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Feature - Savour the City

Harper's Burger Bar

There are food moments that always stay with you: the burst of fire as Greek saganaki is flambéed tableside, salty olives from Italy and creamy cheese from France, the first sip of a microbrewery ale, a stack of ice cream scoops that melt (almost) faster than you can eat them. Luckily, in Kingston we have all these flavours — and hundreds more — to satiate even the most discriminating foodie.
There’s an urban legend about Kingston’s food scene: It’s said that The Limestone City has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Canada. It might be true, or merely the workings of an overactive culinary imagination. What we do know is that Kingston does have an abundance of settings, food styles and a wealth of talent in the kitchen.
To get your fix, you’ve got to embrace a little culinary exploration. Abandon any preconceptions. Yes, you’ll find alligator and squid . . . but also meat and potatoes. Fire up all your senses and dial your taste buds to “maximum.” We say: Bring it on!

Great takeout

There are times when you want the buzz of drinking and noshing in a restaurant setting. Other times, not so much — and takeout seems like the sensible solution to craving a little nesting time (but where someone else does the heavy lifting in the food prep department). What makes good takeout is a little different for everyone: convenient location, swing in/swing out to pick up and budget friendly price point are a few of the most popular markers.

In Kingston West, Saber’s Taste of India features a traditional open tandoor oven. Large circles of naan bread are slapped on the hot clay walls to bake and skewers of yogurt-marinated meats are lowered into the heat to slowly roast and grill. Order extra naan, because one won’t even make it out of the parking lot.

Minos on Barrie Street feeds downtown business workers, shoppers and residents with a mix of traditional Greek favourites that are packed and ready to go by the time you walk through the doors. Best to eat the baked mousaka in the privacy of your own home — the layers of eggplant, zucchini, ground beef and potato topped with a cream cheese mixture could have you licking the plate.

It could take months to work through the takeout Chinese, Thai and Cambodian dishes at East Side Village. Narrowing down an order is a task of Herculean proportions. But you can’t go wrong with the Thai red curry chicken prepared with lemongrass, peanuts and coconut milk, or the shrimp phad Thai with roasted peanuts, served on rice.

Pan Chancho

Front of the house at Pan Chancho includes a fantastic retail section with prepared gourmet foods, meals-to-go and the baked goods that anchors the bakery-restaurant’s  reputation. Specialty breads make an appearance on spec–ific days (potato cheddar leek starts off the weekend). Add a salad and an indulgence like marinated olives, dips, spreads or tapenades and you’ve got dinner to go. Everything is sold by weight, so you can get nibble-size amounts and experiment.


Burger joints

The hamburger, the mainstay of the fast-food industry, has seen its fortunes elevated to the status of gourmet meal. Once seen as a happy, yet unexciting marriage between a slab of meat and a bun, the burger is now deeply entrenc­ed as part of the farm-to-table zeitgeist. Burgers made from AAA beef, local lamb, chicken, vegetarian . . . the options are endless and worth a little culinary adventuring.

Harper’s Burger Bar uses local beef that comes from a single-source family farm at the Enright Cattle Company, and is fresh-ground, never frozen. The menu offers health choices that have struck a chord with regulars who care about where their food comes from — turkey, salmon and veggie burgers, served on whole-wheat buns.

Eat surrounded by history and an interesting mix of hockey jerseys adorning the walls. The Portsmouth Tavern (called The Ports by regulars) is known for its homemade burger. In the mid-1800s, the three-storey limestone building of the original homestead was surrounded by fields, far from the centre of Kingston. Now, it’s just a hop from downtown to the area known as Portsmouth Village.

Combining food with ‘the big game’ is what Fanatics Sports Lounge does best. Dozens of televisions — from individual screens in dining booths to big-screen HD projectors — provide the entertainment while house specials like the Fanatic burger (patty of Angus beef topped with jalapeno, Havarti cheese, bacon and an onion ring) provide the sustenance.

Wednesday is burger night at Bella Bistro, with a different special offered weekly. Try the signature housemade patty of local lamb, topped with provolone, lettuce and tomato and served on a sesame seed bun.

The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro has a burger menu that goes on for pages and pages. It’s what they do. They start with Canadian beef, whole chicken breast, turkey or domestic elk and handpress the patties. Non-carnivores can opt for fire-grilled Portobello mushroom or veggie style.

