Celebrate craft beer with The Griffin Gastropub
By Dianne Park Thach
The Griffin Gastropub is a hidden gem enjoyed by those in the know. Tucked away at the top of the red brick path of Chancery Lane in Bracebridge, it is a hot spot for craft beer aficionados and foodies.
Just who the pub attracts can be described in three groups, says Curt Dunlop, co-proprietor of The Griffin.
“We’regoing after people who are passionate about supporting local business, whether it’s local food, or local beer, wine. We go after people who appreciate good acoustic music,” he says. “And we go after people who are food and beer snobs. They’re looking for something homemade, something unique, quality ingredients, and good value for their money.”
Once a lawyer’s office, the building that houses The Griffin was built in 1920 and was converted into a pub in 1997. After changing ownership a couple times, the pub was purchased in 2008 by childhood friends Dunlop and Jed Corbeil who were looking for a change in their careers.
“We bought this out of the love of music and entertaining, not because of any expertise in the field,” says Dunlop. “Neither of us had ever done anything like this before.”
Not much changed about the pub when Dunlop and Corbeil took over. They sat at the bar in the evenings and observed how everything functioned, from the staff to customers. Though they may not have had any formal experience running a pub, what they did know was how to entertain people, and both enjoyed inviting friends to their homes and providing great food and drinks.
“It’s kind of an extension of that,” Dunlop says, thoughtfully. “We wanted to create a place where people can come and hang out. It’s a cozy and friendly atmosphere.”
The pub is definitely cozy. It’s an intimate space, a feature emphasized by the dark wood found throughout – from the tables, to the floors, to the bar.
The current draught offerings are written on a chalkboard and on a wall hangs a poster of Dunlop and Corbeil, advertising Thursday nights at the pub when they perform with guitar and stand-up bass. An impressive collection of beer taps of different breweries line the top of the wall shelving behind the bar. The outdoor patio is perfect for sipping a cold pint, and upstairs the private dining room has an open window to the kitchen.
The Griffin’s staff is an extension of the clientele, says Dunlop. They’re passionate people. Some are vegan, others vegetarian. Many are gardeners and they’re environmentally conscious. All are friendly. Some don yellow Beer Snob T-shirts with The Griffin logo. Hugh, who works behind the bar, makes you feel like you’ve known him for years.
Having great staff is one way that The Griffin wanted to stand out. At the time Dunlop and Corbeil bought the pub, there were a couple chain restaurants opening in the area. They were determined to create a unique identity, wanting that reflected in everything from their cutlery to their beer offerings.
“Getting involved with craft breweries was the first step,” says Dunlop, who adds that there was a lot of excitement from the breweries, which were eager to help when the pair took over the pub.
After five to six months of working with them, Dunlop and Corbeil realized the breweries were passionate about what they did and were excited to be involved in the industry. Feeding off of that energy, Dunlop and Corbeil hosted parking lot parties, continuing a tradition from the previous owners. The lot in front of the pub is sectioned off, tables and food are set out, and a brewery or two is represented. The success from those parties had them thinking about doing it on a bigger scale.
“They were all over it,” Dunlop says of the reaction from breweries.
Needless to say, the first annual Muskoka Beer Festival was a hit, drawing 1,000 visitors.
“We had 17 breweries from all over Ontario last summer at our first festival. And that was unheard of because there were only 11 breweries that we could actually get product from up here,” he says.
This year’s festival had even more breweries represented and a partnership with Savour Muskoka gave participants a taste of what the region has to offer. “You get the full local experience,” says Dunlop.
The Griffin has also teamed up with Savour Muskoka on another new venture. Having been offered opportunities from local breweries to be involved in the process to make beer, Dunlop and Corbeil waited a couple years so they could come up with a good idea.
“Then it jumped out at us one day when we were chatting with Savour Muskoka,” says Dunlop. “We were thinking of all the different members, from farmers to producers to restaurants. We thought, ‘Why not get the whole supply chain involved?’”
Everyone’s ideas and palates were brought to the table, and while it is still a work in progress they plan to launch the beer when they’ve got it right. Every ingredient and flavour in the creation will be locally sourced, whether it’s cranberries from Bala or coffee from the roastery. And even though one brewery is producing it, there will be five to seven companies standing behind the product.
“It would show that we can all work together, and it would show that there are local flavours in your beer,” explains Dunlop.
Educating people about beer is something The Griffin is eager to offer, and Dunlop says a person’s palate preference for wine should be the same for beer. “Really, you should be able to go anywhere in the world and say, ‘I want a merlot from Australia.’ Ordering a beer should be similar. You should be able to go somewhere and say, ‘I want a malty beer,’ or ‘I want a German-style wheat beer.’ We’re trying to get people to understand the flavours that they’re looking for in their beers.”
Much like a wine suggestion paired for a menu item, The Griffin’s menu has two columns: food suggestions on the left and beer type pairing on the right. Theres even a beer suggestion for the dessert offerings. Dunlop says people aren’t aware of the numerous options that exist in beers.
“I think people are uneducated about the full range of flavours available,” he says.
The Griffin offers 10 different taps of draught beer and about 25 different kinds bottled. The brands are rotated, and some are kept available for longer periods of time. Dunlop firmly believes the craft beers served at the pub will stand up to any mass-produced beer and he encourages people to come in and take the challenge. “I say, ‘Bring it on,’” he grins.
YOUR GUIDE TO FINE DINING IN MUSKOKA
Arowhon Pines Resort & Restaurant
– KM 16 Algonquin Park
Arowhon Pines is located far off the beaten track, in the middle of the woods of Algonquin park. 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 wrap around 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 for 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. 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.
Delta Sherwood Inn
Simplicity meets culinary creativity in the kitchen at Delta Sherwood Inn.
Here, ingredients are allowed to express their natural flavours, albeit with some unique accents. A simple appetizer selection such as Muskoka grown organic greens for instance, may come to your table with a mouthwatering display of toasted pine nuts, onions, parmesan regganino, grape tomatoes and drizzled with Sherwood's White Balsamic Vinaigrette, just one of the bottled products available through the Taste of Sherwood product line. Other products available through this line include Muskoka Onion Marmalade, Muskoka Lakes Maple Syrup and Honeycup Mustard Dressing, handcrafted recipes by Chef de Cuisine Matthew Toni and bottled by Yummies in a Jar.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, experience a unique dining experience overlooking the shores of Lake Joseph, at Delta Sherwood Inn. Call 705-765-3131.
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 the 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 board 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
One Fifty Five
Voted “Best Fine Dining in Muskoka,” popular restaurant one fifty five caters to food lovers. Concentrating on local ingredients and seasonal dishes, one fifty five consistently receives rave reviews.
Its Panko Crusted Ontario Pickerel is sidelined by basil and tomato salsa and leek risotto, staring fresh produce from the restaurant’s gardens and local farmers. Pastas are handmade onsite and desserts like its Warm French Chocolate Tart are earning a reputation of their own. Chef owner Michael Rickard offers a unique culinary experience to be savoured which includes many a guest visiting his kitchen. For an intimate evening meal, one fifty five offers the perfect inviting ambiance with a reasonably priced wine list. For a more casual lunch designed to fit into a busy day in Muskoka, one fifty five awaits you. Excellent catering menu for events of all sizes available. Early dinner specials.
155 Manitoba Street, Bracebridge. 705-645-1935.
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 gelatos, 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.