Toronto-born Jason Bangerter arrived at Langdon Hall in the fall of 2013 as executive chef of the Country House Hotel & Spa and winner of five AAA/CAA diamonds and Conde Nast Traveller magazine’s best hotel in Canada.
Situated at the confluence of the Grand and Speed rivers in Waterloo Region, the City of Cambridge is an amalgamated entity that brought together the smaller towns of Preston, Galt and Hespeler in 1973. Yet, in many ways, each town retains its own personality.
That fact may be most true when it comes to the neighbourhood feel that is growing in a rejuvenated Hespeler, a riverside downtown that is evolving steadily, according to Cory De Villiers, vice-chair of the Hespeler Village Business Improvement Area.
“The vibe here with the food scene is independent and unique,” says De Villiers. “The businesses are all very passionate about the food and services they offer and that makes for a great dining and community experience.”
For instance, O & V Tasting Room specializes in dozens of varieties of olive oil and vinegar along with fresh baked bread from artisanal bakers and cheese-makers, as well as gourmet goods from a range of crafted producers. There’s pizza and sub sandwiches available in the downtown core, and restaurants like the Village Eatery prepare dishes such as home-made burgers and fresh-cut fries and shawarma. You can also head to Indulge for ice cream on a nice, hot summer night or grab a coffee at Crème Café. There’s something for everyone.
Nearby, there’s whiskey, wine, and tapas, as its name states, at the 34 seats of the cozy Aging Oak, where the original Monty’s was first located a few years ago. “They have sharing plates ranging from what you might expect of traditional Spanish tapas to small, savoury plates that feature whiskey and wine elements in the ingredients,” according to De Villiers. “What you find is whiskey- and wine-aged foods, for example.
Ernie’s Roadhouse, a long-standing Queen Street business, has new owners who, since about a year ago, have completely revamped the menu to include from-scratch dishes and continue to re-furbish the interior of the building. “It’s your traditional kind of pub fare but done properly,” De Villiers says. The Village Well Irish pub is attached to a bakery with whom they share a kitchen. “It has great ambiance,” he says.
Brownstones Gastropub prepares fresh food. “The chicken wings are awesome,” says De Villiers. “Where a lot of people claim the best wings, well, these guys have a legitimate case for saying their wings are right up there.” Beneath the pub, Stables Farm-to-Fork Bistro is being built and is in the finishing stages, at the time of this writing.
“Like the name implies, the ingredients at this French-inspired bistro are inspired by the idea of a 100-kilometre diet,” according to De Villiers. “Ryan Mackay is chef and they plan to be open in the first couple of weeks of August. That will mean, we hope, that the weather will be perfect for the new patio they are building. It’s at the 106-year-old horse stable that will be covered and away from the road, so it will be very comfortable for customers. The historic limestone brick-and-beam construction of the building has been well integrated by the design company, the same firm that designed downtown Kitchener’s The Berlin.”
The Friday Hespeler Village Market sets up outside of Towne Hall on Tannery Street East and features producer-grown goods. “It’s a 100-kilometre radius and nothing is re-sold from the food terminal,” according to De Villiers. “There’s live music, so it’s half-festival, half-market. There’s a real European feel and people spill out to the nearby restaurants and shops.”
There’s much more to come to the downtown as well, De Villiers indicates. “We’re currently recruiting a restaurant to take space right on the edge of the river,” he says, adding that a graffiti artist is creating a wall-sized mural on one of the river-front industrial buildings. That dramatic and urban artwork will form something a village focal point or beacon that draws attention to the personality of the new Hespeler Village.
“The restaurants and shops together make this a unique destination right by the water,” De Villiers says. “Hespeler is an up-and-coming space for good food, live music and community atmosphere.”