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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak - The Top Ten New Restaurants in Canada?

The Top Ten New Restaurants in Canada?

Sadly the top ten new restaurants in Canada, as defined by EnRoute Magazine, won’t include any from the swath of the Golden Horseshoe, from Mississauga through Oakville, Burlington and Hamilton to St Catharines. The last time a “local” restaurant cracked that list was in 2010 when Quatrefoil in Dundas was deemed worthy. (I’ll suggest some possible reasons for why that might be in a moment.)

The good news is two excellent restaurants, Backhouse in Niagara on the Lake, and The Berlin, in Kitchener, both within relatively easy reach of Hamilton, stand a very good chance of making the list. Your online vote for them, or 34 other candidates for the top 10, might also be rewarded with a trip for two to a nominated restaurant of your choice, plus some spending money.

Interestingly both spots have something in common apart from great chefs and a focus on local, seasonal food: It’s a whomping great adjustable woodfire grill on which many of their dishes are cooked. I’ve eaten several times at both spots and they’re worth the detour, and worthy of your vote. In fact I reviewed The Berlin for the Waterloo Region Record and it attained the highest fork rating I’ve awarded to date.

En Route’s annual list is hotly awaited by foodies across Canada: always a pleasure to read, it is not

without controversy. I’ve noted in the past (see my Nov 2012 column) that such lists are insufficiently representative of the culinary talents outside of Toronto. I even cheekily offered that “I’d be happy to help fill that gap between Niagara and Toronto in (En Route’s) list of coast-to-coast food panelists,” an offer I’d re-iterate! Without naming names, there are surely a spot or two in the 905 that merit inclusion in at least the 36-candidate long list?

I suggested in early 2013 (see here, and here) that we needed a better defined and more vibrant food scene, something that has arguably happened in spades in the ensuing few years. My last column mentioned the upcoming Nosh Hamilton that epitomises this flowering, as well as the successful Taste of Burlington promotion that has been ongoing for a few years now. Huzzah.

It used to be rare that an eatery outside of the major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, made it to the top ten list. Quatrefoil did in 2010, Raymond’s in St, John’s NF won top spot in 2011, but 2012 confirmed the Metro-centric nature of the list and prompted the observations I referenced above: Six of the top ten were from Toronto, and Calgary and Montreal had two spots each on the list. Restaurants on Fogo Island, Tofino and Galliano Island made the list between 2012 and 2015.

So why is it so hard for restaurants outside of major metropolitan areas to make the list?

Apart from a winemaker/sommelier in tiny Naramata BC – population 2000, all of the 27 members of the 2016 expert panel making recommendations about restaurant openings in their area hail from major cities. They are based in Vancouver (5), Montreal (4), Toronto and Victoria (3) Edmonton and Calgary (2) Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax, Saint John, and St. John’s. Unsurprisingly the majority of the 36 nominated restaurants this year reflect that distribution with nearly 60% of the nominees being from Montreal (8) Vancouver (7) and Toronto (6).

For Ontario, apart from the obvious fact that a big city like Toronto probably has more restaurants opening (and closing) in any given year than the rest of the province combined, there is likely some inertia inherent in the system. While word of mouth from friends and industry contacts, not to mention celebrity buzz and the efforts of TO-based publicists hired by some restaurants, might reach the ears of the panel, I suspect it’s difficult for the busy food experts to actually get out of the city and devote a day or more schlepping to the nether world of the 905 and beyond.

What is heartening, however, is that smaller communities are better represented this year than most, with restaurants in Whistler, B.C. rural PEI, Victoria and Saskatoon in the running, along with Backhouse and The Berlin.

So let’s continue to make some noise as we celebrate great new eateries in our area in the hope they make next year’s list. In the meantime, let’s give a push (you can vote once a day for multiple restaurants till Sept 30th) to our deserving neighbours in Kitchener and Niagara, with a sincere hope they make, and even top the top ten.



To see all past columns please see (and “like”) the Food for Thought Archives
Alex (Alex can be reached on twitter @AlexBielak)

2 comments:

  1. So the long list is compiled by culinary intelligentsia working from what we might assume is a well-developed criteria and working knowledge if a parochial focus. And then the shortlist is determined by an online poll? Seems like a considerable loophole right there. Online polls are easily gamed and generally unreliable as anything but light entertainment.

    ReplyDelete
  2. you make an important point Anonymous, one that had not escaped me. Also the major centres like TO should be able to muster more votes for a given restaurant more easily than a restaurant in a small centre might be able to do.

    ReplyDelete

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