Those who have tried The Kingston Brewing Company’s grilled lamb burger topped with a thick, melted slice of blue cheese feel they have been spoil­ed for life. When the cheese is heated under the broiler, the sharp edge turns to mellow and flavourful — a perfect match for the strong flavour of the lamb. If lamb isn’t your style, the “Brew Pub” (as it’s known) also offers beef, buffalo and vegetarian burgers.

Global tastebuds

Kingston may be a bit small to get Korean 24 hours a day, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold our own with flavours from around the world for the time slots when most people crave a meal. Indian, Chinese, Greek, Thai, Cambodian, Japanese, Austrian, Italian and French menus abound.

Chef Mainul Chowdhury at Curry Original has a firm grip on the spices wheel. Specializing in the Bengali style of cooking — controlled with the seasoning, moderate with the spices — he aims for flavour that isn’t overpowering. He begins with a holy trinity of spices — always freshly ground turmeric, cumin and cayenne — must-haves in most of the restaurant’s curry dishes. Try the spicy chicken jalfrezi, cooked with yogurt, Dijon mustard, tomato, onions, green peppers, black pepper and red chilies.

Pat’s Restaurant is tucked away on outer Division Street, but it’s no coincidence that the parking lot is often filled to capacity. Regulars flock here for Cambodian and Thai dishes like phanaeng goong, a red curry with shrimp, lime leaves, basil, peanuts and coconut milk, served over rice.

Experience traditional Indian dining at Darbar, a midtown spot known for its onion bhaji, boti lamb kebabs roasted to perfection inside the traditional tandoor oven and mild chicken korma cooked with peanuts, raisins, yogurt, cream and coconut. Darbar is popular for its affordable lunch menu — a main dish served with soup, vegetable rice, salad and dessert.


When Olivea’s chef-owners were bitten by the travel bug, they explored the Italian countryside and returned with an armful of recipes and ingredients. The result was Olivea, an Italian trattoria with an emphasis on simple, rustic Italian dishes prepared with the freshest of ingredients. With a location overlooking Market Square, diners can watch the skaters in winter and the farmers’ market in summer.

From the day the doors opened at Chez Piggy, one of Kingston’s landmark restaurants, the menu choices were deeply rooted in the idea of international, eclectic and interesting foods. Selections like coconut red curry mussels and pollo mojito stay true to Chez Piggy’s philosophy of delivering ethnic foods and hearty portions.

One could get lost in the list of appetizers on the menu of The Greek Islands. Expect ingredients like grape leaves, feta cheese, tzatziki dip and, of course, cloves of garlic.

Comfort foods

If you’ve got any British Empire blood coursing through your veins, you’ll feel at home with the menu at Tír Nan Òg, the authentic pub whose parts were built and shipped across the ocean from Ireland. The menu is filled with traditional Irish dishes like the Guinness steak & mushroom crock, mini Yorkshire pudding and the slow-cooked Rosslare lamb shank.

Tír Nan Òg

Aunt Lucy’s Dinner House has been serving up comfort food for so long that the tradition of stopping in for pot roast, the Sunday roast beef dinner or meat loaf and a handful of jelly beans has been passed down from one generation to the next. They stay for a slice of black raspberry cheesecake, made from scratch in-house and on the menu since 1970.

The Iron Duke on Wellington provides a pub-style culinary hit of comfort foods — baked mac and cheese, bangers and mash (their sausages are homemade) or toasted tomato sandwich. The atmosphere is authentic pub, and the variety of beers on tap proves it.

The folks at The Grizzly Grill are so sure of their ability to deliver good vibes that the menu even has a section labelled “comforts.” It’s where they list beef dip sandwiches made with shaved prime rib and a grilled chicken dinner. For meat lovers, the Grizz is known for grilled AAA Angus beef steaks and the prime rib Sunday dinners.

Soldier servants play the part when they serve traditional, casual British fare such as shepherd’s pie or fish and chips at the Bonnycastle Lunch & Tea Room at Fort Henry. New in 2013, admission to the fort is not required to enter the restaurant, tea room and patio.

