Here's a delicious dish and a bit of a mystery…
The easy headline would have been, “I need more cowbell!” to invoke the Christopher Walken-Saturday Night Live comedy sketch of the 2000 season. It’s a icon of American pop culture. Yet the cowbell has suddenly gained something of another iconic status when it comes to beer in southern Ontario, via the Cowbell Brewing Co. of Blyth.
Established in mid-2017, Cowbell is housed in a magnificent new facility which has driven throngs of beer tourists and cicerone-esque aficionados as well as generally turning (frothy beer) heads with its multi-million dollar property and the accoutrements delivered by, obviously, deep-pocketed craft-beer lovers. It’s simply glorious; the site covers several acres — there’s an event and concert venue still to be built — and it’s all thanks to the Sparling family propane empire in Huron County. The wow-factor is several orders of magnitude.
The 19th-century barn-like structure (in fact, a “grand old barn design,” according to their website) of over 25,000 sq.-ft. contains a brew house (with a nifty catwalk and self-guided video tours for observation), a long bar, a patio, a gift shop with tons of branded merch, and flexible space for nuptial, meeting, conference and business events. There is an on-site farm too and, apparently, they plan on holding outdoor hockey games as well. That’s even niftier.
Just as important as the beer (of which several quite good styles are available at the LCBO), there’s a kitchen and a large open dining room for about 100 people with vaulted ceilings and well-designed wood, stone and iron construction. The collection of cowbell art is pretty cool too.
A mid-afternoon on a Sunday in November saw the place turning tables while the parking lot continued to fill up and a steady stream of patrons filed in. Reservations are certainly necessary: apparently, the dining room is booked on weekends until the end of January, 2018.
The menu is clearly marked with icons for the usual suspects of gluten- and dairy-free, and such. Appetizers ($6-$18) include bruschetta, poutine and the well-respected Kolapore Springs smoked trout with a potato cake. The small Kelly pork-and-beef dog (no explanation on that name could be given by the waiter) with sauerkraut and mustard is quite good and a fun little snack in its simplicity, though the bun is average ($2).
The ploughman’s platter has a selection of meats, condiments such as smoked grainy mustard and an assortment of pickled veg (the carrot bâtons were tasty but too raw). A chunk of Gunn’s Hill cheese (usually stellar product) is an odd texture but flavourful nevertheless.
The steak (which is cooked perfectly) and wedge of iceberg lettuce attempt to form a salad ($18) that has decent and flavourful components (especially if you like broccoli), but it seems only a disparate collection of ingredients.
Elsewhere on the menu is a vegan pot-au-feu — which thumbs its nose at the meat that traditionally defines the classic rustic French dish but which is more than made up for by the Flintstone-sized two and one-quarter pounds of 45-day-aged bone-in Tomahawk ($99). There are six burgers, including a Pork-Tobello, along with a two-pound behemoth of a burger that clocks in at $72 — yes, $72.
Seven pizzas ($12-$16) include a mushroom, cheese and potato creation and the “Royale:” obviously a Tarantino-inspired burger pizza. The Margherita has the requisite ingredients of that classic with pesto for the basil component. It’s good in that there are proper and vibrant flavours present, although I would say that the crust — given some nice dark blistering — was, in this instance, akin to a thinner, denser crust than a Margherita otherwise deserves.
The venue and the energy it drives is quite remarkable at Cowbell — it is truly one of those beautiful and comfortable places that you can feel good in without it being finicky and too precious. Though it is a bit of a hike from Waterloo Region, it does require a trip to visit and experience Cowbell; it must surely be destined to become a significant tourist aspect of this beautiful and agrarian part of southern Ontario.
Kudos to Cowbell for helping build community. There used to be an effective and catchy retail leather goods tagline: “It’s worth the drive to Acton.” The drive to Blyth, itself a pretty country perambulation, leads to a pretty spectacular facility to experience what thoughtful design can create — with the help of a few simoleans.
Previous Post: Five cooks and a few tomatoes