Where do you think of when you think of great food in Canada?
Is it the multicultural tastes of Toronto? Is it the new age flair of Vancouver? What about the classic dishes of St. Johns? Another big city?
The fact is that when we think of food, we think of the places with the most amount of people. It makes sense too. Lots of people means lots of opportunities for chefs, which means lots of restaurants, which means more great places to eat. So if we want great food we have to go to the city right? Well, maybe not. I'll give Fergus as an example.
Growing up in Fergus, options were definitely limited. We had your typical small town establishments: a diner, a pizza place, a burger stop, and a couple of Chinese places. While this did the job for a convenient meal when you didn't feel like cooking, it wasn't anything special. Anytime you wanted a good meal you would have to drive into Guelph or Kitchener for higher quality options.
Then something changed.
I can't put my finger on exactly when, but great places to eat started popping up all over the place. From traditional pub fare, to sushi, to Indian food, to fine dining there's finally options in Fergus. Currently I have two favourite dishes in town. One is a lobster mac and cheese from North River Lounge. It's made with butter poached Nova Scotia lobster in a creamy three cheese sauce finished with a crispy lemon panko crust. The other is the chicken avocado sandwich at the Leslie Public House. While simpler, everything is cooked to perfection, with the best combination of ingredients.
It is also worth noting that this isn't only happening in Fergus. Small towns throughout the country are getting restaurants originally thought to only be in large cities.
So what changed?
While we can't know for sure what happened to cause this "small town push" I have some ideas. I think now more than ever, people appreciate good food. If you can cook, and give delicious meals, any restaurant can find customers. This is especially true with the internet. You don't have to rely on people stumbling through your door when you have great reviews and advertising online. Now, if you're a great chef, you can be confident that if what you are producing is good, people will find you and will keep on coming back no matter where you are.
If you like food, there is no better time to be alive. Not only do the big cities continue to show the best of Canadian cuisine, our small towns do as well. I recommend always keeping your ear to the ground, you never know where you'll find your next favourite dish. And if you find yourself in Fergus, make sure you're hungry! You will not be disappointed.