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Opinion

Don Appetit! Ciderhouse Bistro: Big-City Cooking, Charming Country Setting


Don Douloff, Food WriterLess than 90 minutes from downtown Toronto, Ciderhouse Bistro offers a thoroughly satisfying and charming rustic country dining experience.

Nestled in the main building of Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, in the rolling Caledon Hills, Ciderhouse Bistro steadfastly pursues a mission statement to champion Ontario’s immense bounty of seasonal ingredients and source products from local farms.

But don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s country location. This is sophisticated, big-city-quality dining. One day at lunch, for example, there’s a superb daily soup built on a silky puree of Brussels sprouts cleverly garnished with bacon and onion.

A giant, custom-built wood-fired oven, located in the bakery kitchen adjacent to Ciderhouse Bistro, turns out a range of breads, made via slow fermentation with natural starters, that include an airy tartine, chewy sourdough and, my favourite, dense and rustic apple bread. Baked fresh daily, those breads partner marvelously with luscious chicken liver pate.

Dessert selection baked in the wood-fired oven.

An immense fall harvest salad is built on roasted squash, red lentils, sweet corn and roasted pumpkin seeds perched on a bed of mixed greens moistened with cider vinaigrette. It’s autumn in a bowl.

Mains excel. There’s a gigantic wedge of eggy, creamy-textured quiche Lorraine; a thick and wonderfully moist burger made from Nimmo Farm’s ground Limousin beef; and one of the best pork tenderloins I’ve had anywhere, the bacon-wrapped medallions exquisitely tender and beautifully complemented by apple onion cream.

That wood-fired oven also turns out impressive desserts: rich, dark, flourless brownie that’s more like an upscale torte; butter tart of flaky pastry and not-too-sweet filling; textbook apple crumble; admirable strawberry rhubarb pie.

But for sheer dessert novelty, it’s hard to beat salt-cured silver maple leaves dipped in cider rice flour batter, deep fried to greaseless, shatteringly crisp perfection and drizzled with maple syrup and peanut praline.

On the beverage front, Spirit Tree’s ciders are dry and subtly flavoured, with a smooth, clean finish. Alcoholic varieties include a terrific pear cider. Non-alcoholic sparkling varieties — apple; pear; and apple-cranberry — feature subtle carbonation and crisp, bright flavours.

Decked out with stone floors, wood-topped bar and tables, and a wooden chandelier, the rustic bistro space couldn’t be more charming, and is warmed by the heat given off by the bakery’s wood-fired oven. On a cold autumn day, it’s an extremely welcoming and hospitable place to dine — and so easily accessed from downtown Toronto!

During off hours, Spirit Tree Cidery offers a variety of meetings and events spaces. Ciderhouse Bistro hosts 32 people for seated meals or 45, cocktail style, with the ability to add up to 30 seats on the patio, weather permitting. An outdoor tent hosts up to 50 for seated meals or 100-plus, cocktail style.

— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.



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