It’s no secret that there are a number of incredible restaurants in Peterborough. Visitors are guaranteed to find something delicious with every visit. However, there are a few names that stand out against the crowd. These top three local chefs are leaders in their field so don’t miss these amazing Peterborough eats next time you’re in town!
Chef Lisa Dixon of Blackhoney Cafe
Address: 217 Hunter Street West, Peterborough
Nestled in the cafe district of Peterborough is where you’ll find Chef Lisa Dixon, the force behind Blackhoney Cafe and catering. A highly-experienced pastry chef who studied at quality institutions such as the University of Ottawa, Algonquin College, and Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute, her journey began with Blackhoney as primarily a coffee shop with light pastries. After being open for a few years, she added the bakery and began utilizing the kitchen for baking, catering and offering a fantastic brunch selection that many in Peterborough rave about.
Since her journey in Peterborough began, Lisa has always had a community-minded focus. Blackhoney is not licensed and never will be as she strived to employ teens as a way to empower and inspire them. This philosophy has allowed so many young people (especially young women) to get their foot in the door of the culinary world. One such gal she hired when the cafe first opened and she’s now her right-hand manager!
It will come as no surprise that Lisa also has a heavy emphasis on sourcing as many ingredients as possible from local businesses. She works with a number of local farmers across The Kawarthas largely due to the Kawartha Choice FarmFresh Program. This economic development program began in 2003 to allow farmers, food producers, restaurants, markets and retailers to network and foster collaboration while strengthening the food economy of the region. It doesn’t get much fresher than ingredients coming straight from a farm just 15 minutes away by car! Lisa works with a number of local farms and partners to source her ingredients including Traynor Beef, Forager, Oates, Deer Bay, Christine and Howard Welch, Millar, Moffats, McCleans and Cedar Grove.
This emphasis on local means that Lisa is well-versed in utilizing a number of ingredients as well as adapting to what’s available. She loves experimenting with what’s available though lately, she has been gravitating towards a variety of sprouts. However, she does have one favourite ingredient to showcase but I’ll talk about that a bit later in this post! Overall, Lisa is often looking to support new, up-and-coming farmers to help them get established but above all – if she doesn’t like an ingredient, she won’t use it.
Sourcing local means that ingredients are bound to change and as a result, menus as well. Lisa operates Blackhoney Cafe as grab and go during the week with weekend brunch being the main focus. While typically her offerings change seasonally, changes can come sooner if an ingredient can’t be sourced locally. If it isn’t available then she’ll adapt or, if a suitable alternate can’t be arranged, will remove it from the menu. This means you never know what exactly will be on the menu but one thing I can guarantee is that it will be incredibly delicious!
For a unique taste of her culinary prowess, mark July 5th, 2023 on your calendar as she partners with Rolling Grape Vineyards for an instalment of their Harvest Dinner series. She’ll be focusing on a pescatarian menu (with vegan options!) as every vegetable from potatoes to beans will be on the menu. There might even be a dish with huckleberries as a main ingredient. If you attend, I’m definitely going to be jealous because I’ve never had a huckleberry before! Of course, you can stop by the cafe on Hunter Street Tuesday through Sunday to see what tasty eats she’s serving up if you’re unable to attend.
Chef Brad Watt of The Publican House
Address: 294 Charlotte Street, Peterborough
The Publican House was my first foray into Peterborough restaurants back in 2021 and while it was new to me, it certainly felt like a pivotal piece of the city’s culinary landscape. This stunning 170-year-old mansion that was once the Peterborough Arms became an extension of the craft brewery in 2017 to become the gastropub you see today. However, it wouldn’t be the top-quality establishment it is without the leadership of Chef Brad Watt.
Brad is no stranger to small towns or the restaurant industry as he originally hails from Prince Edward Island. He attended Humber College’s culinary school and spent some time honing his craft amidst the fast-paced environment of Toronto’s food scene. He later returned to the island where he met his future wife and business partner, Katie. Together, they chose Peterborough as their home base and have since become a pillar of the city’s food world.
It was an intricate balance of honouring the historical aspects of the Peterborough Arms while also allowing The Publican House to stand on its own. Considering it’s been one of the most talked about restaurants in Peterborough since it opened, I’d say they did a fine job! While architectural elements have been restored as a nod to the old Arms, the menu is entirely their brainchild. Starting with a simple smash burger (certainly a pub staple), the menu began to grow based on what Brad, Katie and their friend and now head Chef Becca Burke wanted to see on the menu.
I think it’s safe for me to say that they embody the old phrase “If you’re going to do it, do it right”. They imported a Stefano Ferrara pizza oven directly from Naples making their pizza some of the best in the city. As for ingredients, The Publican House is FeastON Certified meaning that at least 25% of the ingredients they use are sourced locally from Ontario producers. While the exact percentage varies by season, it’s not uncommon for the percentage to be well above that threshold! They’re also considerate of the impact of their production as spent grains from their beer are fed to the livestock at Silver Creek Farms in Millbrook, meaning less waste is sent to the landfill.
While there are a handful of craft breweries in The Kawarthas, there’s a reason why The Publican House is the first name that comes to mind. You can visit with a good conscience knowing that you’re not only supporting a local business but the entire community!
Chef Tyler Scott of Rare Escape
Address: Somewhere Around Peterborough & The Kawarthas
Tyler and his wife Kassy have always had a passion for the outdoors but the pandemic saw them re-discovering this love for nature. The restaurant industry is a difficult one one its own, let alone what the past few years have thrown at it and this dynamic duo was feeling the pressure. Luckily, their family camping trips inspired them to take better care of themselves for their own well being but more importantly, for their children. To quote them, “Life is too short and our time here is too valuable.” so they made the tough call to sell their fine dining restaurant, Rare, which allowed for Rare Escape to be born!
