Simple, meat-and-potatoes fare is what many associate with Northern Ontario cuisine. However, you’ll be pleasantly surprised on your next visit by a handful of truly memorable dining options that have sprung up in the last few years. One of the best is The Dish Café in Kirkland Lake (between Temiskaming Shores and Cochrane, and near the unfortunately named town of Swastika). Like so many former mining towns of the north, Kirkland Lake provides a quiet pace and unfussy approach to life.
The Dish Café is really the only fine dining establishment in the area, offering a three-course dinner for a reasonable price. And the variety is amazing – one day you’ll find curry cauliflower stew and another white wine braised rabbit. One meal here will make you an evangelist, spreading the word about this surprising find in the back and beyond.
Kirkland Lake is known for two things: gold and hockey. As such, the town’s two big attractions are the Sir Harry Oaks Chateau (a museum in the comparatively lavish home of a gold tycoon) and Hockey North (a museum celebrating the disproportionately large number of early NHLers who hailed from the small community). Like many of its neighbouring communities, the population has shrunk since mining operations closed. However, the area is still a favourite for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking the trails beside the famous waterfalls in the nearby Kap-Kig-Iwan Provincial Park.
Found on the main street of town, The Dish Café is the must-visit culinary hotspot locals and visitors recommend for a special meal. The restaurant was opened in 2010 by husband and wife team Matt and Katie Schram. The former is the head chef and the latter the sommelier and front of house manager. Although Matt was raised locally, both he and Katie gained culinary and hospitality experience at establishments Ontario, including Muskoka resorts and Fairmont Hotels.
The intimate one-room restaurant is romantically lit and simply decorated with local artwork. The three-course menu options are displayed on the blackboard as you enter (as well as on their Facebook page each day). The regular menu refreshes help draw regulars back and, Katie explains, suits Matt’s creative streak as he would quickly become bored serving the same dishes day after day. This also allows Matt to incorporate as many seasonal, local ingredients as possible.
Each of the three courses features options that will appeal to a wide variety of taste buds, from traditional to the more cosmopolitan. Vegetarians won’t have a hard time here either, as one of the options is always meat-free. The price – $35 – is quite reasonable, especially given the fact that ingredients are often pricier in the north.
The evening I enjoyed at the Dish Café showcased the skill and enviable selection offered here. For appetizers there was a Thai coconut curry pumpkin soup, a pear and goat cheese salad, or compressed crab sushi. For the entrees you could choose between a striploin with blue cheese barley risotto, sesame encrusted salmon with wasabi aioli, bacon-wrapped turducken, or ricotta gnocchi.
All the ingredients in the soup are personal favourites so I selected that option and was very glad I did. This is the kind of dish that makes you wish you had access to the restaurant’s secret stash of recipes. The soup had the comforting thickness of pumpkin with the richness of coconut milk and just the right hint of spice. The richly coloured soup was topped with crispy wontons for some texture.
After much hemming and hawing, I went with the ricotta gnocchi. Fortunately, the dish was appropriately sized given the filling nature of potato-based gnocchi. The bite-sized pieces were mixed with the earthy flavours of mushrooms and spinach and generously sprinkled with parmesan. A perfect warm treat after a nippy fall day spent outdoors.
Although I didn’t order any wine, I overheard Katie advising another table of which wines would suit each entree option. She clearly had a strong understanding of her selection and wine parings.
The dessert options were all well-known favourites: cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, carrot cake, or a selection of cheeses. Not one to go for cheese when there’s a cheesecake option, I made my selection accordingly. I should have known this wouldn’t just be a traditional white slice. The presentation alone was worth emulating, with a small pumpkin tart shell filled with rich chocolate cheesecake filling and a hefty dollop of whipped cream. An accent of rich chocolate syrup topped with berries decorated the plate. Again, this was perfectly sized so I could enjoy every bite without being overfull.
If you find yourself anywhere near Kirkland Lake this year, the Dish Café should certainly be at the top of the list when dinner rolls around.
The Dish Café is open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Reservations are encouraged. For those cottaging in the area, the restaurant offers easy meals to go (pasta, butter chicken, and pulled pork chili to name a few) that make vacation easy or will impress guests.