From medieval swordplay displays by modern-day Knights in Shining Armor, to steampunked characters right out of a time-warped spaghetti western, a recent visit to Coldwater, Ontario, turned out to be full of surprises, especially coming from a tiny village of only about 12,000 people. But one of the most delightful of them all was a dining destination of the calibre you would expect to find further south in the downtown streets of Toronto: the Mill Street Bistro.
Although I am not what I would consider a true foodie (I’m too picky about nasty vegetables like green peppers, and anything on my plate with more than 4 legs or antennae kinda freaks me out), I do know a gem of a meal when I taste it, and Joey Malandrino, the chef at the Mill Street Bistro, delivered just that. (So I figured I’d better write this post before my gastronomic memory fails me and time dulls the pleasure of our dinner there.)
Joey and his wife, Julie, are owners of the Bistro, and made the move to Coldwater almost 8 years ago, to pursue the dream of running their own restaurant, having lived in Toronto where Joey trained under renowned chef Claudio Aprilo (of Origin fame). They chose the historic Mill as the restaurant’s location, not only because it is situated right downtown, but because of its rustic charm and history dating back to 1833. The unpretentious and inviting ambience of the restaurant reflects this, with original wood beams, a cozy dining room next to the open kitchen, and in the summer, a shaded outdoor patio overlooking the adjacent river where you’re likely to see fishermen casting their lines as you enjoy your meal.
My dinner started with one of my favourites appetizers: a velvety-smooth chicken live pâte with balsamic vinegar and olive-oil drizzled over home-baked crostini, which although a little overly-crunchy for my liking, provided the perfect vehicle for the savoury spread and the parmigiano and tomato garnishes.
Next up was a taste of cauliflower and potato soup garnished with slivers of scallions, which was delicate, flavourful and although creamy, not dairy-heavy.
Following this came something I typically avoid in most restaurants, even the ‘good’ Italian ones: risotto. The reason for this is simple – I’m a self-proclaimed risotto snob, and have been disappointed too many times by boiled-rice-in-sauce impostors that too many restaurants try to pass off as the real thing. Authentic risotto is made by slowly adding flavoured stock to arborio rice, not vice-versa, and a true risotto should take a half hour before it reaches the perfect ‘al dente’ texture – and your plate. If it takes less time than this, the kitchen is taking shortcuts that they shouldn’t.
Fortunately, the basil risotto that Joey sent over was anything but a disappointment. Made with herbs from his own garden, the risotto was as light and fresh as summer, but with the strength of parmigiano to give it a little oomph, and the perfect texture to give it a little tooth to match. Yum!
With three appetizers down, next up was the entrée: soft polenta topped with melting brie, assorted sautéed wild mushrooms and crisp arugula. Again, having grown up with polenta, I know a good one when I taste one, and this one was very, very good, with the addition of the brie adding another level of creaminess that was complemented perfectly by the woodsy flavours of the ‘shrooms.
(FYI, I hadn’t started out to create such a carb-tastic menu for my dinner, but Joey graciously sent over samplers of the soup and the risotto for Henk and I to taste, and as it turned out, I was very grateful he had, because both were absolutely delicious!)
Meanwhile, while I was indulging in every-carb-on-the-menu-but-the-pasta, Henk had selected a goat cheese and in-season beat salad appetizer of his own (he’s a huge beet fan and loved it), and for his main he tried the pan-seared Lake Trout.
Although his trout may not have come from the river fishermen below the Mill, it was as fresh and delicious as if it had!
Like every good traveller, I did a little research before deciding to try the Mill Bistro, and even though I had read some of the reviews about the Mill being a ‘hidden gem’, I was a little skeptical, given its location in particular. But the Mill Street Bistro, like the town of Coldwater itself, turned out to be one of the best ‘off the beaten track’ discoveries anyone could hope to find. My only regret about our experience was that both Henk and I were too satisfied with our meals to do justice to Joey’s desserts – which sounds to me like the perfect excuse to return and maybe try some of Joey’s pasta, too!
TIP: The Mill Street Bistro isn’t that far off the beaten track at all: twenty minutes northwest of Orillia, and only a short detour off Hwy 400, if you are looking for a top-notch restaurant in Ontario’s Lake Country, look no further. Get Google map directions here. or call (705) 686-3089 if you want to secure one of the spaces.
Special thanks to Ontario’s Lake Country tourism for hosting us, and to Joey and Julie Malandrino at the Mill Street Bistro who treated us to a delicious dinner!