Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Erie Beach Hotel: The Cove Room, Port Dover ~ NWR

Last Sunday was Mother's Day and my family (Mom, Dad, and both of my Grandmothers) went to Port Dover to a place on the hill known as the Erie Beach Hotel. Port Dover has been a day trip destination for my family for as long as I can remember, and for my father's family since he was little.

Fishing was the main industry and it definitely influences the cuisine of the town. It was a happening place at the beginning of the last century as a must destination for vaudeville troupes. In the 50's & 60's it became famous for it beaches, dance hall and attractions. The Ferris wheel is long gone, but there is still a merry-go-round. The industry of the town is dying, but tourism still exists. Now Port Dover is probably most famous for it's Friday the 13ths where Bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts descend upon the city - last summer over 140 000 of them came to the town that has a population of about a couple thousand. Its insanity.

As a kid I loved coming to the town because there was the beach, mini golf, seagulls & ducks and most importantly, food. On the very tiny downtown (3-4 blocks) there were a few restaurants that stood out in my memory. On one corner was the Arbor, famous for its foot long hot dog and fries. On the beach was Callahan's (still called Callahan's but apparently its not the pub-like menu it once had). Across from Callahan's was my family's usual meal time stop Knechtals for their battered perch, and the first place I had ever encountered the double-cone ice cream (this is a cone that had 2 'cups' for scoops or bars of ice cream to fit into). But for a special occasion, and probably my earliest memory of Port Dover was The Erie Beach Hotel. I only remember being slightly dressed up and running on the green front lawn.

The Erie Beach Hotel has two restaurants: a pub-like area called The Terrace on the upper level (the hotel sits into a hill) and a family dinning room called the Cove Room. We were headed to the dining room and I was not prepared for the experience.

I didn't see any Delorians, transporters or wavy lines, but somehow I was transported back in time to the 1950's or 60's. I was overwhelmed by the decor, the dining and the staff. The 21st Century had not found its way into this establishment. Not that was necessarily a bad thing. Walking back from the washroom I noticed a number of newspapers articles over the years talking about how nothing had changed, and even a quote from the owners how nothing ever would change either. Judging by the crowds at dinner, there was a good reason for this.

There were at least 3 dinning rooms to be sat in, and we were in a small room near the front. I saw about 20 waitresses in total all running around, and they were dressed in a uniform that I would describe as Nurse from a 1950's hospital (you can see our waitress above and kind of make out the uniform). She was friendly, but busy and chatting her up, exhausted from a long Mothers Day tour of duty.

The room was decorated with old family photos, dated floral arrangements, and a classic old piano that had seen better days and was being used, unfortunately, as a counter for coffee, condiments, water jugs and dishes. You could easily imagine a pianist strumming the keys in a simpler time.

A unique feature of the restaurant's is the salads. Every meal comes with classic (and by classic I mean old-timey) homemade salads that made me think of pot luck dinners. Most tables have a trolley with a big plastic cover at the end of the table to house their salads, but our table was big enough that they were already there when we sat down.

Above is a Mandarin marshmallow salad. Sweet, and more like a dessert, but somehow very comfortable and a guilty pleasure of mine. Mandarin oranges, marshmallows, pineapple tid bits (all canned) with some sort of whip - it was good.

On the right (above) was a creamy cucumber salad. On the left, an assortment of dill pickles, sweet pickles, carrot sticks, radishes, green onion and pickled pumpkin. I was nervous how the pumpkin would taste, but it was actually quite good - not the strong pumpkin taste I expected; almost a pear flavour to it. Other salads I didn't get photos of was a very creamy coleslaw, and a spiced bean salad.

The Erie Beach Hotel is also famous for its Celery Bread. A tall loaf of light bread that is slightly pan fried to give it a delicate toasty quality. The bread was so soft but I really think it needed a stronger shot of celery salt or a saltier butter. This would make for an amazing garlic bread in my opinion.

My father and I opted for a cup of the soup of the day, Clam Chowder. It lured me in so quickly that I forgot to snap a shot. It was creamy, and so tasty. And it was impossible to get a spoon of just the soup because there was so much clam and other tasty ingredients (like potato) that made this a very hearty soup.

For dinner, the highlight is the perch. Instead of the regular platter (that comes with potato and vegetables) I went with a perch & shrimp combo that came with no extras (with the original salads, bread and soup, who needed potato and vegetables?!?!?).

The perch was lightly breaded and pan fried. Each piece was pretty small, but so light and I enjoyed it with their tartar sauce. The lake perch (fished locally) is an extremely mild fish, almost to the point where I wanted a little fishy-ness to it.

The shrimp on the other hand was hands down the best I have ever had. Breading and deep fried, it was so . . . delicate. It melted in the mouth and the breading was light and crispy. Perfect shrimp.

Final Thoughts: After this feast, there was no room for dessert (and they had a huge list of homemade pies, cakes and sweets that it really was hard to resist). You definitely go back in time in this place, but the service and the food reflect that. It was fitting with 3 generations sitting down to a meal that hasn't changed in decades. And why should it. It's pricey, but it is an experience.

The Erie Beach Hotel: The Cove Room
Port Dover, Ontario

Click HERE to go to the Wing Bucket for a few shots of Port Dover.


Teena in Toronto said...

What a coincidence! I was thinking about taking my sister to Port Dover (I've never been) in a couple weeks for the day.

Lord of the Wings said...

Its a quaint lake side town. Go down in the summer when everything is open. Avoid Friday the 13th, you physically cannot get into town with all the Bikers.

Steven Phillip Collins said...

I LOVE Port Dover. I live not too far from there. We used to have wing nights in highschool at 2 places there: the Norfolk Tavern and Captain Billy's.

Lord of the Wings said...

@Steven Phillip Collins - Port Dover is a lot of fun. I love chicken wing memories ... good times

Karen Kirkconnell said...

Just found your blog - love it! When you were in Port Dover, I hope you made it to Callahans on the beach. Amazing chicken wings, in my humble opinion! Good perch, too (although you can't beat the classics at Erie Beach!).

Lord of the Wings said...

@Karen - I have been to Callahans (but it's been a long time). I've always had good memories of PD! Thanks for stopping by :)

Anonymous said...

Erie beach hotel food used to be good..30 years ago but it has gone way down hill as of lately we brougjt guests there last Friday and were embarrassed ..service poor food fryed in dirty oil..slimy veggies with dip..oily celery btead luke warm fish..

Anonymous said...

Went to Erie beach hotel for the perch, haven't been for a while, quite disappointed. Place was filthy and stank, we paid $17.00 for two and a half perch(not much) frozen McCain fries and water. What a disappointment!place needs a good cleaning, I can just imagine what kitchen looks like.

Lord of the Wings said...

@Anon 1 & 2 - sad to see that things have really declined - yuck!