Raise a glass to classic food for all occassions
By Jason Dickson
Photographs by Paul Bennett
The Old Station Restaurant in Bracebridge is, for many, one of the best places in Muskoka to go for classic meals prepared in house. Its relaxed atmosphere, popular summer patio and welcoming staff are what keeps customers coming back.
Behind the scenes is Gwen Holmes, an innovative chef who has developed quite a following among local foodies who adore her creative culinary creations.
“We strive to take a part in the culture of food at The Old Station,” says Holmes. “We want to put a signature on everything we do.”
That signature is a celebration of classic menu items prepared with an emphasis on consistency, flavour and fresh ingredients
Holmes explains that her culinary background dictates the necessity of making food from scratch.
“When I was an apprentice you couldn’t buy Alfredo sauce,” says Holmes. “You had to learn how to make it yourself.”
This knowledge, according to Holmes, is often lost on many restaurants. At chain restaurants, for example, the food is often delivered already seasoned and prepared. To Holmes this is a regrettable short cut.
“I’m part of a generation of cooks who know how to build it from scratch,” she says. “This kind of cooking is not for the faint of heart.”
The chef’s professional background includes a formative stint at the four-star Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, as well as a decade of successful work at Patterson-Kaye Lodge in Bracebridge.
One of the most satisfying skills she developed was an ability to walk into a restaurant cooler each day, see what was available, and start creating.
“We’d all arrive at one o’clock, make a big pot of tea, and collectively write a market sheet,” Holmes says of the approach used at one establishment she worked for.
Building a daily menu from scratch is a skill Holmes holds dear and it shows in the food she prepares at The Old Station.
Holmes revels in being in the kitchen. There she soaks in the smell of Yorkshire pudding coming fresh out of the oven, or a slowly roasting prime rib. Quality is key and she is strict when it comes to the standards and ingredients that go into each dish.
“I’m like a drill sergeant,” Holmes explains.
She structures her kitchen accordingly. At the beginning of the shift, the kitchen staff gather for instructions about the evening’s menu. There is a recipe file of stringent instructions regarding ingredients.
“Every time wings or hamburgers are prepared,” explains Holmes, “the seasonings remain the same.”
Her mantra is that if it’s going to be cooked, then it must be cooked right.
“I’ve always got spoons in my pocket,” explains Holmes, “because you’ve always got to taste everything!”
As part of Savour Muskoka, The Old Station sources as many fresh, locally grown ingredients as possible. shiitake mushrooms, fresh herbs and baby Ontario asparagus all come from the region and are served fresh.
Holmes visits the Bracebridge Farmer’s Market each Saturday during the summer. There she purchases everything from fresh shallots to raspberries.
“I just might buy some rhubarb for our citrus and rhubarb butter,” says Holmes.
Meats and fish arrive at the restaurant untouched, and Holmes fillets her own fish and cuts her own steak.
Although she refuses to give away her secret recipe, Holmes explains that the restaurant’s popular chicken wings are seasoned and baked in-house, to be deep-fried only after the order is placed.
“All of the time and labour goes into them beforehand,” says Holmes. “My prep is not taking wings out of a bag.”
The hamburgers are made using fresh ground beef and formed by hand, with no stamps or presses. The soups are also made from scratch, always with fresh vegetables and homemade stock.
“You must be able to taste everything that goes into the food,” explains Holmes. “To me that is very important.”
Fridays are Fresh Cut Night at The Old Station. Fresh Ontario pickerel, for example, comes in off of the lake and to the plate freshly prepared.
“We’re a from-scratch environment,” says Holmes. “I know with 100 per cent certainty what is in each dish.”
It’s that commitment to fresh food, as well as the variety on the menu that keeps customers coming back. The Old Station’s regulars often come in one week to enjoy a homemade burger and might be back the next week to celebrate a special occasion with a certified Angus steak and a bottle of wine.
“This is a great working family restaurant,” Holmes says. “We take our lessons from the people who walk through the door.”
The Old Station has also recently become a popular place to stage rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions. It has also found success hosting Christmas parties, with a special Christmas menu written each year by Holmes and owner Mike Warr.
