Despite friends raving about Prince Edward County restaurants I’ve always been skeptical about The County.
Prince Edward County is a small island community only two hours from Toronto and is very popular for weekends away in the summer.
Perhaps it’s because I’m from Nova Scotia and I had this idea that it was like the Hamptons. Just as Manhattanites leave New York City on the weekend to hang out with each other in the Hamptons, the same is true for Torontonians in Prince Edward County.
Why would I leave the city just to hang out with people from the city in another location? Why wouldn’t you go to Grey County, Perth County or Stratford where there is a local community, not just Torontonians with a second home outside the city.
To be fair I had only ever been in Prince Edward County for one afternoon. So my opinion was not based on any solid facts, just a slowly developed disdain for a region I didn’t know at all.
But then I was challenged on it.
Ontario Parks reached out to me to see if I was interested in working on a program to promote their accommodations in the offseason.
It’s true Prince Edward County is crowded in the summer. But once Labour Day hits many tourists hibernate for the season only considering sunny destinations like Cuba or Jamaica. However, there are still lots of great Prince Edward County restaurants open all year round and you can stay in the park all year round.
The idea of seeing the county differently really appealed to me. Maybe I would love it. But what happened if I hated it? What if it was as obnoxious as I built up in my mind? What would I write?
Prince Edward County in the Offseason
There are a lot of restaurants in Prince Edward County that close over fall and winter. At first it may be disappointing but these are often restaurants solely for tourists. The restaurants that remain open in the offseason are places locals will go and support.
So instead of hanging out with a bunch of Torontonians, you actually meet locals. Imagine that.
It’s also not as busy so the sommelier at Flame + Smith actually has time to share his thoughts on the best new wines coming out of the region. Or the staff at Seedlings can share where they go for an afterwork drink.
It was all of the things that I love so much about Grey County. A community of people connected to the seasons, who support local producers and love where they live.
Maybe I’m the obnoxious one? Hopefully not, but I left feeling a bit sheepish that I had such a skewed view of the region.
Where to Stay in Prince Edward County
Many of the bed and breakfasts are closed in the offseason but Sandbanks Provincial Park has year round accommodation.
I would have never thought to stay in a park because I’m not a camper. But Sandbanks has historical homes on site. I greedily asked to stay in Maple Rest which has 4 bedrooms, three bathrooms, jacuzzi, full kitchen, dining room, satellite TV, backyard.
I was traveling alone. Totally unnecessary and when I checked in to the park office they reminded me they were just a short phone call away.
The mornings were beautifully silent with just the sounds of birds and the wind. I loved it.
Maplerest Heritage House
2086 County Road 12, Prince Edward, Ontario
Prince Edward County Restaurants
With only three days I didn’t get to visit all the Prince Edward County restaurants on my wish list. Unfortunately I visited Monday through Wednesday when many restaurants take a day or two off – that’s my fault. I once owned a restaurant. I should have known better!
Most restaurants in Prince Edward County scale back to dinner only over fall and winter. But there are still a few great options for lunch.
Both Picton and Bloomfield are just short drives from Sandbanks Provincial Park and while they are small towns, each of them has so many fantastic restaurants you can just park and walk around.
Restaurants take advantage of the wealth of farmers, dairy producers and fishermen. Many try to buy as much from the island as they can. You don’t have to go far to decided where to eat in Prince Edward County.
Bloomfield Public House
I asked friends on social media for recommendations for Prince Edward County restaurants and people were so emphatic that I needed to go to Bloomfield Public House. Then I looked at the menu and thought, I want to eat all of this!
But it wasn’t until I arrived that I found out that despite them opening only two weeks prior people were already raving about it. I’m probably lucky I was able to walk in without a reservation. This place is going to be busy.
It’s run by a couple with extensive experience in hospitality and have lived in Bloomfield for nearly a decade. They are most well known for The Hubb Eatery at Angeline’s Inn, which they closed with the intention of traveling for a year. But three weeks into their break they discovered an old CIBC bank building was on the market. They traded in their year long travels for a modern diner style restaurant with fantastic charcuterie.
Bloomfield Public House
257 Bloomfield Main St, Bloomfield
Flame + Smith
Having owned a restaurant with a chef/boyfriend then ending the relationship as well as the restaurant I always have a soft spot for independent chef owned restaurants. It’s hard work and I’m always inspired by those who are successful.
Walking into Flame + Smith you cannot stop and just look at the decor. There are so many little details from the barn beams to the massive chef group table looking into the open kitchen. It is a stunning restaurant.
Cooking over open fire has reached new prominence with the season three Mind of a Chef episode with Argentinean Chef Francis Mallman and in Canada Chef Michael Smith’s Fireworks, one of the best PEI restaurants.
Yet while the restaurant’s name refers to the fire, it also gives credit to the many important aspects of the restaurant. With “Smith” referring to a craft, the baker is the breadsmith, the sommelier is the winesmith, and the shucker is the oystersmith. I like this approach because so much goes into a restaurant beyond the chef, in face the wine options are incredible. I wish I hadn’t been driving.
