166 Brock St.
Once, this downtown favourite made its name on excellent steaks. But after Tyler and Kassy Scott took over about two years ago, they decided to broaden things. Renovating the space, they took “grill house” off the sign, and poured their creativity into a menu that changes every single week, and redefines the meaning of a high-end night out. “Fine dining doesn’t mean a suit and tie and a $500 bill at the end,” says Tyler. “For us, it’s about hand-selected wine and delicious dishes that put local ingredients on a pedestal. We want to blow your mind with a carrot.”
The Scotts have a long history at Rare, beginning in 2013 when Tyler became sous chef, and continuing a few years later as executive chef. Clients have always loved the local emphasis, and Tyler says that he spent ten years building relationships with producers around Peterborough County. “I would hang out for the day at a farm, ask them to plant a row of garlic, or carrots,” he says. And now the farmers often come to him, pulling up with fresh produce and other items three or four times a week. “When our new cooks see that, they’re excited about it, it’s special,” he adds.
And while the freshness is key, it’s also about mutual support, with Tyler noting that when restaurateurs pour resources into small, nearby farmers, they grow, and can better supply them—a good thing for everyone. He gets produce from Circle Organic and Pinehaven Farm, and Cedar Grove Organic Farm, all near Millbrook, and Lunar Rhythms Organic Farm, where they still hand-plough the fields with a horse. “When you automate, you lose some of that quality,” says Tyler.
Rare makes everything in house, including their own ketchup, and tomato and barbecue sauces, dill pickles, pickled asparagus, even pickled spruce tips. Plus, the restaurant has a robust pasteurization program, taking local produce—including berries from McLean’s, in Lakefield—and preserving 400 to 500 jars every year. “Even in the cold of winter, you bite into that, close your eyes, and feel like you’re on the farm,” says Tyler.
McLean’s is on my plate today, in the form of a big, fluffy, strawberry-rhubarb doughnut, a decadent dessert. But first, the perfect sunny-day meal, a couple pieces of buttermilk fried chicken—the buttermilk from Kawartha dairy, the skin, crunchy and sweet, coated in honey from Hunnabee’s in Millbrook, using a dredge with Red Fife wheat, a grain with a long, local pedigree. It’s paired with a local cabbage slaw, and potato salad with real, whole potatoes, from Cedar Grove. Eating outside, in my cargo shorts and t-shirt, it definitely doesn’t feel like stuffy, fine dining—just very fresh, and fine food, indeed.