If all you know about Cornwall, Ont., is that it’s an exit off Highway 401 between Toronto and Montreal, it’s time to plan a detour. Ontario’s easternmost city, situated on the St. Lawrence River, has a vibrant and diverse local food scene, mostly centred within its historic — and walkable — downtown. When COVID-19 hit, the community rallied to support their local restaurants, and most independently-owned eateries survived the lockdowns. Some even grew, moving to larger locations during the pandemic.
Wondering what flavours could inspire such loyalty? Check out one of the five great spots below or, better yet, book a tour with local expert Vanessa Leduc of Cornwall Food Tours, who will share some of the social and industrial history of this small but significant hub as you stroll to your next destination.
The Spicy Pearl
Thai or Caribbean? At The Spicy Pearl, you don’t have to choose. Friends Roger and Lee, along with Roger’s wife Yada, held pop-up events to gauge the community’s interest in their unique fusion cuisine before taking the plunge and opening a sit-down restaurant in late 2019. Take our word for it: spring rolls pair incredibly well with jerk chicken.
Must-try menu items: Oxtail from the Jamaican side; red curry from the Thai side.
Truffles Burger Bar
Jewelled lamps, high ceilings and a backlit wall of wine bottles give this swanky spot a big-city nightclub vibe, but make no mistake: at Truffles, it’s all about the food. The extensive burger menu includes both classic combinations like the giant beef burger with cheddar, bacon, mushrooms and secret sauce — and more inventive options like the Santorini burger (half-beef, half-lamb patty with tzatziki and feta cheese), the Aloha burger (with back bacon, grilled pineapple and cinnamon) and the vegetarian lentil burger (with curry and cilantro yogurt).
Must-try menu item: The kangaroo burger with creamy horseradish sauce … because why not?
A downtown Cornwall staple, Schnitzels is a popular spot for everything from after-work drinks to date nights to family dinners. The menu features European-inspired comfort food such as perogies, wood-fired pizza, and the breaded, fried meat from which the restaurant draws its name. And because what’s a schnitzel without a beer to wash it down, order up a Cornwall Lager from Rurban Brewing; Schnitzel’s is one of only a handful of pubs and restaurants in town that carries the local microbrewery on tap.
Must-try menu item: The Tour of Rome, a pizza that comes with a Caesar salad on top instead of on the side.
Fairy Sweet Gourmet Bakery
Whether you’re doing the downtown food tour with Leduc or exploring on your own, you’ll want to save room for dessert. (A tall order, we know, but hear us out.) Suzanne Martin, along with her mother Sue-Anne Heitmann, started Fairy Sweet, a from-scratch bakery and chocolatier, in her kitchen in 2013. They won their current Second Street storefront in a competition sponsored by the downtown Cornwall BIA in 2018 and their cakes, cookies, bars, brownies and more are so loved by the community that they’ll soon be moving to a larger space on Pitt St. Their offerings change daily so be sure to check their Facebook page (linked above) to see what’s cooking.
Must-try menu item: Any of their keto concoctions — so good, you won’t believe they’re low-carb and sugar-free.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so whether you’re recovering from a big night out or fuelling up for a day of adventure, slide into a booth at Spinners and tuck in. Their menu features the usual diner fare of eggs your way and a choice of meats, plus extravagant indulgences like the Nutella-stuffed pancakes or tater tots smothered in sour cream. The portions are hearty, so bring your appetite — or better yet, some friends.
Must-try menu item: You really can’t go wrong here, but the aforementioned Nutella-stuffed pancakes are sure to please your inner child.