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A four-way stop on Carlisle Road, a few minutes’ drive east of Highway 6 South and dotted sparingly with a few buildings and businesses, seems an unlikely place to find a flat-iron steak, a boar burger, something called a Euro Cobb salad, cioppino and even a touch of gastronomic sleight-of-hand. But Cascata Bistro has all of these elements, as well as a cook who is based in Waterloo Region.
Cascata, named for the Progreston Falls a few minutes away – the larger area surrounding Carlisle is known as a region of waterfalls – is a FeastON restaurant that is a partner in one of the nine self-guided brewery discovery routes (the “True Brew Path”) in Ontario and the Greenbelt and is owned and operated by Angela Checchia.
The food at Cascata is rustic Italian (her name gives at least part of that away); the chef, Paul Gauthier, arrived a few months ago and has set to work this summer preparing for a new menu likely to appear in the fall.
Checchia, though she trained at the University of Toronto in linguistics, has family experience in the restaurant industry. She says when she saw the building for sale she had to have it, and the architecture and potential in the old house prompted her return to the restaurant business about six years ago.
Perhaps most closely tied to the Hamilton area, Cascata is situated in a way that makes it a destination for several surrounding towns and cities including Cambridge, Flamborough, Puslinch, Milton and Waterdown. A steady stream of cars through the four-way stop got Checchia thinking that there was good traffic for a bistro.
The décor is eclectic and casual – whimsical even with light fixtures adorned with spoons and a blending of colours and artwork within the solid-bone confines of a charming and historic old house. There’s a small bar at the front and a number of hallways and turns between the various rooms, as you’d expect.
Checchia, a triathlete turned cyclist, has outfitted one of the restrooms – dubbed “Two Wheels” – with an homage to Bianchi, the venerable Milanese bicycle manufacturer whose road bike she once raced with. It’s a pretty cool bathroom. A large patio can seat a couple dozen, and cyclists using the hilly terrain nearby stop in for refreshment – and perhaps imagine that they are Fausto Coppi in the Italian countryside.
The brews you will find at Cascata range from Beau’s and Wellington Brewery to Side Launch and Nickelbrook. There’s also West Avenue Cider House, a venue that is just down the road from the restaurant.
Gauthier and Checchia both say they are committed to fresh ingredients in season and local producers – that’s the point of FeastON – and talking to local farmers; the kitchen also has an off-site garden they draw on. The menu has several offerings good for sharing, salads, about a half-dozen sandwiches and blackboard menus that feature pizza, a couple of fish dishes, including cioppino, linguine with lamb meatballs and shrimp and arugula orechiette.
Cambridge resident Gauthier has deep culinary roots in Waterloo Region, and among other kitchens he has cooked at Mohawk Chop House, Langdon Hall and at Cambridge’s short-lived but very good Fistro Bistro with colleague and fellow Langdon-alum Darnell Gregg, a strong cook in his own right. Gauthier attended Conestoga College culinary school and co-owns a food truck based in St. Jacobs has partnered with Block Three Brewing. Given his pedigree, he’s obviously comfortable cooking a menu that straddles elements of Nonna’s repertoire and a bistro or gastropub.
When it comes to calamari fritti, the dish, done in far too many pubs attempting to get an exotic-sounding bit of Italian on the menu, is usually a processed disaster of rubberized and improperly cooked seafood heavily breaded into sad squid submission. Gauthier’s, however, maintains a surprising tenderness with a light crisp batter, a lemon-dill mayo and microgreen pea sprouts for garnish. “We add wheat dextrin to the dredge,” Gauthier says. “It crisps the calamari and holds that crisp longer.” That is always a good thing.
Sausages and peppers is a classic rustic Italian dish – and many other nationalities, for that matter – that Gauthier serves in a rich red sauce ramped up with the acidity of sundried tomato. Mixed greens, what Cascata calls “torn greens,” with a simple oil and vinegar dressing is a foundation a medium-rare chunk of sliced flat iron steak that is accented with roasted red pepper, some red onion and blue cheese. Gauthier says the beef relaxes in a simple marinade for 24 hours and gets a simple grilling without any sous vide tricks. Like the beef, the freshly ground lamb for meatballs comes from Beverly Creek (a farm in Millgrove near Hamilton) and flavoured simply with thyme.
The Cascata burger (there is also a boar burger that is coming off the menu in favour of a lamb version) is a hefty patty laced, he says, with some red onion, thyme and oregano. Gauthier adds that “it’s grilled and finished in the oven” and served with a locally baked bun that has the right dimension for the thick burger. He says, “the red onion jam is a three- or four-hour reduction,” which adds a layer of sweetness balanced with some acidity and star anise.
If you love the combination of good beer and good food, make sure you explore the Brewery Discovery Routes this summer. Cascata Bistro is only about 35 minutes from Waterloo Region in clear traffic. It strives to be simple and clean in its preparation and succeeds in doing that given the notice it gets from people driving some distance to visit. That says a lot, especially for a place you had no idea was even there.