Where The Locals Eat
Five years ago, church bells rang in a choir of hallelujahs as Niagara residents rejoiced at the opening of Strada West: an Italian restaurant that locals could enjoy a modest distance from the tourist area. Situated at the west end of Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls, the restaurant is a town favourite full of delectable dishes, familiar faces, and a friendly ambiance.
Sous Chef, Ryan Beaubien, followed his heart to Niagara Falls and started working at Casa Doro; when Casa Doro ended up closing, he followed the Roberto family as they opened up Strada West.
A graduate from the Culinary Management program at George Brown College, Beaubien has always felt at home in the kitchen. “I was always making pasta sauce and gnocchi with my mom,” recalls Beaubien. With a talent and love for baking pastries, Beaubien also has fond memories baking apple pies with his grandmother. “After finishing at college for Culinary Management and Baking and Pastry Arts, I opted to stay in school and complete the chef training program,” says Beaubien.
Although Beaubien admits he could never match his mother’s homemade lasagna, he has earned a solid reputation for himself in the kitchen. “Naturally, a lot of my mom’s cooking influences my work here,” says Beaubien. “I am also trained in French cuisine, but I only work in Italian restaurants because that is my strong suit.”
Strada West has a unique menu for an Italian restaurant. “Here we are allowed to invent new dishes, as we are not a franchise,” explains Beaubien. With popular menu items like Asian Chicken Salad and Insalata Daniella, the menu offers a varied selection aimed to surprise and please the palate. “We have traditional items like Ravioli, Veal Parmigiana, and the local favourite Spaghetti Carbonara, but we also have a Mexican inspired Fish Wrap that you won’t see on a traditional menu,” says Beaubien. With a Gemelli pasta in pesto sauce invented by Beaubien and a Smoked Provolone Burger, the creativity from the kitchen shines.
“Our food is mostly homemade and everything is a la carte: fresh to order,” says Beaubien.
“Our produce comes locally from Dan’s Produce, our chicken is from Wainfleet, and we always have Canadian beef on the menu,” says Beaubien.
Customers get a view into the kitchen and a chance to watch Beaubien in action with the open concept kitchen: a glass wall that separates the dining hall from the staff working on the line. With Beaubien’s motto being, “Don’t substitute speed for quality,” he is constantly reflecting on the level of service and the needs of the customer. “We want our food to come up fast, but we want our customers to be satisfied,” says Beaubien. “The quality of the food is most important.”
“I am always self evaluating the items on the menu. Especially the ones we created.” Beaubien changes the menu twice a year to keep customers interested. “In this industry you have to change. If you don’t change you will be left behind,” says Beaubien who is committed to offering a unique spin on traditional foods. “Everyone has chicken wings, but ours are different. Our chicken wings are baked in a skillet with rosemary, olive oil, sea salt, and topped with caramelized onions,” says Beaubien. “They are not fried.”
With pastries and baking being a passion of Beaubien, his dessert menu consists of only cheesecake: homemade cheesecake to be exact. “We realized after a while that customers really only wanted our cheesecake,” he says. “We also have a gluten free Chocolate Torte option.” With six to ten different types of cheesecake to choose from, the restaurant is becoming famous for their creations. Cherry cheesecake is always on the menu and the rest change with the seasons. When we run out of one kind we simply get a new chocolate bar and create something new,” says Beaubien. “From After Eight to Cadbury Mini Egg, the possibilities for cheesecake flavours are endless.”
Beaubien credits the success of the restaurant to the staff. “The staff makes it different. They care about the product and the quality of what comes out,” says Beaubien, who has a core staff that has been working for him since the opening of the restaurant. “I have worked in the corporate setting and it is much different when your boss knows your name,” says Beaubien. “They treat us like family.”
Segregated from the dining area is the bar at Strata West. With changing beer taps and appetizers designed for sharing, the bar at Strada is an experience all on it’s own. “Eat and sip house, that is our thing,” says Beaubien. “We want people to feel relaxed while they wait for their food.” The bar has live music on Friday and Saturday evenings and bartender created drinks such as Fun Bobby and Italian Mule, a twist on the traditional Moscow Mule.
Strada West is a place where people can come together for any occasion.
“We host family events, business lunches, parties, birthdays, and christenings: You name it and it happens here,” says Beaubien.
Strada West also mentors high school and college students in culinary skills. “It is nice to see our students start their careers,” says Beaubien, who is committed to giving back and helping aspiring chefs reach their career goals.
After a long day of work, Beaubien doesn’t take the easy way out. “I love to cook. My food is delicious and I want to sit down and enjoy the food I prepare too,” explains Beaubien, who cooks for himself often. “A typical meal at my house would be: Pork chops with caramelized pear, sweet potato mash, and corn.”
Beaubien admits that at first his move from Toronto to Niagara was a bit of a culture shock. Now he embraces the area and is proud to call it home. “It has a small town feel which is nice,” says Beaubien. “You can see the same people and say, ‘Hey, I saw you at Lococo’s today.’ That doesn’t happen in a big city.”
After seven years of being a chef in Niagara, Beaubien can’t imagine living and working in any other area. “Some things are just meant to be,” concludes Beaubien.