Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mono Cliffs Inn: A Treasure in the Caledon Hills

Steps from one of the most scenic stretches of the Bruce Trail, the picturesque section running through Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, The Mono Cliffs Inn is an absolute treasure. A mecca for area food and wine lovers, as well as hiking enthusiasts since it opened in 1987, its rustic country atmosphere is matched by an upscale and delicious farm-to-table menu. Chef VandenHoek is dedicated to the local food movement and creates his menus by season and availability of local products. He is proud to serve up only the freshest made from scratch items on the ever-changing chalkboard menu. He relies on local farmers, producers and the Mono Cliffs own farm just up the road to provide the best local ingredients available by season. Presiding over it all is restaurateur Carol Hall. Carol was born in Cooma, a town known as the gateway to Australia’s Snowy Mountains. After high school, like many young Australians, she set off to travel the world, although it was on a pit stop back home that she met the equally peripatetic Scotsman Michael Hall, and a union of souls was formed.

The Inn, which was once was the bustling general store and post office in Mono Centre for over 100 years before closing its doors in 1976, the property was used as a private residence until Carol and Michael Hall purchased the property in 1984, after touring around the world with their two children. They loved the area and the potential in the property, even reopening the store for 3 years before realizing that a restaurant might be the perfect little business in the quaint hamlet. In 1987 "The Mono Centre General Store" changed to "The Mono Cliffs Inn" and since then people have been finding their way to Mono Centre to enjoy the relaxed, country atmosphere of the upstairs dining room, glorious outdoor Magnolia Patio and superlatively charming Peter Cellar’s Pub, which sits under the original 1853 sections of the Inn along with the dark atmospheric Wine Cave with thick stone walls which is available for small private dinners. I have been coming up to Mono Cliffs Inn for years and can trace the avenues of my life through the wonderful friendships and country walks I've enjoyed that joyfully ended up with languid afternoons on the patio, family lunches in the lovely dining room and cozy après-ski libations in front of the pot belly stove in the downstairs pub, many times with Michael behind the bar 'holding court' before he sadly died in 1996. “Some people call Mono Centre the centre of nowhere. I like to tell them it’s the centre of everything.” And for most of her guests, during a few genial hours wrapped in the warm centre of Carol Hall's world, that’s exactly how it feels.

The charming country interior of Carol Hall's Mono Cliff Inn

Chalkboard with daily changing farm-to-table menu of delicious soups, salads, 
appetizers and entrées, using the freshest, local and organic ingredients

Bloody Caesar

Our server opening a bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio

One of the LCBO's most popular Pinot Grigios with refreshing green apple, peach and citrus notes

Smoked Salmon and Potato Latke with Onion Slaw

Caesar Salad with Parmigiana-Reggiano


Cucumber and Arugula Salad with Quinoa, Cherry Tomatoes and Yogurt-Dill Dressing

Huevos Rancheros on a Tomato, Cheddar and Cilantro Tortilla with Homefries

Gluten-Free Huevos Rancheros with Fruit Salad

Roasted Mushroom Tart with Gorgonzola, Olive Oil and Balsamic Reduction

Grilled Salmon with Black Olive Tapenade, Roasted Vegetables and Rutabaga Purée

Chocolate Creme Brulée

Mint Cheesecake

Cheese Board with Crackers, Fruits, Nuts and Preserves

The cave-like Wine Cellar with thick stone walls is available for private dinners

Mono Cliffs Inn’s Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Chef Jeffrey Vandenhoek, Mono Cliffs Inn

4 Ontario lamb shanks
5-6 tbsp vegetable oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 large carrot, cut into large pieces
1 yellow onion, cut into large pieces
2 stalks celery,size of beer can' cut into large pieces
6 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups dark beer
8 cups beef stock

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Season lamb shanks liberally with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides until golden. Remove shanks and drain excess oil. Place carrot, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and black peppercorns into large roasting pot. Place browned lamb on vegetables and apply tomato paste to shanks. Pour in beer and beef stock around shanks without dislodging tomato paste.

Bring to a gentle simmer over moderate heat. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven. Braise for three hours or until meat can easily be pulled away from bone.

Remove lamb and set aside. Strain and reserve the liquid. On the stove top, reduce the reserved liquid to the consistency of heavy cream and season. Return the shanks to the pot, reheat and serve with mashed potato or rutabaga.

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