We’re back with Restaurant Roundup for 2015! This year’s theme: Where To Eat This Weekend. Every other week we’ll be profiling a different city in Canada with a list of great dining recommendations for you to check out – from fancy to hole in the wall and everything in between! Today Andrew Coppolino of Waterloo Region Eats takes us on a tour of Waterloo Region restaurants to visit this weekend.
Brunching or Lunch in Kitchener/Waterloo
Sunday brunch is a popular occasion at the small and cozy west Waterloo venue Hogtails Smoke and Soul Bar-B-Que. Chicken and waffles and huevos rancheros create the menu melody, with other dishes changing key as the kitchen sees fit. “We find an inspiration,” says chef-owner Darryl Haus. “Peach season says to us bourbon for a French toast.” Shrimp and biscuits with a shrimp-tomato gravy might be available, but the anchor breakfast huevos rancheros – served on metal plates – are white corn tortilla, beans, salsa, poached eggs and avocado, and they sing in perfect harmony. Russets – skin-on boiled, cooled and deep-fried – are among the best home fries in Waterloo Region. There are only a few seats available, so get there early. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Reservations recommended.
Don’t judge a sangweech by its cover: tucked into a humdrum plaza in an industrial-commercial corner of Kitchener is Nostra Cucina – and with it, arguably, the best veal parm sandwich in southwestern Ontario. A solid bun the size of your capo holds layers of crisp-breaded and tender veal, homemade “gravy,” provolone and condiments like sautéed mushrooms, roasted peppers, red onion and hot peppers (if you want it “sweet and loaded”). Sandwich heaven continues with panini including “The Bomb” with pepperoni, salami and ham, and a classic Sicilian-New Orleans muffuletta that stands out because of the olive salad. There are also pizzas and pastas too. Dina Marsillo and Sean Burns run a casual take-away shop with a few tables, and they have fun bantering with the customers. Open Tuesday-Saturday.
Taco Farm Co.
Taco Farm Co., little Mexican-inspired sister-restaurant to Uptown 21 around the corner, is vibrant and dynamic. It fits the bill for a casual, inexpensive lunch with house-made tortillas courtesy their front-and-centre tortilla machine nicknamed “Taco Man Randy Savage.” It can crank out 200 or more white corn tortillas per hour in serving about a dozen TFC tacos – from camaron and carnitas to chicken pibil and smoked pork belly – that are $4 to $6 each. There are platter specials on the menu, too, and lots of craft beer. Everything including the ice cream is home-made and all gluten-free (except for the churros, which are prepared in a dedicated deep fryer). Check out their selection of tequilas for a return evening visit. Open Tuesday-Saturday.
Dinner in Kitchener/Waterloo
Public Kitchen & Bar
“Wee but mighty” (and however you might say that in Spanish) describes Kitchener’s Public Kitchen & Bar. The bistro, in a seemingly unlikely strip plaza on busy Lancaster Street, was an instant hit when it launched a few years ago; today, you’ll need reservations well in advance for the tapas and small plates menu. Eclectic decor (for only 10 or so tables) is the setting for confit of Cornish hen with cherry tomatoes, pan jus and chimichurri, or patatas bravas “supreme” with slow-braised venison ragout, blood sausage and truffled aioli. You can take my word: it will be excellent but it may not be on the menu, which changes frequently. The only way to know is to call ahead – if you can get a table. Open Tuesday-Saturday. Reservations recommended.
A restaurant that has earned a “five-peat” listing in Where to Eat in Canada, downtown Waterloo’s Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 Food & Drink brings seasonal and local ingredients – from cabbage for kimchi “Seoul Croute Garnie” to Limousin hanger steak with bone marrow Bordelaise – to an upscale casual bistro that creates inventive and sometimes playful à la carte menus as well as three- and four-course prix fixe ($40, $45 or $50) with wine pairings ($18 or $24). Signature cocktails like the rhubarb caipirinha and the U21 mint julep are part of a beverage list that also includes 15 Ontario wines and a good selection of craft beers. Make sure you try the beignets. Open Tuesday-Saturday. Reservations recommended.
“Selamat Datang,” their website says, “Welcome to Bhima’s Warung.” A warung is a road-side food stall and Bhima is a Hindu deity. Combine them under irrepressible chef-owner Paul Boehmer’s creative and sometimes Kerouac-like energy and the Waterloo restaurant with an open kitchen and courtyard patio gets my vote for the Region’s unique food stall. The menu is nicely glossed: when you order bakmie goreng die bawah bebek buie you know you are about to enjoy “muscovy duck magret roasted in ginger and served rare on a whack of warung-fried egg noodles, with chaing mai curry.” Literally. There is so much so good on the menu that a popular strategy is to order several appetizer dishes. Delicious either way. Open daily at 5 p.m. Reservations recommended.
Later in the Evening
Originally a mid-1800s railway hotel, The Lanc is Waterloo Region’s premier destination for both southern-style barbecue and live music in the shape of the blues. Chef-owner Chris Corrigan is the Lanc’s founding pit-master, overseeing a hopping busy restaurant as it pumps out briskets, wicked wings, luscious pulled pork, Po’Boys and beer-braised “Waterloo County” pigtails (you can see how those pigtails are prepared here). Check their website for performance schedules for Friday or Saturday nights. Open Monday-Saturday.
Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane said, “If you go chasing rabbits…,” but they didn’t mention that downtown Waterloo’s compact White Rabbit is open daily until 2 a.m. and calls itself a “spirits house.” They have the numbers to back that up with more than 300 labels and an evolving cocktail list that counts 20. The bar boasts that their house and signature cocktails are hand-shaken or hand-stirred. The kitchen’s tight menu with sandwiches and boards – like the “White Rabbit Char” – is perfect for sharing later in the evening (there is no rabbit among the charcuterie, however). There’s a Best of Led Zeppelin Saturday brunch and a Best of the Rolling Stones Sunday brunch – if you can manage to pull yourself out of the warren after the White Rabbit night-before.
Head to TWH Social Bar | Bistro for an evening snack. Located downstairs in the 1893-era Walper Hotel at the corner of King and Queen streets (and replete with tales of Al Capone’s liquor smuggling operations in the cavernous basement restaurant), TWH Social serves lunch and dinner but also a “Late Night Eats Social Bar Menu.” The charcuterie is by Pinque of Niagara with attending TWH-crafted mustards, pickled veg and cornichon, house-made pretzels, tempura popcorn shrimp and arancini as well as sandwiches and grilled Moroccan octopus. Chef Jeff Ward, formerly of Marisol Kitchener and the Oliver and Bonacini Group, is inventive and cooks with passion and solid technical execution. Open Monday-Saturday.
More Great Places to Eat This Weekend
Here are most great places to eat across Canada this weekend! Where will you be eating?
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Where to Eat This Weekend: Waterloo Region was written by Andrew Coppolino, a Kitchener-based writer and broadcaster. Former restaurant reviewer with the Waterloo Region Record, he is culinary correspondent for Rogers TV “Grand River Living” and food columnist with the Kitchener Post and CBC Radio-Canada Waterloo Region 89.1. With colleague Mark Morton of the University of Waterloo, he has published the cookbook and Elizabethan culinary history Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press, 2008). You can find Andrew at Waterloo Region Eats or on Twitter @WatRegionEats.