The Old Station Restaurant blends the comfort of homemade classics with the quality of fine dining, which makes it the perfect spot to unwind and enjoy a meal with friends and family – no matter what the occasion.
Chef Gwen Holmes is secretive about her recipes, but agreed to share this one with Muskoka Magazine:
1 lb fresh PEI mussels
½ tsp chopped shallots
½ tsp chopped garlic
4 oz “Muskoka Pilsner Light” beer
4 oz homemade tomato sauce
½ cup baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
½ loaf of bread
1. Using a sauté pan, get pan hot.
2. Add in mussels, shallots and garlic.
3. Pour over “Muskoka Pilsner Light.”
4. Cover and allow mussels to steam.
5. In approx. 5 min. remove lid, season with salt and pepper, add in tomato sauce.
6. Once all mussels have opened toss in baby spinach.
7. Pour into serving bowl. Finish with toasted garlic bread for dipping. Enjoy!
YOUR GUIDE TO FINE DINING IN MUSKOKA
Arowhon Pines Resort &
Arowhon Pines is located at KM 16 in Algonquin park, far off the beaten track, in the middle of the woods. We are famous for our spectacular wilderness location, peaceful atmosphere and superb kitchen.
Our dining room is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changes daily and seasonally; should you wish to know the day’s entrees, it’s best to call that morning.
Meals are served in a six-sided heritage log dining room with central stone fireplace and wraparound views of lake and forest.
Bring your own wine – we’ll uncork it for you. There is no corkage fee.
Groups of 10 or more who book a meal can enjoy a complimentary boat cruise of the lakes.
Arrive early and enjoy your wine on our veranda overlooking the lake. Dress is casual. 705-633-5661, www.arowhonpines.ca
Bala Bay Inn
Join us at the refurbished, historical Bala Bay Inn. Enjoy a signature martini from Muskoka’s longest list in the new dining room, Ghosts, or a refreshing pint in The Grill Patio overlooking Lake Muskoka.
Call 705-762-3313 for reservations or www.balabayinn.com info on our “Muskoka’s Best Value Wedding Packages.” Closed Monday and Tuesday in September and October.
Bartlett Lodge – Algonquin Park
Find out why our dining room is becoming a not-to-be-missed evening out while in Muskoka. Take a boat ride to dinner and experience exceptional cuisine. Revisit Algonquin’s past, recreated in our tabletop models of former Algonquin resorts.
Dinner is served at 6 and 8 p.m. Call for reservations, 705-633-5543, or visit our website:www.bartlettlodge.com.
Chefs Richard and Julie Lalonde welcome you to Crossroads in the village of Rosseau. Come enjoy our breathtaking view of Lake Rosseau, extensive wine list, welcoming staff and our wonderful cottage feel. Our upscale, casual cuisine features dishes made with love, using the best of what nature has to offer. We are open year-round and are now booking private functions and meetings. We are now baking fresh pies, cakes and breads. We are also taking orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Please call 705-732-4343 for reservations.
Since 1935, Killarney Lodge has earned a reputation for friendly, attentive service and fine country dining. In the dining room, the original fireplace casts a warm glow over diners, creating a relaxed and rustic atmosphere in the intimate log rooms.
Join us in the heart of Algonquin Park for lunch or dinner. Please call 705-633-5551 for dinner reservations.
There is no better way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or just a night off than with a lunch or sunset dinner cruise on the RMS Segwun or Wenonah II. Our staff will pamper and indulge your every whim as you ply the gorgeous waters of Lake Muskoka. Unforgettable evenings are created aboard as you admire the gleaming polished brass and varnished gumwood interior of the ship's one-of-a-kind dining salon, and take-in the wondrous scenery of Lake Muskoka. For smaller gatherings, enjoy our private Commodore’s dining room found on the upper deck of the Wenonah II. Step back in time, and discover the romance of our dining rooms featuring the fine cuisine of North Restaurant, and the fine brews of Muskoka Lakes Cottage Brewery, Sleeman Brewery, and the Pelee Island Winery. For information on our dining cruises call 1-866-687-6667 or visit www.realmuskoka.com.
