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November 24, 2005


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Food for Thought: Mill Street Cafe serves local and organic fare

by Inie Platenius


You’d think that living in the country would give you easy access to eating local food, but ironically, for many years if you wanted to eat locally produced food in a restaurant, you had to drive to Kingston to find it. The opening of Sydenham’s Mill Street Café has changed all that – hopefully for a long time to come.

Mill Street Café is the godchild of Desert Lake Gardens, a long-established organic food broker run by Pat and Rick Dawson of Desert Lake. For years the Dawson family provided organic locally grown meat and produce, then expanded into a wide range of organic products delivered weekly to customers from Verona to Kingston. This year they made the decision to move their base of operations to the former Lloyd Jones drug store in Sydenham, across from Trousdale’s General Store. At the same time, their son-in-law Paul Pisa was looking for a new challenge for his talents as chef, so the Dawsons combined forces to create the Mill Street Café/Desert Lake Gardens complex. After a year of planning and renovation, both are open for business.

The Mill Street Café is the place that many of us have been craving – upscale without snobbery - fine dining in a local setting. Our dinner there was all we had hoped for. The soup of the day was a lentil mélange of many layers of flavour. Thick and hearty, it would have served as a full entrée if taken with a salad. The mushroom bruschetta arrived on a bed of baby organic greens with subtle vinaigrette. Lots of mushrooms on crisp organic bread. This appetizer could serve as a lunch dish. Our entrees were substantial. Crisp duck leg is served with Armignac prunes and roasted potatoes. The “Inspired Curry” (curry of the day) was vegetarian and full of deep, many-layered flavours. I tried valiantly to finish off my beef Bourguignon en croute, but after the generous bruschetta had to cry ‘uncle ‘and ask for a take out container. The locally grown organic beef was succulent, with just enough gravy to flavour the flaky crust. It even held up for re-heating the following night. After the meal, the three people in my party were so full we chose to split one dessert among us all – a lemon tart – heavenly crust with light and tangy filling. My fair trade de-caf was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Fine dining is about atmosphere as well as food, and the Mill Street Café meets the challenge. This is not your kitschy country café. The copper topped tables and bar, the fluted light fixtures, and especially the wonderful porthole peeking from dining to kitchen area all declare this is a special space. You’re in Sydenham, but you’re out of the ordinary. In fact, looking from our table through the window toward Trousdale’s, I could have sworn I was seeing a painting by the Parisian artist Utrillo. And be sure to check out the bathroom fixtures. Even the soap in the dispensers is special – green apple, I think.

Ah, but at what cost? Dinner for three: three appetizers, three entrees and one dessert with wine and coffee came to about $100 (not including tip) – not diner prices, to be sure, but most definitely not diner fare.

Mill Street Café is open from Tuesday through Sunday (including Sunday brunch) for deli takeout and lunches as well. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.