Dine, Stay, Play – A Guide to Windsor Essex
Original blog by Krystle Ng-A-Mann, Dine and Fash | May 16, 2019
I’ve lived in Toronto almost all my life, but truthfully never thought to take a trip to Windsor Essex. A short 3.5-hour drive away, I’ve always thought of Windsor as an industrial or university town. I previously had no idea how much Windsor Essex has to offer in terms of great food, wine & spirits, accommodation, and activities. I also didn’t know that Windsor Essex was home to the furthest point south in mainland Canada (Point Pelee). Does that make me a bad Canadian?!
Last summer, I started focusing on more local travel and began to realize how much beauty there is right in our own backyard. Exploring local destinations is not only a great way to learn about your province or country, but also a great way to take short, affordable road trips! My husband and I did just that in Essex County a little while ago. For a small area, it packs a big punch – especially if you are into gastronomy, wine and spirits! We spent under 36 hours there and did so much! Below is a short guide on where to dine, stay, and play in Essex County, Ontario.
Where is Essex County?
Before diving in, I thought it would first be helpful to situate you. Windsor Essex is a regional tourism destination in Southwestern Ontario. However, Windsor and Essex County are technically distinct. Windsor is the southernmost city in Canada, on the banks of the Detroit River, directly across from Detroit. Essex County is the larger county adjacent to Windsor, which comprises 7 municipalites (including the towns of Amherstburg, Kingsville and Leamington). Since we had only a short time in Windsor Essex, we based ourselves in Essex County – specifically, Amherstburg, Essex and Leamington.
Where to Dine in Essex County
There is no shortage of dining options in Essex County and we barely scratched the surface! You can find everything from fine dining to ‘mom and pop shops’.
One of our favourite meals in Essex County was from a “bustaurant” called Birdies Perch. Located in Leamington, it’s a double-decker bus and restaurant in one – kind of like a food truck, but bigger (and cuter!). Food is prepared and served from the lower deck and there is seating in the upper deck. There’s also lots of outdoor seating on the patio. It seemed to be a local favourite, and for good reason! Apart from being a novelty, they serve up some delicious, fresh perch from Lake Erie. You can order perch in a cone, on tacos, or in a Po’ Boy. Along with the perch, I recommend the poutine! Oh, and there’s an ice cream and milkshake shack right next door!
Barrel 67 is a casual gastropub in the middle of Amherstburg. They’re known for their stuffed burgers here, so be sure to order one! Owner, Sonya Duggal, sources her beef locally and has it delivered twice a week to ensure freshness. You can have anything from a pizza-stuffed burger, to a spicy pineapple bacon burger, to a mac & cheese burger. Or if their multitude of options isn’t suitable, you can customize your own.
CAFFEINE & CO.
With a beautiful interior and a good selection of baked goods, Caffeine & Co. is also worth visiting, when in Essex County. It has a prime location right on the waterfront in Amherstburg. You can choose to either grab and go, or stay in and dine.
Where to Stay in Essex County
Amherstburg truly is a hidden gem within Ontario! It’s such a quaint, little town, with charming homes and a lovely waterfront and ‘downtown’ area. Also on the banks of the Detroit River, a stroll along the boardwalk is a nice way to spend some time. Between Windsor to the north and Point Pelee to the southeast, it makes for a great base in Essex County.
NAVY YARD FLATS
We stayed at the Navy Yard Flats, a newly renovated Airbnb consisting of 2 flats above The Salty Dog in Amherstburg. It also doesn’t hurt that the Navy Yard Flats are directly across the street from Caffeine & Co.! Both flats mirror each other and are suitable for families or groups. Our flat had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large living room, kitchen, and laundry room. It was also quite spacious and modern. It will feel like your home away from home!
Where to Play in Essex County
As if the dining and accommodation options in Essex County aren’t attractive enough, I decided to save the best for last: where to play in Essex County. The list of activities is truly endless, which makes travel to this part of Ontario desirable year-round!
LAKE ERIE NORTH SHORE WINE REGION
Oenophiles, rejoice! Ontario’s oldest wine growing region is in Essex County. The Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) wine appellation (which includes Pelee Island in the South Islands sub-appellation) offers more than 1,400 acres of vineyards. There are 19 wineries (11 of which are VQA wineries), so you could plan an entire trip around visiting them, alone. However, you don’t have to be a wine expert to explore the region. The vintners here, much like their wines, are approachable.
What make this region distinct are the climate, location, and soil. Because LENS is surrounded by Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and Lake St. Clair, and because it’s along the 42nd north parallel (like Northern California and the South of France), it has the greatest number of accumulated thermal units in Ontario each summer. This leads to high sugars and moderate acid levels in the grapes. These factors also allow LENS to benefit from an earlier harvest than other parts of Ontario and the longest growing season than any other wine region in Canada!
Did you know that Windsor Essex is the birthplace of whisky in Canada? It’s true! Windsor Essex is home to Canada’s best-known and oldest award-winning distillery: J.P. Wiser’s. Over time, the tradition of producing quality spirits has continued in the region, and there are now many more distillers and craft brewers in Windsor Essex. For a complete list, you can go here.
Opened in 2016, Wolfhead Distillery is an ultra-premium craft distillery in Essex County. Their spirits are naturally-flavoured, and their vodkas are 100% wheat-based and 7 times distilled. Their coffee liqueur, featuring local Colonial Coffee in Windsor, is a best-seller. You can visit for a taste of their spirits, beer (all beer on tap is local), or to eat (85% of their food is locally sourced).
POINT PELEE NATIONAL PARK
It should almost be a Canadian rite of passage to visit Point Pelee – the southernmost point in mainland Canada (for the southernmost point in Canada, you’ll have to take a ferry to Pelee Island). Point Pelee is inside of Point Pelee National Park, a 15 km2 national park that offers a marsh boardwalk trail, several hikes, beaches, and outdoor activities, like birding. The park is accessible by car, bike, or on foot, and there is a shuttle that takes you to the entrance of the point and back from the visitor’s centre.
The view from atop the tower at the marsh boardwalk is truly captivating and unparalleled. You just have to see it with your own eyes!
For the perfect mix of local food, drink, and fun, you should definitely consider a trip Essex County!
This article was created in partnership with funding from Ontario’s Southwest. To explore more that you can do in #OntSouthwest check out ontariosouthwest.com.