"Uh oh, I feel like I’m making this all about dining out. Okay, I’ll keep going..."
History suggests that we humans have occupied the area that now makes up southern Canada for at least 10,000 years, and the area which later became Port Perry must have seemed a quiet paradise when two Mississauaga Ojibwa hunters first happened upon its shores in the 1700s, a mere few centuries ago. Later, around 1809, British settlers began surveying the land up into lots and concessions, and by the time the town took on the name Port Perry in 1852, it had become an epicenter for trade. Today, there remains little in place to suggest that our town was once a bustling hub of trade through which grain, lumber, and all manner of other cargo from northern Ontario flowed into the southern communities. Still, Canada’s oldest grain elevator continues to loom over Palmer Park and the downtown, reminding us of our industrious past.
Today, there is a pleasant tension between the Scugog area’s quaint small-town vibe, rooted in its more recent agrarian history, and our collective shift toward more modern pursuits. Fortunately, we seem to be getting it right as much of the culture of Port Perry’s downtown is rooted in the connection between agriculture and culinary.
For the home chef, the Port Perry Farmers’ Market is akin to having your birthday arrive every Saturday morning between around mid-May and Thanksgiving weekend. The market makes for a perfect Saturday morning stroll, and you can often get a breakfast sandwich and a fresh pour-over coffee to enjoy as you stroll from stall-to-stall, planning your kitchen adventures for the rest of the weekend. Local growers such as Lunar Rhythm Gardens and Willowtree Farm continue to extend their capacity to bring fresh local everything to lucky locals via the market and other means pretty much all year round through the market, their CSA box programs and on-farm retail offerings. If you’re looking for top-quality meats and it’s a non-market day or you don’t want to venture out of downtown, check out the award-winning Herrington’s Quality Butchers, toward the western end of Queen St.
If good food is what you’re looking for, don’t think for a moment that you have to do-it-yourself in Port Perry. The downtown is packed with operators serving up a fantastic intersection of cuisines, all tethered as closely as possible to our community and its available ingredients. As much as nobody likes to give away their favourite spots, I’m compelled to honour the incredible work that these small businesses are doing, especially during our current challenge of mass-lockdowns due to COVID-19 distancing.
The Foundry Kitchen and Bar brings modern American cuisine (think: delicious riffs on fried chicken, for one!) blended with chef Steve Lovisa’s Italian roots and a dash of classical French training to a small room that’s big on friendly hospitality and community. Chef Marwan Dibb of Marwan’s Global Bistro literally travelled the world to bring his photography and incredible fusion of global cuisines back to his hometown. Both places have been doing a fantastic job of feeding lucky Port Perry residents during the lockdown, and their careful, contact-free pickup protocols are to be commended. Chef Steve also occasionally posts step-by-step recipe instructions on his social media channels, while Marwan has been working on his kitting game so that some of the delicious cocktails from his adjacent bar, The Port Social, can make their way home with you with your dinner takeout.
Another honorable mention goes to The Piano Cafe, at the corner of Queen and Perry streets. Alongside the rest of their menu, they have committed to helping local Girl Guides by buying a lot of the local Girl Guide cookies, turning them into ice cream, and then donating the profits from that back to Girl Guides Canada.
Uh oh, I feel like I’m making this all about dining out.
Okay, I’ll keep going.
If you’re looking to get a perfect plate of breakfast (subjectively defined here as a bacon n’ egger garnished with a fresh cinnamon roll,) then it’s worth your while to brave the weekend morning lineups at Hank’s Pastries. To make it extra worth your while, be sure to grab a few apple fritters on your way out. Hank’s offers a full array of delicious baked goods, including breads, rolls, and various other sweets, but those apple fritters’ll get you every time. Don’t have time to line up? Hyland Family Restaurant serves up an excellent (and HUGE) breakfast, and their larger space and speedier service make it a bit more practical of a stop if you’re with young children or you’re pressed for time. Their eggs benedict and corned beef hash are two favourites I would recommend.
Rounding out the culinary/social scene is the marvellously-executed taproom at Port Perry’s Old Flame Brewing Co. The company has quickly become an acclaimed hub of the town’s culture since its launch around 2014, bringing live music, a hopping summer patio, and a craft beer festival to the corner of Perry and Mary.
Port Perry overall, however, is as this article’s title suggests, a perfect place for families. The crown jewel of family activity in our downtown is Palmer Park, which stretches along a vast stretch of the lakefront, adjacent to Water Street. The park features a splash pad, a busy set of playground equipment, and enormous green space with mature trees surrounding a historic bandshell. During warm weather seasons (and when the world isn’t on lockdown!), the bandshell often comes to life with live music and other presentations, most notably for the town’s annual Canada Day celebration, which culminates in a massive fireworks display to the packed park. Palmer Park is also home to baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and the outdoor Birdseye Pool, with it’s set of community-shared, low-impact exercise equipment on an adjacent pad. Palmer Park is a perfect reason for a family visit to Port Perry, but for added kid-friendliness, may I recommend a bolt-on visit to local legends The Enniskillen General Store for a cone of ice cream that must be seen to be believed.