We entered the cafe to a grand welcome. Rob and Jennifer greeted us warmly and pointed us to the bar where we could have a glass of red or white wine, part of their collection of 250 different wines. Spread out on a table were gifts of t-shirts, pens and sample menus for those of us on the tour. As we waited for some delectable food samples to arrive, the couple told us about some of the more prominent decorative features in the restaurant. I'm sure every item in there has a fascinating tale behind it.
This massive wooden shark began as a fallen tree in the Guelph area and made it's way to the Explorer's Cafe when it's creator came to town to do the blue tile compass inlaid in the centre of the bar floor. You can even set your own compass by it - it's true north! Look for the giant hand made quilt on the wall, decorated in all sorts of polar themes, even some of the stitches are in penguin shapes, made as a wedding gift by Rob's aunt.
The Explorers juxtapose the far away with the nearby, as they try as much as they can to keep it local when sourcing their cooking ingredients. The first colourful tray to depart the kitchen was a board showcasing one of their 100 mile meals - the can-con or canard confit. Don't worry, I wasn't exactly clear on what a confit was either! As the Explorers' menu puts it so well, it is local duck leg brined and slow roasted in liquid gold (duck fat). This was served on cracker like roasted potatoes and topped with a cranberry gastrique. A gastrique is essentially a sauce reduction based on sugar and vinegar with any flavour or addition you prefer, in this case cranberries from the Wahta First Nation in Muskoka.
The can-con canapes disappeared in no time and a second tray followed. Next, a new flavour offering appeared in the form of lamb meatballs on a flat bread. They too were neat and colourful and had the same tendency to disappear quickly as the duck had. As a vegetarian, I don't eat these foods myself, but it's not difficult to tell how delicious they are when you're surrounded by writers and food critics gobbling them up non stop!
The menu is a riot. I love the humorous names for the food items - a direct reflection of the obvious love of fun in the owners, Jennifer and Rob. Why not try the 'quiche me' or perhaps 'the biggun' (2 huge certified Angus beef patties)? I like the 'flat stanley' one - a naan bread creation of the day. I'm also intrigued by 'a passage through india', which is a culinary road trip through the sub-continent, featuring a curry of the day, basmati rice, naan and raita. I had to look up raita too, folks! It is a yogurt based condiment, with additions of cumin, coriander and other spices plus vegetables such as cucumber. Sounds nice.
It seems that you can take a world tour with just a short drive to Midland. Your eyes will explore the continents before your food even arrives and your ears might hear a tall tale or two, while the sounds of international music plays in the background. No need to pack anything but your appetite!