Historically, Kirkland Lake is known for two things: gold and hockey. Fittingly, the town’s two big attractions are the Sir Harry Oakes Chateau (a museum in the impressive manor of a former gold tycoon) and Hockey Heritage North (a museum celebrating the disproportionately large number of early NHLers who hailed from the small community).
Today, the area is a favourite for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking the trails beside the famous waterfalls in the nearby Kap-Kig-Iwan Provincial Park. After a day of exploring the beauty of Ontario’s North, a trip to The Dish Café, an unexpectedly upscale find in central Kirkland Lake, is a perfect way to indulge and relax.
Now home to the Museum of Northern History, this custom and entirely distinctive manor was certainly the most lavish home ever built in the Kirkland Lake area. Created for gold baron Sir Harry Oakes, the yellow-painted wood home sits on a bluff overlooking a naturalized wetland teeming with geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. Even those without a particular interest in history will be impressed by this home’s unusual architecture and stately presence.
The museum celebrates the hardscrabble life of early pioneers and gold miners in this area and the tenacity this man who was “one of the poorest men to walk into, and one of the richest to walk out of the northern goldfields.” Oakes’ life (and mysterious death) was quite notorious in his time (as he was thought to be the richest man in Canada in the 1920s) and has been the subject of several books and movies.
The museum is open six days a week, and closed Sunday.
The Dish Café is really the only fine dining establishment in this meat-and-potatoes neck of the woods, offering a three-course dinner for a very reasonable fixed price. The food is locally-sourced and the vibe is modern and contemporary. And becuase the menu changes with the seasons, the variety on offer at th Dish Cafe is amazing—one day you’ll find curry cauliflower stew and another white wine braised rabbit. One meal here will make you an evangelist, spreading the word about this surprising find in the back and beyond. The restaurant was opened in 2010 by husband and wife team Matt and Katie Schram.
The evening I enjoyed at the Dish Café showcased the skill and enviable selection offered here. While the menu changes seasonally, the appetizers on offer during my visit included a Thai coconut curry pumpkin soup, a pear and goat cheese salad, and a compressed crab sushi. For the entrees the offerings included a strip loin with blue cheese barley risotto; sesame encrusted salmon with wasabi aioli; bacon-wrapped turducken; or ricotta gnocchi.
All the ingredients in the soup are personal favourites so I selected that option and was very glad I did. This is the kind of dish that makes you wish you had access to the restaurant’s secret stash of recipes. The soup had the comforting thickness of pumpkin with the richness of coconut milk and just the right hint of spice. The richly coloured soup was topped with crispy wontons for some texture.
After much hemming and hawing, I went with the ricotta gnocchi. The bite-sized pieces were mixed with the earthy flavours of mushrooms and spinach and generously sprinkled with parmesan. A perfect warm treat after a nippy day spent outdoors.
The dessert options included some well-known classics: cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, carrot cake, or a selection of cheeses. Not one to go for cheese when there’s a cheesecake option, I made my selection accordingly. I should have known this wouldn’t just be a traditional white slice. The presentation alone was worth it, with a small pumpkin tart shell filled with rich chocolate cheesecake filling and a hefty dollop of whipped cream. An accent of rich chocolate syrup topped with berries decorated the plate. Again, this was perfectly sized so I could enjoy every bite without being overfull.
If you find yourself anywhere near Kirkland Lake this year, the Dish Café should certainly be at the top of the list when dinner rolls around.
In a regular year, the Dish Café is open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, however during the pandemic the restaurant's offerings are available for pickup only. Follow them for daily updates, specials, and local news. For those cottaging in the area, the restaurant offers easy meals to go (pasta, butter chicken, and pulled pork chili to name a few) that make vacation easy or will impress guests.