The restaurant features whole animal butchery and the menu changes often, so when a pig is butchered one night may feature a different part than another. I had the mulled pork sausage with black kale, whipped potato and house-cured pancetta and it was fantastic.
Flame + Smith
106 Bloomfield Main St, Bloomfield
Part of trendy Angeline’s Inn, which has been known for fantastic restaurants, Seedlings is one of the most recommended Prince Edward County restaurants.
It has a more minimalist light and airy feel, but cozy enough in cold weather with an electric fireplace. The kitchen aims to work with producers on the island as much as possible but will also venture a bit farther to nearby Kingston for quality items like Wagyu beef.
Look for in-house cures like the Pomme Anna – Lardo – Duck Yolk or the Cured Lamb – Buckwheat Crepe – Arugula – Duck Egg.
433 Bloomfield Main St, Bloomfield
One of the best places to eat in Prince Edward County, even before the new generation of restaurants like Flame + Smith and the Drake Devonshire, which I did not visit because there is a Drake in Toronto so I’ll just go there.
I called ahead to see if I could get the rabbit tart for lunch even though it’s technically on the dinner menu and it wasn’t an issue. It’s so rare that you find rabbit on a menu I had to have it. The dish was so earthy and decadent with pork and mushrooms.
There’s a rustic sincerity to the food, decor and service, which is why I’m not surprised it’s lasted so long. Around the side they also have a Speakeasy in the evening.
275 Bloomfield Main St, Bloomfield
Best Prince Edward County Restaurants I Missed
In autumn, Prince Edward County is still quite busy on the weekends so I opted to visit at the start of the week.
However, I missed out on some great spots that are closed Monday – Wednesday in the off season. Instead, I would recommend visiting Wednesday – Friday to get a better variety and to leave before the weekend crowds.
Open for dinner Tuesday – Saturday I make the rookie mistake of eating too much at Bloomfield Public House and just didn’t have room. But several restaurant employees mentioned this as one of their favourite small plates and drink spots in Picton.
Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday with brunch on Sunday I had heard great things. Its website describes itself as a new Canadian bistro, although that can be interpreted many ways. Don’t expect typical Canadian fare as the menu features international flavours with local seasonal ingredients.
Blumen Garden Bistro
One of the local favourites, Blumen has been around long before the County became Toronto trendy. Open for dinner only, it is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I regret not being able to try the steak tartare or escargots bourginion (sic) as I love classic French flavours.
A recommendation from the staff at Sandbanks Provincial Park, it’s a restored Gothic Revival house with afternoon tea and dinner. One of the more formal Prince Edward County restaurants it has a dress code: We invite our guests to wear their favourite clothes, but suppose dinner jackets are for dinner and running shoes are for running.
Prince Edward County Wineries
There are so many vineyards and wineries that it is possible to spend all your time on a wine tour of Prince Edward County. It’s impossible to pick the best as so much depends on not just the wine but the vibe of the winery. But here are a few interesting wineries in Prince Edward County.
Lighthall Vineyards is lesser known but a favourite of those that visit them. They currently have Chardonnay and Pinot Gris available in their tasting room, which is open 10am-5pm on weekends but call ahead if you’re there during the week. They also have three of their sheep milk cheeses, which they make on site. Read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Closson Chase Vineyards started in a dairy barn 20 years ago and now is one of the most popular stops for wine in Prince Edward County.
They are open but running limited hours: Now until December 23rd: 11 am to 5 pm. February 3 – April 14: weekends only 11 am to 5 pm. Closed Dec 24-Feb 2. Read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Prince Edward County Breweries
Prince Edward County doesn’t just produce great wine. There are new craft breweries popping up in the region but here are a few that are local favourites.
555 Brewing Company is located downtown Picton. While the lighter beers like the The Judge lager and The Jury pale ale are favourites, they have many others on tap including a sour series. If you’re eating a plant based diet there are vegan pop-ups as well as a jackfruit “pulled pork” pizza on the woodfired oven pizza menu.
Parsons Brewing Company is also in Picton with a diverse menu of craft beer standards but also some interesting innovations like its Sunkissed Grape Ale Beer/Wine Hybrid. They also feature a number of interesting bottles and cans from other Prince Edward County breweries.
Midtown Brewery is a brewpub in a former meat packing plant in Wellington. Typical pub fare with a snack and kids menu option available.
While Bloomfield is an adorable village with lots of great restaurants, it’s not surprising that many of the staff from these restaurants live in neighbouring Picton, which has banks, supermarkets and more.
Picton is also home to some really great coffee shops. Of course, there’s a Tim Horton’s but you may want to consider these Picton cafes:
Miss Lily’s Cafe
There are so many things I love about this place. It has been a cafe in Picton for ten years, an offshoot of the independent bookstore next door that has incredibly survived 25 years in business.
