By Jamie Drummond
Niagara Falls is a destination that is better known for its over-priced junk food, heart-shaped jacuzzis, and haunted houses than it is its fine gastronomic experiences.
With this in mind, the prospect of acclaimed Toronto Chef Jamie Kennedy opening a satellite appellation, a pioneering outpost of his locally sourced culinary axiom, amongst the sideshows and souvenir shops, was one that had many of the Chef’s followers scratching their heads.
Having had the fortune to experience this new venture, Windows by Jamie Kennedy, I have to say that the concept works, and is like a breath of fresh air in a part of the world where I have often gone hungry rather than submit to the epicurean horror stories shilled from many a neon-lit booth.
Windows sits on the Fallsview Dining level of the Sheraton On The Falls Hotel, its footprint occupying a space previously reserved for larger parties grazing the Fallsview buffet (the longest hot and cold buffet in Niagara Falls according to my in-room magazine). The space is bright and airy, the subtle design allowing one to imagine an temporary escape from the confines of the corporate hotel.
And then there’s the view: an uninterrupted panorama of both the American and Canadian falls. If one lingers over dessert long enough (9pm, we discovered), the sight of both falls in coloured illumination is quite something, and really worth opening another bottle of Cattail Creek Pinot Noir for.
Alongside Chef de Cuisine Ross Midgely, Kennedy has created a terroir-based menu that whilst being closely aligned to his trailblazing locavoric take on classical French (with a Canadian twist, naturally) is rather cleverly designed so as not to frighten the horses, or rather the family of four visiting Niagara Falls from Michigan. This is Kennedy at his most accessible, and it works wonderfully. Adroit takes on the traditional hotel restaurant staples are rarely so well composed, and are flawlessly executed by Midgely’s kitchen brigade.
The menu, changing seasonally of course, consists of nine smaller plates (ranging from $5 for Sourdough Bread with Butter and Salted Herbs through to a $17 Braised Beef Poutine) and seven larger plates (Buttermilk Fried Organic Chicken at $29 through to a 180g Grilled Rib Eye Steak at $38). This core menu is augmented by a changing daily specials insert offering a handful of dishes inspired by the ingredients available to Chef Midgley upon that very day, and it is here that one will find some of the more innovative plates. If the core menu aims to keep hotel diners within their relative gustatory comfort zones, the daily menu sets out to broaden their horizons, a sagacious strategy that I feel will win Kennedy legions of new fans.
The winelist has been expertly curated by none other than Tony Aspler, a fellow who certainly knows his Canadian juice. With 66% of the list hailing from Ontario, Aspler aims to offer guests a chance to discover the very best that the province has to offer. The percipicacious may ask why the list isn’t wholly local, and this would be a fair line of inquiry seeing as Kennedy has been such a steadfast supporter of the local wine industry since his early days at Scaramouche. Aspler explains that with the Falls being an international destination, guests demand an international selection of wines, and hence the latter third of the list is populated by a savvy selection of bottlings from around the globe.
So will Jamie Kennedy himself have salted your signature JK fries before they land at your table? Kennedy tells me that he makes the journey down to the restaurant around once a week, and so the answer may just be yes. Saying that, he has certainly found a most accomplished right hand man in Chef Midgley, and his enthusiastic and knowledgable front-of-house staff deliver with aplomb the JK experience that so many have grown to love over the years.
Hats off to Kennedy for taking his democratization of gastronomy to Niagara Falls, and we wish him all the very best of success with this ground-breaking new venture.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he has become a waterfall snob.
Well written Jamie! I can’t think of a better chef than Jamie Kennedy to take on the challenge of reconnecting Canada’s most famous tourist destination with its agricultural and gastronomic roots through good food. Hopefully we’ll never see any hydrologically inspired dish names on the menu though one will likely make it through on a wine bottle label. I’m happy to to see Good Food Revolution continuing on strongly!