Photos: Mike Hector
Before we get started, I should be completely honest with you. I have lived in Kingston, Ontario for the better part of my life – so, naturally, this particular experience was on familiar territory. After spending a sunny afternoon with Kingston Food Tours, however, I was amazed at just how much I didn’t know about the Limestone City.
What transpired, was an interactive and edible journey through Kingston’s fantastic social and entrepreneurial atmosphere. As we made our way from stop to stop I was presented with a consistent, fresh take on each venue we visited.
In many instances, it was like a deja vu of sorts. A realization that “I’ve been here before” – but there was a fascinating level of discovery to it as well. Or shall we say, re-discovery? I don’t want to spoil the entire experience, so without further delay, here is my somewhat spoiler free version of Kingston Food Tours.
A Tasty Tour of Canada’s First Capital
The first stop on the tour was at the famous Dianne’s Fish Shack & Smokehouse, situated on Ontario Street, close to the city’s scenic Confederation basin. Instantly upon entering this vibrantly decorated restaurant – you’re met with a brilliant marriage of East Coast and Mexican styles.
The decor is bright, cheerful and there’s no escaping the positive energy, and an overarching sense that this particular restaurant is a labour of love.
As we dug into our amazing Beer Battered Baja Fish Tacos and sipped elegantly mixed Margaritas, we learned about the owners and the sweet and loving story behind Dianne’s.
I won’t spoil that beautiful story – but I will unapologetically tell you that the fish taco was beyond brilliant. The margaritas were like sipping on a blissful citrusy dream. I haven’t had a margarita this authentic since I was actually in Mexico. Just sayin’.
#YGK’s ‘Magic’ Bakery.
Next up, we took a short stroll up Ontario Street, past Kingston’s majestic City Hall and over to lower Princess Street to visit a particular bakery that owns its place in the hearts of Kingstonians and travelers alike.
The Pan Chancho Bakery has been an iconic source of freshly baked finery since before I was born. Today, it remains a top-tier provider of premium, locally prepared foods. When we arrived, we were taken into the back room, where a small table of goodies was waiting for us.
It was here that I tried the most decadent Maple Chômeur Cake I have ever tasted. It is a rich maple infused cake with a caramelized and sweet exterior. The best way to describe this particular dessert is that it taste’s like Canada and absolute bliss combined.
Pro-tip: Every Thursday, Pan Chancho makes these amazing chimichangas. It was my weekly ritual when I worked downtown. If you don’t know what a chimichanga is, then you, my friend, have a new mission in life.
A Pizza for the Atomic Age
Next up on the tour was a visit to the “Brock Street Common” a section of downtown that is home to some of the city’s oldest and historically evocative storefronts. Our destination: Atomica Pizza & Wine Bar.
The menu item we sampled is a favorite and staple item: The Katrina Pizza. It is a thin-crusted and authentic Mediterranean style pizza topped with thinly sliced prosciutto, pine nuts and fresh arugula grown by Patchwork Gardens, from Battersea Ontario.
It is not only delicious but representative of the owners’ farm to table theme; synonymous with each of their venues.
Marvelous Mediterranean Morsels
Our next stop was just down the street at the ever charming Italian restaurant: Olivea. Here, after learning about the restaurant’s cooking philosophies; we sampled their famous Potato gnocchi with beef cheek ragù. This succulent beef dish was the perfect culmination of Valencian and Italian culinary craftwork.
Olivea is among Kingston’s premiere choices for a fantastic patio experience. Situated across King Street from Springer Market Square, patrons are treated to an extraordinary view, especially if you go during a market day.
Tapas in an Exotic Noir Atmosphere
Just around the corner on King Street, our next destination was Kingston’s unique and popular Tango Nuevo. This gorgeous, stone walled venue has a certain ambiance reminiscent classic noir movies like Casablanca. Very cozy and romantic.
Tango Nuevo specializes in “tapas”; which are a series of small dishes designed for sharing. The result is an intimate and entirely interactive dining experience. During our visit, we learned about the establishment’s owner and their fascinating career which led up to the founding of Tango Nuevo.
Our taste buds were also tantalized with Tango Nuevo’s signature version of Su Pastry, which is a house-made Turkish “börek.” It’s a delectable cheesy phyllo pastry that is reminiscent of baklava or spanikopita. The olive tapenade (also house-made) that accompanied it provided a scintillating salty effect that only enhanced the flavour tenfold.
Sample #Local Fare With the Hero of Upper #Canada
Just when I thought the tour couldn’t get any tastier – we made our way back to the Brock Street Common to come face to face with one of the most prominent figures in Canadian history and folklore – Sir. General Isaac Brock, the Hero of Upper Canada. (Or, rather, his modern day proxy that is.)
General Brock’s Commissary is a unique storefront that recreates the atmosphere and feel of visiting an actual British Military Commissary of the 1800’s. In fact, this modern commissary is modeled after the general’s original commissary that was located not far from where the current shop is situated. Within the shop, you will find an array of local specialty foods that hail from Ontario, and Quebec (Upper & Lower Canada).
Ballin’ Balsamic at Kingston Olive Oil Co.
After perusing the Commissary, we were then taken just a few doors down, to Kingston Olive Oil Co. – a charming storefront showcasing an array of Artisan Olive Oils and Balsamic vinegar. Toward the back of the shop was a quaint tasting bar where a pair of hostesses set out a delectable variety of oils and vinegar to try.
Up until this point, I was a complete newbie when it came to olive oil. In fact, before this experience, I thought balsamic vinegar was just some stuff you toss on your salad. Not so beloved reader! Not so.
No spoilers – but by the time I left, I was an entry-level sommelier du balsamic. I kid you not. I learned new applications and gained a ground level appreciation of the dynamic uses for these two items. For example, they can enhance anything from a piece of bread to a delicious (and healthy) marinade, or even a nice way to zest up your next martini.
An Uncommon Dessert at the Common Market
For coffee and dessert, we made our way to an interesting grocery and cafe called The Common Market. Situated near Kingston’s beautiful waterfront, this cafe has plenty to offer.
For a sweet end our food tour – we were treated to some delicious espresso and a small sampling of local ice cream; made by none other than Slickers Ice Cream from Picton, Ontario. I won’t spoil the surprise ending, but the ‘mystery ice cream flavor’ I tried – instantly teleported me back in time to my childhood years.
A #Foodie Tour for the History Books
What I love most about my experience with Kingston Food Tours – is that it’s not just about the food itself (although it plays a key role.)
The tour also showcased the people that created the venues, the food itself, and why they do what they do. It’s an integral element of any compelling story. The why factor.
Each stop on the tour focused on supporting local growers, meat and dairy producers, and utilized a sustainable, and entirely unique process. It fortified everything that I love so much about Kingston’s business and social culture – and also, why I love writing this type of story.
After all these years, I still end up feeling like a tourist in my hometown. It never ceases to amaze me – and I hope that someday soon you can experience the same amazement as you explore every taste, sight, and experience here in South Eastern Ontario.
Thanks for reading!