It’s not surprising that the cafe does so well, it takes the business seriously and has an in-house baker. Almost everything is made on site with vegan and vegetarian options. Offsite items include gluten-free options for celiacs that are made in a specific facility and they also serve local County Soda, kombucha and coffee from Toronto.
The unofficial tourist office for Picton, staff here share great tips such as how to deal with parking. Did you know that no one monitors the meters in the off season? Or there’s a free parking lot on the corner of Mary and Elizabeth streets? And if you get a ticket it’s only $7, which is cheaper than most parking in Toronto?
One of the most popular items is the carrot cake, which I ate for breakfast. It’s pretty incredible.
289 Picton Main St
The Vic Cafe
Seating is at a premium at this small cafe with one banquette and a bit of outside seating on warm days. I would expect visiting during the summer to be frustrating if you wanted to sit inside.
However, food can be made to go and the menu is extensive and drinks aren’t limited to coffee. The Vic serves everything from local kombucha and green smoothies to Prince Edward County wine and beer.
Although fall has shorter houses (9am-4pm) it’s not crowded. Plus they have a local cider spiked with whiskey that is worth trying on a cold day.
The Vic Cafe
222 Picton Main St, Picton
The Bean Counter Cafe
A true locals cafe in Picton, the Bean Counter Cafe and Bakery is open 7 days a week from 7am-5pm.
It’s not as chic as the Vic Cafe but there is plenty of seating in this cozy coffee shop and at 4:30pm I didn’t expect anyone to show up. Yet it was quickly flooded with a few groups trying to squeeze in a locally-roasted organic coffee and snack before it closed.
The Bean Counter Cafe
172 Picton Main St, Picton
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Wellington Pumpkinfest! So many pumpkin treats available while they last this morning: pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate pecan pumpkin scones, pumpkin spice muffins with maple cream. And just because, how about cinnamon buns and apple pie! #pumpkinfest #wellington #pumpkin #pie #cinnamonbuns #apples #autumn #muffins #cheesecake #enidgracecafe
One of my biggest regrets was not making it to Enid Grace, which is not in Picton but in Wellington.
This European influenced cafe was recommended by many. Some are still salivating over memories of the brie and breakfast sandwich with triple cream brie, sunny fried egg, greens and lemon mayo served on housemade cranberry pumpkin seed bread.
Hours are 7:30am – 2pm, closed on Tuesdays.
303-1 Wellington Main St, Wellington
Things to Do in Prince Edward County
While the region has created a great reputation for its wine, beer and cider no one ever really talks about the best things to do in Prince Edward County?
I’ve always wondered, is there anything to do other than visiting wineries, eating or shopping? If it’s an island there must be things to do.
Of course there are.
There are a number of groomed trails perfect for cross country skiing in Prince Edward County. Light adventurers like the Miller Conservation area.
Birdhouse City is a collection of over 100 birdhouses at Macaulay Mountain Conversation Area some are historic replicas of buildings and others are quirky takes on fast food joints. It’s a great area to walk and birdwatch.
The Sandbanks Provincial Park is a hub for a number of outdoor activities including cycling routes, walking trails, dunes and cross country skiing.
The best part is that while the Sandbanks accommodation is for a week at a time in the summer, in off season you only need to commit to two nights.
Prince Edward County Shopping for Food and Drink
County Cider is one of the most popular destinations in Prince Edward County, while the restaurant is only open Friday – Tuesday 11am-6pm the tasting room remains open seven days a week from 10:30am-6pm.
You can’t miss out on Prince Edward County Cheese. Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is only a bit east of County Cider, with amazing options like Waupoos Lizzy or Yeo Lake. Always closed on Wednesdays, it’s best to call ahead to ensure it’s open.
Honey Pie Hives and Herbals has a number of honey products including mead (essentially wine made from honey) and is now open on weekends.
Although Kinsip House of Fine Spirits is available at the LCBO it’s worth a visit to the tasting room, where it’s possible to take a tour of the facilities where they make gin, vodka, rum, and shochu along with its famous maple whisky amongst other whiskies.
The Local Store is a great spot if you’re looking to browse a number of local products all in one place from retro posters to local honey. It’s open year round 10-5 on weekdays and 10-5:30pm on weekends.
The Agrarian Market is a great local alternative to big box supermarkets serving local produce, dairy, bread, meat and fish.
Prince Edward County Restaurants, Breweries and Wineries Map
Perhaps Prince Edward County is not so much the Hamptons of Toronto. Maybe Vogue was a bit more accurate by calling it the Hudson Valley of Canada. There is absolutely a community of people who have moved from Toronto, but they seem to assimilate into local life. I can see why the region is so appealing, especially for families.
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Disclosure: This post about the best offseason wineries, breweries and restaurants in Prince Edward County is a paid partnership with Ontario Parks. They had no idea that I held such strong views for the region. Or that an autumn trip to the County could change my mind!