A Food-lovers trip…..especially for those with dietary restrictions!
If you live with food intolerances, you will know how hard it can be to eat out. But that is changing fast. On a recent 2-day getaway to the three cities of Waterloo Region—Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge—I discovered a host of great food outlets that cater to intolerances. The advice from many chefs and owners was, “Speak up. Let us know your specific allergy and intolerance and we will work with you. We need to know, and patrons who call ahead make it easy” How empowering is that?
Don’t just take my word. Nick Benninger, co-owner of the Fat Sparrow Group, emphasized that with two daughters with food allergies he wants to “make the food stand out for the customers with food sensitivities”. Quality is a big part of the experience, and Ajoa Mintoh of Four All Ice Cream said “we want vegans to feel that they aren’t missing anything.” At Del’s Italian Kitchen, Head chef Terry Salmond told me, “ people forget to mention their allergies and we serve hundreds of people with allergies every month, so it’s a high priority for our business .” And Mary Traversy, Marketing Manager for the Charcoal Group, shared that “there is at least one guest per night with serious allergies. If it’s an allergy, we will take care of you, and if it’s a preference, we will take care of you.”
With those encouraging words in mind, let me take you on a tour. Lunch at Taco Farm in Waterloo was a delicious start and a rare treat as I could order anything from their 99% gluten-free menu. When Nick Benninger opened Taco Farm in 2018, he approached the Mexican menu with authenticity and a focus on boosting farm to table: “Our gluten-free tortillas, made fresh every day, are the thing that separates us from the competition – a lack of preservatives means they don’t hold up well, so eating them fresh is important, and guests love it. Sometimes clichés are good”. I had the gluten-free fried chicken, smothered in local honey, lime juice and tequila with a side of corn tortillas — pure gold.
With blue skies and sunshine, ice cream treats naturally came next. Four All Ice Cream owner, Ajoa Mintah is a chemical engineer who bought an ice cream maker, then took a one-week ice cream making course at the University of Guelph joining people from all over the world. Unique, inventive and creative flavours allow her to showcase local foods. Ajoa’s oldest daughter has a milk sensitivity prompting her to create the vegan and low dairy ice cream so that Four All really is for all. My favourites were Sweet Corn Blueberry and Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb.
After a quick change and a refresh, it was time for dinner at Del’s Italian Kitchen. I devoured the pan-seared Tuscan Salmon served on a bed of summer corn succotash, red potatoes and asparagus. According to Chef Salmond the fall menu is expanding to include more gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options.
Next morning started at St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market—a favourite farmer’s market with stalls showcasing the harvest: jewel-toned eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. It is a must for all foodies and those who love a bargain. The market started in 1975 beginning as an adjunct building to the livestock exchange.
After seeing all the beautiful produce and baking at the market, we were ready for lunch at Café Pyrus, a casual vegan café. Everything is gluten-free and vegan. Tyzun James, owner, talked about his idea behind starting the restaurant “basically I wanted a place that I could eat, and he wanted to be able to serve his mother food that she would enjoy as a carnivore. Locally made tempeh and local soybeans, and when they can, it is organic. I had the popular Angry Vegan with tempeh, avocado, artichoke spread and melted dairy-free cheese. Save space for the melt in your mouth gluten-free cookies and muffins or take some home to snack on later.
Driving home through Cambridge mid-afternoon it was natural to stop in at Sugar Daddies Bakery for a treat. Owners Greg Gardner-Orbon and David Orbon started the bakery two years ago with a large selection of Keto baking and one of the only bakeries that bake on-site every day. Filled with goodies where everything is 100% gluten-free, sugar-free and low carb, there is little guilt. Everything can be frozen, so customers come from afar and stock up.
Where to stay:
The award-winning Holiday Inn Express and Suites Waterloo-St. Jacobs area was across the road from St. Jacob’s market. It was the first time I stayed in a hotel since COVID-19 and any apprehension I had was quickly dashed after reading the website on the cleaning protocols. Personal protective equipment kits are available at the front desk. Well equipped rooms made it easy to be self-sufficient, however, there is a lounge with continental breakfast included.
More information on the area: www.explorewaterlooregion.com