Delectable fries just whet the appetite at Grille ‘27
By Scott Turnbull
The measure of any great restaurant is usually found in its simplest offerings, and French fries are usually a good yardstick to gauge everything else available. If the fries are limp and bland, chances are that the rest of the menu will be similar. If the fries alone can make you sit up and take notice however, there are excellent odds that the more substantial dishes will make your taste buds sing.
Such is the case at Grille ‘27, the restaurant at the newly renovated Pine Lodge Inn in Port Sydney. Hand cut fries are tossed in herb-infused duck fat, sprinkled with kosher salt, and crowned with a hint of lemon zest and parmesan, making them among the most delectable in Muskoka, let alone on the planet. Served with a house-made charred tomato ketchup, the fries demonstrate the commitment to quality and originality that dominate the menu at Grille ’27.
“When we renovated the Lodge, we knew we wanted to deliver a dining experience for our guests that would surprise them,” says Paul Derry, who purchased the inn with his wife Connie in 2010. “At the same time, we kept hearing that there was a void in terms of a local restaurant to enjoy a great upscale dinner and a good glass of wine, so we created a menu of classic items with a twist.”
When Paul and Connie decided to leave successful careers in software sales to pursue their dream of operating an inn in Muskoka, the longtime Lake of Bays cottagers used their years of experience travelling the continent to create their menu. An enthusiastic “foodie” with a passion for fresh ingredients and inspired presentation, Paul drew upon this knowledge of great restaurants to create a shifting menu that reflects seasonal, local ingredients as well as a diverse clientele.
Items like the signature Grille ’27 burger – a house-made patty topped with peppercorn crusted peameal, cheddar cheese, crispy onion rings and a unique Muskoka maple barbecue sauce – are mainstays all year long. Dishes such as a deep fried mac ‘n’ cheese with chipotle aioli and fettucini carbonara are exclusively offered during the winter months when snowmobilers and winter enthusiasts are looking for more hearty fare.
“There’s always room for a good burger, but we try to keep the menu adaptable to the season and our clientele,” says Connie. “There’s a call for great comfort food in the winter and in the summer we get a chance to amp up the menu and create really memorable dining experiences.”
A maple salmon paired with a fava bean, mushroom and fingerling ragout is a popular summer dish, as are the fire-grilled AAA ribeye, the piri-piri chicken served with couscous and the pickerel po’ boy sandwich.
Regular appetizers include a distinctive pulled pork spring roll served with a vanilla rum barbecue sauce, and a pan-seared calamari tossed with cherry tomatoes, capers and pumpkin seeds.
Vegetarian and gluten-free diets are also accommodated, with plates like the sweet potato lasagna, which layers sweet potatoes, Portobello and shiitake mushrooms, and provolone and feta cheese.
“We want to continually surprise our guests with the quality and creativity in all of our dishes,” says Connie. “Our previous careers were based on the strength of ethical representation, and we’ve carried that over… we won’t ever substitute quality just to get a plate out.”
The commitment to excellence carries over to the bar menu and wine list. Toronto craft brewery Mill Street is fully represented at the draft taps, with their Organic Lager, Tankhouse and Stock Ales, and Cobblestone Stout. In the summer, the bar pours Mill Street’s Lemon Tea, a wheat beer infused with tea flavours that surprised Paul by being exceptionally popular with regular beer drinkers last summer, not just aficionados.
The wine list also celebrates locality, featuring Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates’ VQA chardonnay and merlots. For those wanting to venture further afield, the list also offers a few great Californian wines, bottles that Connie fell in love with while working near Napa Valley. The bar is better stocked than many in Muskoka, highlighting premium spirits and a variety of martinis, and cocktails.
The creative menu at Grille ’27 is at home in the urban rustic setting of the restaurant. When renovating, the Derry’s goal was to celebrate the 85-year-old lodge’s heritage, but to also “hip it up a bit,” says Connie. Well-worn reclaimed hemlock floors complement the exposed beams of the original lodge and locally made furniture, and the décor is a mix of blown up postcards of the lodge in the 1930s, Group of Seven inspired imagery, and industrial steel accents.
“We absolutely love the history and heritage of the place, but we wanted to infuse it with a modern feel,” explains Connie.
Plans for this summer include the addition of a large, licensed outdoor patio to extend the dining experience outdoors, as well as accent lighting on the huge white pine trees – the lodge’s namesake – that surround the inn.
Of course, no exceptional meal would be complete without something sweet after dinner, and the dessert menu at Grille ’27 doesn’t disappoint. In a local dessert landscape that’s dominated by ready-to-eat frozen cakes, the ever-changing house-made cheesecakes and featured pots de crème are refreshingly original. Just like all of the other menu items created from scratch in the Grille ’27 kitchen, the desserts reflect local, seasonal ingredients.
Most notable is the signature Lodge Tart, an apple cider and maple cream tart topped with a maple cranberry compote and sided with whipped cream. Initially a one-off creation for a fundraising gala in Huntsville, the feedback on the tart was so unanimously positive that the Derry’s decided to make it a staple on the dessert menu.
“We’re very hands-on when it comes to dining at the lodge, and we pay careful attention to what our guests are saying about our menu,” notes Connie. “We really want to share the experience of great food.”
Lodge Tart (Apple Cider & Maple Cream Tart)
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 litre apple cider
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 cup 35 per cent cream
2 drops maple extract
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and blend until dough comes together in moist clumps. Gather dough into ball. Press dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of a 9-inch tart pan or individual tart pans with removable bottom. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Bake uncovered at 375 F for 25 minutes or until deep golden brown. Using back of fork, press bottom of crust to flatten during baking.
Bring apple cider to boil and reduce to 3/4 cup (about 45 minutes). Transfer to small bowl and cool. Combine with other filling ingredients and whisk well. Pour in filling and bake at 375 F until tart is gently set in centre (approx. 30 – 35 minutes). Cool to room temperature. Push up pan bottom releasing tart.
Serve with Cranberry Compote and Whipped Cream.
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail
Combine cranberries, maple syrup, brown sugar, cranberry juice, and lemon peel in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most berries pop and juices thicken slightly, 4 to 5 minutes.
YOUR GUIDE TO FINE DINING IN MUSKOKA
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