Spots to whisper sweet nothings

As a student, Tim Pater spent time in France, travelling from the Mediterranean to Paris and doing his share of nibbling and tasting along the way. These influences show at his French-style bistro, Le Chien Noir on Brock St. The menu shows a commitment to the farm-to-fork philosophy: you can start with their oysters (you know the reputation they have, don’t you?) and move on to dishes like rack of lamb, steak frites or steamed Nova Scotia lobster.

Time it right and you can snag the coveted armchairs in front of the fireplace at Tom’s Place, the lounge in the Best Western Plus Fireside Inn. Order the fondue for two to share and a carafe of white wine and you’re set for the evening.

Cloth tablecloths, fine dining and attentive service at The River Mill make it a favourite for proposals, anniversary dinners and tête-à-tête luncheons. And what a setting — every seat in the house has a waterfront view. The restaurant is known for the rack of lamb, beef tenderloin and the Caesar salad prepared tableside.

The classic Italian fine dining at Casa Domenico nourishes the body and soul with a mix of market-inspired pastas, creative antipasti and a salad selection that will make it difficult to stop at just one choice. The extensive wine list rounds out the whole dining experience.

Sweet finishes

There’s a bumper sticker making the rounds that proclaims: Life is short. Eat dessert first. Right. Like we need convincing.

The list of sweet crepes and waffles at Geneva Crepe Café Bistro covers a full page. It is not something
to be trifled with. Choices range from the straightforward (the suzette, with Grand Marnier, strawberries, chocolate and whipped cream) to the chic-chic signature dessert, the desirée (pears poached in wine, brie, almonds, chocolate ganache and cream).

Bringing a pastry chef in to make custom desserts is what’s behind Windmills’ amazing dessert selection. The menu includes old favourites like the deep-dish seasonal fruit pie as well as classic crème brulée. Every week unleashes a feature sweet on your tastebuds.

The dessert menu at King Street Sizzle covers the spectrum — from upscale (passion fruit crème brûlée) to comfort style (Amaretto peach cobbler) to family- and budget-friendly (the large Sizzle sundae). The shaded patio keeps things from melting too quickly.

Days on Front features the quadruple chocolate cheesecake, made famous by owner Matt Day’s mother at the family’s former restaurant, Clark’s by the Bay. The rich dessert consists of two layers of white and dark chocolate cheesecake atop a chocolate crumb base, draped with the perfect chocolate ganache. Pair it with one of the specialty coffees — perhaps the Day’s coffee infused with Godiva chocolate liqueur and Frangelico.

Places to sip a glass or quaff a pint

The walls of The Old Speckled Hen, the traditional pub inside the Prince George Hotel, have been privy to their share of Kingston’s history. The pub was probably a meeting spot for all sorts of political and commercial movers and shakers. Sidle up to the original bar — circa early 20th century — and order a pint of The Hop Mason, the pub’s exclusive brew from Alexander Keith’s. It’s hoppy, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Red House lasers in on a simple, but effective, dining concept: food and drink with ingredients sourced locally whenever possible. The bar has almost a dozen beers on tap, with a focus on Ontario craft breweries and high-quality imports.

It was good enough for Canada’s first prime minister and it makes the grade for Kingstonians looking for an evening’s drink inside the walls of an historic landmark. Okay, so maybe Sir John’s Public House was where Sir John A. Macdonald ran his law practice, but his spirit certainly infuses the place, which has been renovated to capture the décor of the times. How fun is it to know Macdonald’s proclivity to have a drink and to sip on a Scottish malt whisky in this very place?

With a name like The Kingston Brewing Company, you’ve got an inkling of what lies behind the doors on Clarence St. The Brew Pub (Ontario’s oldest brew pub making hand-crafted beer) is renowned for its Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale and the Regal Lager, a British-style pilsner. The small onsite brewery is open for tours to show the brewery vessels, the hops used and the brewing process.

The loyal regulars at The Pilot House show up like clockwork to share a pint, catch up on the latest rugby game and indulge in some authentic pub food, including fish and chips, steak and kidney pie and breaded wings. If the game goes into overtime they can order a slice of homemade pie.

Atomica’s barrel-aged cocktails have spent time in oak barrels — the same type used for wine or whisky making. The aging process in the barrels mellows the cocktails and adds interesting notes like vanilla and caramel. Try the signature barrel-aged negroni made with gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, house-made orange bitters and orange zest.

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