We have so many chefs known for being local-vores, we live in an area steeped in history and we are surrounded by wine. It was just a perfect match.
Canada has long been admired for its cultural diversity – particularly when it comes to the country’s melting pot of cuisine; from farm to table Italian to the layered spices of Thai cuisine, fresh rolled Japanese sushi and delicate British pastries – all can commonly be found on a single street nestled within the country’s own historical towns. Niagara is no exception – long having embraced this melting pot along with the belief that there truly is no better way to learn about an area than to eat what is grown in their fields and enjoy what is commonly made in their kitchens.
Niagara Culinary Tours has created a new way to experience local cuisine and enjoy some of the best and diverse Niagara owned and operated restaurants, breweries and bakeries. Blending culture and food with Niagara’s rich history and authentic charm, this culinary walking tour – or as co-founder Kimberley Gunning fondly likes to think of as speed dating with restaurants – is the perfect way to experience a little bit of everything in a single visit.
“No matter where you travel, you have to eat,” said Gunning. “Many people like to go on tours when they travel to new places; so why not merge the two? It is a fantastic way to start a trip – then you have an idea of where to go for the rest of your trip. We started adding [food tours] to every trip we went on, so we thought why not give people coming to Niagara the same opportunity.”
Catering to both locals and tourists alike, Niagara Culinary Tours has created walking tours in Niagara Falls, downtown St. Catharines and the historic old town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Each Niagara Culinary Tour visits several local restaurants, giving participants a chance to try a generous portion of one of the establishment’s signature dishes as well as the opportunity to meet chefs, owners and friendly hospitality professionals. Each guide is as well trained to give a unique perspective on the history, architecture and heritage sites–making for a wonderful distraction during the relatively lengthy walks between stops.
“You’re trying these places and deciding ‘Do I like this place? Will I come back later?’,” said Gunning. “They all offer something different. You might pop back to Willow Cakes to get something for your road trip home or a great breakfast; you might feel like a beer after dinner and go back to the Exchange [Brewery]. Or maybe you’re looking for something different; we have worked with the Oban Inn, Bella Vita … and so [people] might say ‘Let’s go back there for a nice dinner,’ because they know what they can do now.”
Niagara Culinary Tours began after Kimberley and her husband and cofounder Steven Lovelace decided to take a road trip for their 20th wedding anniversary.
Fate came knocking when a pamphlet for a food tour found its way into Gunning’s hands while in Charleston, South Carolina. Following an amazing tour, they were both inspired to create their own company and bring this experience back to home with them.
“On the way home, we starting chatting, and getting a little excited, because [the tour] was nothing we had ever done before,” said Lovelace. “There are not a lot of food tours in Canada – and certainly not in [Niagara], apart from one other, but they focus more on retail – so we had more of a vision to focus on as many restaurants as we could and more the culinary side of it.”
“We love wine and food and [Steven] being a wine agent, he works with a lot of restaurants, so we started to talk to a few close friends that are in the food and wine industry and ask what they thought about it and the response was really good. So we said okay let’s do this,” said Gunning. “We have so many chefs known for being local-vores, we live in an area steeped in history and we are surrounded by wine. It was just a perfect match.”
They have rapidly become a permanent fixture in Niagara’s tour circuit; winning the Ontario Culinary Tourism Experience Award in 2015 – only a year after their inaugural walking tour took place in St. Catharines in November 2014.
Today, the tour includes leisurely stops at a number of restaurants throughout the region – though there are no permanent fixtures on their tour; keeping it fresh and new for returning walkers.
“We like to find partners that share the same kind of passion for food as we have,” said Gunning. “There are so many great restaurants we could work with, but we want to maintain the tour as a walking tour.”
Currently the Niagara-on-the-Lake tour includes stops at the new craft beer hotspot The Exchange Brewery, the long loved Willow Cakes & Pastries Bakery, a local hotspot, The Butler Bar and Grill, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s latest arrival Niagara’s Finest Thai and Il Gelato di Carlotta – which features 100 per cent sugar free gelato as well as vegan options and plenty of flavours.
The Niagara Falls tour – which prides itself as very family friendly and a draw for all ages – currently features pit stops at Il Sorriso Cafe and Pizzeria, the Old Stone Inn and others. The St. Catharine’s tour – the founders favourite – boasts stops at local favourite Beechwood Doughnuts, European inspired Caffe Gatti, the deliciously vegan restaurant Rise Above, Mahtay Café and Lounge and the luxurious Wellington Court.
Tours run year round – with seasonal and weather limitations for some – and cost $55-$65 dollars per person. Each tour caters to every demographic, every age group, every allergy, every foodie and culinary enthusiast.
The tour group also hosts seasonal tours in Niagara-on-the-Lake throughout the year; including their Winter Wonderland tour and the very popular Ugly Sweater Holiday Food Tour – held annually throughout the month of December.
Gunning and Lovelace also host a variety of special events and one time tours throughout the year, focusing on unique facets of Niagara’s culinary world that are outside the parameter of their usual walking tour circuits. Past events have included foraging excursions and culinary photography workshops where participants learned how to shoot their food and plate for social media purposes.
For more information on the tours or to purchase tickets visit www.niagaraculinarytours.com