Spanish River Inn
We started off our March Break on Saturday with fine dining. It was a wonderful evening. The food, the setting , the company , and the musical entertainment were all excellent and very memorable. My wife is less satisfied with my cooking efforts now, sigh. I even made sour-dough banana pancakes Sunday morning, but she kept talking about the food from the night before. So we will have to return again …, and again, and again to The Spanish River Inn.
For those who are not that familiar with the area, the community of Spanish, Ontario, is located in an area that is known as the North Shore (above the North Channel of Lake Huron). As you drive west from the Sudbury District , along the Trans-Canada Highway, 17 and enter the Algoma District you will pass through Spanish, but don’t do it ! Stop at the Spanish River Inn & Restaurant. Better yet, stay a while and enjoy the food, hospitality, and area. (Town of Spanish Home page )
The Town of Spanish is situated at the mouth of the Spanish River where it empties into the North Channel of Lake Huron. This river and its ecologically rich delta have had a positive impact on the development of the community of Spanish. The river has played an important and continuous role in the local economy from the days of the fur trade, through the timbering era, fishing, and now contributes to the tourism industry.
According to legend, the Spanish name was derived around the year 1750. As one of the many theories goes, Ojibway warriors penetrated the South-West to Spanish-occupied territories, and on their return to the North Channel, they brought back with them at least one person who spoke Spanish. Marrying into the community, possibly a local chief/community leader, they raised a large family. Whatever the truth is, French explorers and traders discovered that the native families in the area had Spanish words, names and phrases as part of their vocabulary, hence the French referring to the Spanish River and the community of Espanola.
Early settlement of the area gained momentum in the latter part of the 1800’s with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in February 1884, between Lake Nipissing and Algoma, now known as Algoma Mills. According to an article in the Ontario Gazetteer, by 1903–1904, the Spanish River Station (the railway designation for Spanish) had a population of approximately 200 with two timber companies operating in the vicinity: Huron Lumber Co. and Spanish River Co. W. H. Graham operated a general store, William Coget ran the hotel and the local blacksmith as well as the Postmaster was Gustavo Hamilton.
The Spanish River Inn Retaurant & Motel stands on the location of the original hotel. The ghosts of the past may walk this modern establishment, but that is because of the hospitality, wonderful foods, and lively entertainment that is provided here.
As I said in the opening we started our March Break with a delightful evening. It wouldn’t be us without a small glitch in the plans. Our respite worker got the times a bit mixed up and her cell-phone had a hissy-fit, more like a no hiss/dial/reception fit. So we had to convince our daughter that we couldn’t wait and she was going on an outing with mom & dad instead. What can I say, it was a full moon week – see last Thursday’s post .
We passed friends & teaching colleagues on their way out, as we entered. They had huge smiles on their faces. They commented on the banner sign my wife had made that was hanging up inside. (The banner was for a special gathering of in celebration and reconciliation of Native Residential School students that was occurring this weekend).
Inside we were greeted by the owners, Marine Fabris and her husband Brent St. Denis. You could feel the warm and inviting atmosphere that was established for all visitors to their establishment. My wife presented them with a paddle that she painted in honour of our visit that it could be added to the work that was already hanging on the walls of the dining room. What you see first on the walls are enlarged photographs of Spanish in the early years of development.
The dining area is open and spacious. Previous owners of the motel tended to emphasize the fishing tours and trucking trade. The atmosphere at that time reflected this male gathering place. Now it is warmly lit and no longer feels like a dark smokey man’s den. If you weren’t assured that this was a whole different world, you just had to look at the special of the evening.
My wife chose the special, my daughter had the chicken tenders and home cut fries, and I had the steak. Like my wife’s meal, it came with asparagus and a warm potato & cabbage slaw. The medium rare steak was perfect and was complimented by the peppery slaw and vegetable side.
Martine’s son, David Hillis, is the chef. I know you are thinking, well this is a small community clinging to the highway, so the chef is just a cook, au contraire. David Hillis is a , a 23 year old graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa . He has taken extra studies in pastry making and as part of his training had the opportunity to prepare food for the Governor General, the current Prime Minister of Canada (I don’t hold that against him), and dignitaries.
The challenge that David faces is taking all his skills and adapting to his range of clientele . With retires on fixed incomes, to tourists, fishermen, and truckers, it is an intriguing challenge. His goal is casual fine dining. Fortunately, David’s background includes a maternal grandmother who was famous for her huge Friday night family meals. Her family dishes of rustic French cooking prepared him well. He understands both the fine dining and the family kitchen tradition on which it is based.
David is also an accomplished musician and singer ( Hint: CBC/Food Channel there is a tv show waiting to happen here). His other goal is develop a cultural hub of food, visual arts & entertainment. This brings us to the musical portion of the evening. See: Chef wants restaurant to grow into cultural hotspot
Well we had promised my daughter Tasha music. Where there is music and Tasha there is also dancing. After dancing with her mom, she dragged Brent out on the floor and eventually got to dance with the chef.
So what else can I say. We topped the meal off with fabulous desserts My wife had the raspberry strudel and I had the Deep Dish Pecan Pie. You know, I can remember when David and my son were taking swimming lessons at the Elliot Lake Community Pool. In fact, I can remember being a newly minted green teacher with a study period that had a grade 12 student named Martine.
I think I’ll just stop now and leave you with the smiling face of our waitress, Tara Muncaster. Martine says Tara is gold and would like to clone five more of her. What do you expect, but a golden employee at a gold standard restaurant ?
Note: You can see larger sharper images if you click the photos. You can find the Auberge Spanish River Inn on facebook. If you come to visit be ready to dance.