Cornwall is Ontario’s eastern most city, and unfortunately often gets a bad rap for those who don’t really know the place. I’ve heard it talked about by friends as being a “stinky hole.” The ‘stinky’ part is in reference to the old paper mill that used to be there, which actually did produce an awful stench that would just hover over the city, but that mill along with Cortauld’s cotton mill is long gone. And the ‘hole’ part is in reference to the fact that if you don’t scratch the surface of Cornwall, it may seem that there’s nothing to do.
Don’t get me wrong, Cornwall is a peculiar city, with it’s sea of small vinyl sided houses in many of the neighbourhoods. Then there’s Cornwall’s topless man phenomenon in the summer. That’s where men of all shapes and sizes class up the place by walking around the city topless, while going about their daily activities on hot summer days. I’ve also never seen so many people, young and old, that walk the streets in their pyjamas as I do in Cornwall. Cornwall also has a serious lack of quality night life besides a couple of night clubs that keep closing and then reopening under new names, all of these things may give Cornwall an impression of lacking in charm.
But there is so much more to Cornwall if you only look. Just don’t expect to see it if, as a resident you don’t go out beyond your big box shopping, and chain restaurant eating. Don’t expect to see if you only ever pass through Cornwall, stopping only to gas up, go for a pee and load up on snacks en route to some other destination, which Cornwall is popular for as it’s situated only 22km away from the U.S. border, about 1oo km away from Ottawa, 115 km away from Montreal and 437 km away from Toronto.
If you’re willing to look, what you’ll find is a city that does have much to offer. It’s host to the annual Lift Off event for starters, which is four days of carnival, hot air balloon festival and performances by some pretty big names (I still have fond memories of being stage side watching an amazing performance by one of my favourite artists; Amanda Marshall.) And it all takes place in water front Lamoureux park, another of Cornwall’s assets. Cornwall also has a great bike path network that runs along the water and through the city. For social butterflies there are many activities and clubs, from curling, to walking clubs, to Toastmasters, the Rotary and Lions Club, swimming, hockey and more. If you include the surrounding counties then your options for activity dramatically increase.
I know, I know when am I going to get to the food?
Another area where Cornwall has made a great impression on me is with some of the restaurants that are popping up all over the place, the impression was so considerable that it inspired me to come up with my top 5 restaurants of Cornwall. These restaurants are genuinely delicious and would give eateries in any metropolitan city a run for their money.
1404, Pitt Street
A Mexican restaurant located in what used to be a chip stand on Pitt street, is owned and run by Ivan Contreras Sanchez, a man born in Tampico, Mexico. The food is homemade, right down to the flour burritos and corn tacos. I’m no connoisseur of Mexican food and haven’t eaten much of it due to a couple of bad experiences I’ve had in the past, but Tampicos has converted me into a Mexican food fan. During my short stay in Cornwall I ate there twice, the first time I had the pork taco and the second time the beef and chicken mix burrito with a side of refried beans, I’d highly recommend both. Both times I was there the place was full, so be prepared to possibly do take out, because it’s an order at the counter kind of place, with only three places at the counter adjacent from where you place your order, on the inside of the restaurant and another three places at a counter outside the restaurant on the verandah.
800, Cumberland Street
One of the things I like most about Eight Zero Zero; Cornwall’s answer to fine dining, is the atmosphere. The big tree in the middle of the restaurant whose branches extend up to, and along the ceiling, the mirrors and exposed white bricks on the walls, the white seats and tablecloths give the place what I think is an elegant look. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the time to eat there during this past visit to Cornwall, but every time I had eaten there the food was always well prepared using fresh ingredients. The chef describes his brand of cooking as “Freestyle Canadian.” The filet mignon at Eight Zero Zero is one of my favourite dishes and would recommend anything on their “Signature Dishes” list.
155, Pitt Street
Truffles is a gourmet burger restaurant that was around before I left Canada, I had only been there once, ordered the veggie burger (I know what was I thinking), which I found dry and unappetising. I never went back. Well the restaurant ended up burning down and rebuilding at another location on Pitt street while I was away. My bestie gave the restaurant a really positive review so I decided to give it another shot, and I’m glad I did.
I ordered a cheese burger, but fancied it up with brie cheese and caramelised onions. They have a list of unconventional burger sides, like truffles fries; hand cut french fries, tossed with truffle oil, and parmesan cheese (DIVINE) . The Plantain chips drizzled in honey are equally tasty, unfortunately I didn’t get to try the yam fries. The patties are hand made, and was nice and juicy, just the way I like it. It seems a burger that is just a little pink (and I really mean ever so slightly) on the inside is hard to come by, everyone being so afraid of mad cow, cook their burgers well done, often leaving them very dry if you don’t know how to cook a burger properly.
1615 Pitt Street
Thum’s is probably one of my all time favourite restaurants (notice I didn’t say “in Cornwall”). Thai is one of my favourite types of food and I can honestly say that Thums can hold their own even compared to Thai restaurants in bigger cities, (and I’ve eaten at A LOT of Thai restaurants). I love how the owner and manger is always front and centre at the restaurant, welcoming in her patrons. The Thai inspired ambiance of her restaurant just adds to the authenticity.
My all time favourite dish is the yellow curry chicken. I swear if sunshine had a taste it would be this yellow curry. It’s so smooth thick, and rich with plenty of chunks of tender chicken and potato. I also love the spring rolls both the cold and deep fried ones that come accompanied with either a sweet and sour or a spicy peanut dipping sauce.
Thums is not known for their fast service but the staff is friendly and the food is worth the wait.
202 2nd Street East
Cline House Tea Room is really unique. It’s a small room located in the back of Logan’s Gallery on 2nd Street. Mike Logan is the friendly owner of the gallery, he sells art work and can take care of all your framing needs, but is also the chef for everything to do with the tea house. He has some staples that you can get at any time, like his impressive assortment of teas, his fluffy scones which he serves with hand whipped cream, butter, and homemade jam, as well as a variety of quiches. He periodically supplements this everyday menu with other themed menus, usually matching seasons or holidays. You can even reserve the cozy tea room and have him create a special menu for your specific occasion.
I tell you the man is a genius when it comes to cooking, you can taste that his love of cooking is in his heart and soul. His tender roasts, the meat melting in your mouth, his homemade soups that warm you on cold fall afternoons, or his sweet pies and other desserts that you’d swear your grandmother just made.
You’ll have to like his page on FB to keep up to date with when he is doing his themed dinner because he has no website yet.
And there you have 5 delicious reasons (among other things) to stay awhile next time you’re passing through Cornwall, maybe this post will even inspire to make a trip specifically to Cornwall to experience first hand what it has to offer.