Owl Bistro for a long time, so when I finally had a chance to visit their dining room, I was buzzing. With a reputation for creating locally inspired, farm-to-table dishes, I couldn’t wait to sample the menu put together by Chefs Laura and René Dubois.
Serving Up Local Fare, Lakeside
One evening on a snapping cold March day, my dining companion and I stepped into their cozy, 40-seater restaurant in North Bay. Our server greeted us immediately, accompanied by soft jazz, and an invitation to hang up our coats. Our table was waiting – a little two-top with a view looking out over the frozen landscape of Lake Nipissing.
Between us and it – a patio. About 1,500 square, fully-licensed feet of it overlooking the lake. Now in sunny June, the patio is bustling and serving up delicious dishes lakeside to the City of North Bay. A highlight of the season is live musical entertainment by local artists every Tuesday and Thursday night during the summer months.
Sampling Farm-to-table Cuisine
As Chef Laura puts it, “You can taste the difference.”
That’s one of the greatest things about farm-to-table cuisine. Then there are the additional benefits such as knowing where your food comes from, how it’s been prepared, whose hard work has gone into creating it, and the positive community and environmental impacts of eating locally.
“We raise animals on our farm and purchase produce and other items from surrounding farms and businesses. Each year we raise chickens, ducks, turkeys and pigs.” When I asked her what they love about their jobs, Laura said, “Helping people enjoy food and the dining experience. And bringing back the communal, social and fun – dining as it should be.”
On my visit, we tried the roast chicken and squash pasta, a truly juicy filet mignon, and the mixed-berry fruit sorbet. In-house made onion bread was also brought to the table as an appetizer. And of course, an Ontario red wine.
Wow. Seriously. Where to start?
They say one mark of a great restaurant is how they cook your steak, and my Ontario-grown filet mignon was on point. Cooked exactly to my preferred shade of rare, the tenderloin didn’t disappoint.
Next was the roast chicken and squash pasta – the chicken sourced directly from the Dubois’ Somewood Farms. On a cold day, it was the perfect dish and you could tell the pasta was freshly made because of its texture.
However for patio season, everyone needs to try the sorbet. Made with a locally harvested mix of berries, I couldn’t believe how flavourful this mountain of shaved ice was! On a hot summer’s day, the fruit sorbet from the White Owl Bistro is exactly what you’re looking for.
A Tale of Two Chefs
René and Laura both come from the area – he from Sturgeon Falls, and she growing up in North Bay until the age of nine. They met in the Canadore College Culinary Management program in 1998 and eventually bought the White Owl.
What made you choose North Bay?
“North Bay is where we set roots with our family and children. North Bay is a diverse little city that boasts the most beautiful lakes, rivers, and scenery. We are also blessed to have an abundant amount of agriculture close by.”
When did you first decide to open a farm-to-table restaurant?
“This restaurant has been here for a long time – René originally helped open it up with the previous owners in 2003. They were looking to retire and offered us to take over in 2006 and we purchased in 2008.”
“Right around then is when we began to really look into what we were putting into our bodies, how food was processed, and where the money moves. We slowly began transforming not necessarily the type of food we made, but where we were purchasing from. We took small baby steps for about five years, and then took the leap to have most of our items sourced locally as best as we could.”
Did you grow up on farms, or was this a lifestyle you discovered later in life?
“We had no farming experience prior to purchasing our home and little farm in 2010, but employed the ‘research and learn as you go’ method. We started raising animals strictly for our family first until we got our groove and organization down – then moved on to providing for our restaurant.”
What has been your biggest challenge in opening the White Owl Bistro?
“Our biggest challenge with this restaurant is time management. Because we are both physically working within the restaurant, balancing the farm and family is tough. We couldn’t do it without a support system from friends and family, not to mention an amazing staff.”
What are some of your proudest moments?
“Our proudest moments would have to be successfully running a restaurant for over 13 years, having our farm produce our menu items, and telling the story and educating our guests on quality ingredients and where they come from. This matters and is so important for our well-being and health of our community and their families – and people are getting that.”
Farm-to-Table Life Online
While guests can’t visit Somewood Farms (lovingly named by the Dubois’ eldest daughter from their last name), they can get an inside look at farm-to-table life online. Check out their operation on Instagram & Facebook for an insider look, and what seasonal dishes are hitting the menu!