The Norsemen Restaurant is Muskoka’s ultimate fine dining experience, noted for its fine European and Canadian cuisine. Featuring outstanding game, seafood and steak in a historic lodge with stone fireplaces and a rare “Old Muskoka” charm, the Norsemen has a reputation for great food and great times.
Les Gayne, owner of the Norsemen, and Chef Harvey Cross have a commitment to superb cuisine you can’t get anywhere else. Our wine list is carefully selected to offer a wide range of fine wines to compliment your dinner. With our $39 three-course fixed price specials, you can have a great dining experience at an affordable price.
Join us for live jazz and blues every Friday, starting July 2. We’re located just 10 minutes from Huntsville on Limberlost Road. Get off the beaten path, enjoy the lakeside view, and savour the superb cuisine. www.norsemen-walkerlake.com. 705-635-2473, 800-565-3856.
Port Cunnington Lodge
Port Cunnington Lodge and Resort is committed to creating a perfect Muskoka experience. Your evening begins in the dining room with a beautiful view of the sun-kissed water on Lake of Bays. Sit back and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while you dine in country elegance. A variety of foods are offered, from Beef Wellington prepared to your specifications, to the famous phyllo wrapped baked cheesecake.
Chef Eric Gagnon takes great pride in his execution and displays his passion upon each plate. Complement your evening with a selection from our international wine list or cool off with a refreshing cocktail.
Our menu is moderately priced at $40 per person for a three course meal. To join us for the perfect experience, please call 1-800-894-1105 for reservations.
R & L Bistro
Traditional and Modern French Bistro Cuisine awaits you at R&L Bistro at 193 Manitoba St. in Bracebridge.
A warm, modern, comfortable interior prepares you for an exquisite bistro experience. From the welcoming greetings, casual atmosphere and expertly prepared food, a gourmet experience awaits.
Choose from traditional French dishes such as Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, Sole Meuniere, Moules Mariniere and Baked Escargots. Or from contemporary dishes including, Goat Cheese Crostini, Warm Mushroom and Aged Cheddar Salad, New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Seafood Fettuccine Pesto or Chicken Cordon Bleu Supreme.
Finish with one of our decadent traditional French desserts or Selection of fine cheeses.
Our extensive wine list was selected to reflect the distinctive flavours of each dish.
Reservations can be made at 705-646-2237 or via our website at www.rlbistro.ca.
At Taboo Resort, Golf and Spa, guests enjoy a wide variety of dining experiences. Experience an evolution in dining at Elements – three unique dining atmospheres in one unique space. Elements and the Culinary Theatre offer guests sophisticated cuisine and a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Relax and unwind in the Elements Lounge for casual fare and stunning panoramic views of Lake Muskoka. During July and August, be sure to visit The Boathouse for pub-style fare and enjoy a sunset vista and wraparound deck. 705-687-2233, www.tabooresort.com.
Teca is the spot for “simply Italian” cuisine at The Rosseau, A JW Marriott Resort & Spa in the heart of the Muskoka Lakes. It begins with the delightful option to valet park the car. Once inside this cozy little bistro, the atmosphere is at once lively and relaxing, as guests are welcomed to a total experience for the senses. Diners hear the banter of chefs while watching them throw pizza dough made from imported Italian flour. Catch the scent of fresh basil coming from the woodstone oven and feel a wonderful sense of anticipation as the risotto is presented in a copper bowl, or the antipasto is served on a board, for sharing.
Desserts made from the resort bakeshop, including gelato, tiramisu and tiny cookies, complete the evening. No wonder this restaurant was named one of the top ten new restaurants in Canada by Where Magazine.
Teca is located at The Rosseau, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa at 1050 Paignton House Rd, Minett. For reservations please call 1-866-240-8605 or 705-765-1900.
The Moose Café
Casual dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Breakfast, lunch and bistro style dinners. Favourites include
the Great Canadian Moose Breakfast, great burgers, steaks, trout, salads and sandwiches, homemade soups, desserts and baked goods, world “famoose” butter tarts.
Dinner reservations appreciated. 2803 Hwy 60, Dwight. Call 705-635-9639 or visit www.moosecafe.ca for more details.
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