Tyler has always been passionate about cooking over fire and our followers were always interested in that experience. While Rare Escape originally meant escaping the city for some downtime to take care of their mental health, it now has a double meaning as they literally escaped the restaurant industry! Guests can expect a unique interpretive experience with the goal of connecting participants to the outdoors via local food cooked right in front of their eyes. Passionate about where every single ingredient is sourced from, Tyler shares stories to create an emotional memory that guests will never forget. He has an incredible talent that he loves to share with others and is known to openly share his favourite recipes. Above all, him and Kassy hope it inspires everyone to get outside and cook more often!
Being the cheeky person I am, I asked Tyler if he had a favourite ingredient he loved using in his recipes. In the same fashion that a travel writer groans at being asked to pick our favourite destination to visit, Tyler exclaimed that it was impossible to pick just one! “If I really had to choose just one thing in this moment I would say chanterelle mushrooms. They are a rare treat to find and they have a short harvest window. I love to fry them in a bit of butter and sea salt.” He then invited me to join in one of their experiences so I could find out for myself what’s been inspiring me – and I’d say that’s the best way to get an answer!
As they only sold their restaurant in September 2022, experiences are still evolving with big plans for 2023 and 2024. Right now, their most popular experience is their Lunch in the Woods where guests enjoy a guided hike and lunch at a pop-up camp of Tyler’s choosing. For intermediate paddlers, they also offer their Canoe Portage Lunch in the spring, summer and fall seasons as they take you into the heart of The Kawarthas for a culinary adventure that will be a feast for your senses. If you’re looking for something a little more low-ley, Tyler and Kassy also offer private experiences on your property over the fire and it’s not uncommon to see them collaborating with local businesses in the region.
If you’d like to hear more about their Lunch in the Woods experience, take a look at this in-depth guide by my friends over at Ultimate Ontario!
While offerings are a little sporadic right now as both Tyler and Kassy each work full-time while taking care of their two little ones, they’re planning on making their “jobby” their full-time gig when the time is right. They’re hoping to eventually over skill-based and educational-focused experiences in Peterborough when they’re able to expand. In the meantime, keep an eye on their website for full details and private bookings can be made throughout the year for four people or more starting at $150 per person.
Above all, Tyler and Kassy’s passion for cooking local food goes well beyond the ‘trend’ we’re seeing today. They dig into a deeper, more intentional and educational way of sharing delicious food. While these two hope to inspire those who join them, they are also inspired by making real connections with their participants. They foster an energy where any question is an important one! Most significantly, they’re driven to make positive changes in the industry – one step into the woods at a time.
Enjoying These Peterborough Eats at Feast on the Farm
You could probably tell by the photos above that these photos were not taken in a restaurant setting. While I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few of these establishments, I was able to enjoy an unfiltered taste of Lisa, Brad and Tyler’s culinary prowess at Peterborough’s Feast on the Farm event.
What is Feast on the Farm exactly? This ongoing series highlights the unique local flavours found in specific destinations across Ontario. It brings top chefs, local purveyors, and food lovers together for a memorable event you won’t forget. By attending, you’ll be supporting changemakers in the province who are working to make our food systems better via regenerative farming and other sustainable practices.
At the end of May, the Culinary Tourism Alliance invited each of them to showcase local ingredients to highlight the unique taste of Peterborough & The Kawarthas. A common ingredient was red fife wheat, one of Peterborough’s most famous commodities to this day. This bread wheat that Dave Fife and his family began to grow on their Peterborough farm in 1842 became the standard for Canadian wheat in the late 1800s. In fact, many of the bread wheat varieties in Canada are somehow genetically connected to red fife wheat! It’s no wonder these chefs wanted to show it off.
Lisa treated attendees to a red fife wheat bannock canapé with smoked trout mousse topped with radish sprouts. For a vegan and gluten-free version, we enjoyed falafel with apple slices and carrot paté. Her main dish was a fried zucchini nest with soft egg sous vide, beet “down” that was then finished with sumac-spiced hollandaise. Vegans enjoyed sous vide tofu and a miso “hollandaise”.
Brad whipped up some maple-poached Otonobee bacon canapés with a spiced pea purée to start. it was followed by Kawartha pork and wild leek sausages served atop wild rice and cheddar porridge, finished with maple and bee pollen. Vegetarians were treated to roasted Kendal Hills Farm Mushrooms as an alternative to the sausage.
Lastly but certainly not least, Tyler spoiled the crowd with confit duck on red fife fry bread with wild leek salsa verde, goat ricotta and maple syrup, creating an incredible sweet and spicy combo that tickled the taste buds. Roasted oyster mushrooms were swapped for the duck to make this dish vegetarian-friendly. He rounded out the day with a local herbal tea-infused Panna Cotta topped with maple syrup and puffed wild rice granola.
For more amazing experiences to enjoy in Peterborough, check out this guide!
While the Peterborough event has come and gone, there are more Feast on the Farm events coming down the pipeline. Take a look at the Culinary Tourism Alliance website for more details on the upcoming events in Temiskaming Shores, Wellington County and Huron County. Who knows, maybe more events will join the lineup as the year progresses! There are some seriously great eats in store for all who attend so mark your calendars now.
This post was created in partnership with Peterborough & The Kawarthas Tourism. While I was compensated for my time, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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