By Kim Kerr-Dearsley
Cozy, casual, quaint… all words that perfectly sum up the ambience and atmosphere of the dining experience at The Creative Plate Eatery. But it’s the excellent food at this top-rated Gravenhurst restaurant, however, that really sets it apart from other casual dining establishments in Muskoka.
The brainchild of entrepreneur and chef Connie Ure, The Creative Plate is a year-round eatery that has earned a well-deserved reputation not just for the consistent quality of its food (I for one have eaten here numerous times and have never left disappointed), but also, as its name implies, its incredibly inventive menus. Using nothing but fresh ingredients sourced from farmers’ markets and produce providers across Ontario – Connie regularly gets up very early to make the drive to Toronto to acquire the best possible selections – the restaurant’s menu changes daily based on the availability of key items needed to pull her creations together.
That said, here’s a selection of some of the highlights myself and my husband enjoyed at The Creative Plate during a visit prior to the start of the busy summer season. (Editor’s Note: The Creative Plate menu changes weekly and makes full use of seasonal produce, so items mentioned in the following review may not be available depending on the time of year.)
Fun Food at The Creative Plate Eatery
As I reviewed the menu while sitting in the restaurant’s cozy Muskoka Room overlooking beautiful Lake Muskoka, I realized Connie must already have been implementing some of the ideas she picked up while travelling – and cooking – in Thailand and other parts of Asia.
There on the menu was Pad Thai, a favourite of mine, so I didn’t hesitate to order the dish as my entrée.
The portion was huge and hearty – I knew that Connie liked to cook as if every one of her guests ate like her husband… a lot! – and chock full of fresh vegetables including matchstick carrots, broccoli, red onion, red pepper, as well asshrimp, and all served on a bed of delicious rice noodles cooked in the kitchen’s own authentic Pad Thai sauce. Topped off with ground peanuts, cucumbers, and alfalfa sprouts, it was simply bursting with flavour. Yes, it was spicy, but never too much so.
My husband’s a meatloaf fan (no, not the singer!) and has often bemoaned the fact few places, if anywhere, in Canada serve it (it’s one of the reasons, besides the sun, that we like to travel to the US each winter). So when he saw that The Creative Plate had it on the menu, it was a no brainer. The verdict? As good as anything he’s eaten in fine dining establishments across the States, even while in Switzerland on a recent trip.
Which really shouldn’t have come as surprise, as this dish was based on a traditional recipe passed down from Connie’s Danish family. What he enjoyed most was the copious amount of creamy sauce that accompanied the dish, ensuring every bite came with just enough mouth-watering justo tantalise the old taste buds. The addition of great smoky bacon was a pleasant surprise, and went very well with the dish. (It, too, was a huge portion, and tasted just as good the next day, I was told, when he finished it for lunch!).
Getting Our Nibbles… and Just Desserts
A little note for those of you who might want your meal in a hurry: forget it! As is stated right there on the menu, everything at The Creative Plate is created from scratch, so be advised that you may find yourself waiting around 30 minutes or so before getting your meal. But it’s well worth the wait. And, of course, you can fill that time by enjoying a great cocktail, a local craft beer, or a glass of wine. We went with a glass each of the Magician Shiraz and the Woolshed Sauvignon Blanc, some of the many wines Connie buys direct from the source that’s not available from the LCBO.
Better still, order a starter. While we waited for the main course, we decided to sample an item each from the ‘Shareables’ and ‘Greens’ section of the menu. The garden salad with a sweet and tangy balsamic vinegar was fresh and crisp, while the pulled pork egg rolls were absolutely incredible. Not just extremely inventive, but very tasty, these crisp pastries filled with pulled pork were deep fried and served with homemade barbecue sauce and had us dreaming of summer.
And dessert? Well, remember we did visit during the cooler months, so we felt entitled to have something delicious to wrap up this wonderful dining experience. Pulling no punches, we went for the banana chocolate tango, and boy, were we glad we shared! Consisting of deep fried bananas smothered in chocolate and rolled into a flour tortilla that’s then deep fried, drizzled with caramel sauce, and served with Connie’s wonderful homemade ice cream, this decadent treat simply melted in the mouth.
The verdict? Delicious, tasty, creative food that’s not only plentiful, but sure to please.
Kim Kerr-Dearsley is a Muskoka-based writer... and a lover of good food.