We all know about the 100km diet and the importance of eating locally. Driving double that distance for a restaurant dinner may be distinctly carbon unfriendly, but can be justified when the boîte in question is as superb as East and Main Bistro. It takes its unpretentious name from its location on the Loyalist Parkway (Hwy 33) in the heart of Wellington, a pretty, small town in Prince Edward County right on Lake Ontario.
Since opening two years ago, East and Main has found its way onto the radar of Toronto foodies, boosted by rave reviews from the likes of James Chatto and Jamie Kennedy. Writing in Toronto Life, the latter termed it “a remarkable place that’s become a destination in the county.” Chef Lili Sullivan paid Hogtown dues at Auberge du Pommier and The Rebel House prior to moving to PEC.
I checked out East and Main one year ago during the Countylicious festival, and, a fairly long wait for a table aside, came away impressed. I returned this October for Countylicious 2012, this time making an advance reservation. Just as well, given the full house we encountered this Friday evening. We were quickly escorted to a comfortable booth for two at the back, and presented with a high-quality and extensive wine list. It featured plenty of local County entries, alongside international wines. A small but balanced and fairly priced selection of wines by the glass was on offer; I chose the Sandbanks Riesling (that vineyard, just a few kilometres away), my companion an Italian primitivo. Each glass came with its small individual carafe, a distinguished touch.
We’d perused the Countylicious menu in advance, and appetizer anticipation proved justified. I opted for the smoked pickerel, served atop avocado, orange, apple and fennel slaw and dressed with lemon aioli. The slaw proved a perfect match for the subtly smoked and delightfully tender fish. It’s very easy for smoked fish to be a little tough, but this was flawless. My companion’s charcuterie starter was small but delicious, comprising creamy and rich duck terrine, soprasetta and chorizo-style sausage, accompanied by Lili’s pickles and drunken Waupoos blueberries (Waupoos is a lovely part of the County). We learned that the cured meat comes from a Kingston supplier, confirming East and Main’s commitment to the use of area meats and produce.
The striploin in my companion’s main was billed as local and grass-fed. Accompanied by the inevitable frites (it’s a bistro, after all) and wild mushroom jus, the 10 oz. slab of meat came at the requested medium. The piece I sampled was just a fraction short of melt-in-the-mouth tender, but was certainly tasty. Absolutely no reservations about my chosen main, a generously sized slab of smoked pork tenderloin, with a mustard crust, and drizzled decadently with a bourbon sauce. This fungiphobe passed on the wild mushrooms option, but was more than content with the Stilton-laced polenta and perfectly cooked snippets of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and green beans. The pork was deliciously juicy.
The stellar standards remained for our desserts. The cheese plate showcased the County’s much-praised new producer, Fifth Town, with samples of Wishing Tree (a prize-winning hard sheep’s milk cheese) and a chèvre style, alongside crisp green apple, nine-grain crostini and a tomato chutney. I chose the pear mincemeat and Waupoos (them again) apple tart with vanilla ice cream, a suitably rural coda to one memorable meal.
East and Main has an appropriate bistro ambience. Wooden floors and earthen colors are complemented by plenty of mirrors, bunched curtains, attractive antique-style light fixtures, and a large chandelier over the bar area. Good acoustics here, too: Noise levels remained low, despite the full house (the background jazz was suitably muted). Some T.O. restos could learn from this (are you listening, Keriwa Cafe?).
The Countylicious $30 prix fixe deal ended in the fall, but the dishes described remain on the Bistro menu, alongside such tempting choices as lobster ravioli, coq au vin and duck confit. The restaurant is also open for lunch, and tasty County cheeses and preserves are available for purchase.
As the focus of a getaway culinary weekend to the very picturesque Prince Edward County, set your gourmet GPS to East and Main.
East and Main Bistro 613-399-5420
Dinner: Thursday through Monday, 5:30p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
270 Main Street, Wellington, Ontario
Image courtesy of Alexandra Moss.