Restaurant traffic is generally a bit slower during the summer months with kids out of school and families out of the city on vacation.
Yet cooks still whip up interesting special treats that include ices from Colombia, hot chicken from Nashville and the popular drink-or-dessert combination suited to Rome’s Piazza Navona.
Here’s my short list of selected summer treats from restaurants.
Please check with individual venues regarding availability.
Nuts for soup
While restaurants might include cold soups like gazpacho, watermelon, summer pea and vichyssoise on menus in July and August, Kirstie Herbstreit, co-owner of Waterloo’s Culinary Studio, can’t wait to see the local harvest of yellow beans.
Also known as wax beans, cultivars similar to today’s Cherokee Wax and Honey Gold yellow beans have been grown by Indigenous peoples in the Americas for 7,000 years.
But beans are also part of more recent “Waterloo County fare” and the region’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage too. For Herbstreit, that means using a smoked pork hock to start the seasonal dish (recipe below).
Herbstreit says the soup is only made in the summer when the beans are at their peak freshness.
“My oma called the thyme ‘little trees,’ so we can only assume she meant fresh thyme,” Herbstreit said.
“It’s almost like sacred tradition in my family in the summertime when those yellow beans come out. Everybody knows that soup is going to be made,” Herbstreit said, adding that white vinegar is passed around at the table as garnish.
Salad bowls for salad days
Soup in a bowl is commonplace, but recently “bowls” as a broader food concept have experienced a bit of a comeback with national quick-service restaurants adding them to their menus of late.
Local indie Malt and Barley Public House in Kitchener is preparing a new salad experience with the pub’s summer bowl: a basmati-rice base topped with romaine, black beans, corn salsa, tomatoes, cheese, jalapenos and a lime crema.
Chef Sydney Keedwell continues to explore her Indigenous background, including her use of Indigenous ingredients grown by the urban gardeners at Wisahkotewinowak; she melds it with Taco Farm’s menu for a special this weekend: the first of the local corn gets grilled, drizzled with crema and topped with queso blanco cheese, scallions, lime and cilantro.
Fight heat with heat
Countries that are traditionally hot — Vietnam, India, Mexico are just a few examples — usually have hot dishes in their culinary canon. It seems counter-intuitive but as Dr. Peter Lin explains, sweating a bit from eating spicy-hot foods can help you cool down, or at least feel some momentary relief.
This summer, Nashville hot chicken has appeared at a couple of national chains; locally, The Lab Street Eats in Kitchener has introduced it to their menu.
Co-owner Mike Gatto says hot goes with the heat.
“It’s deep-fried chicken thighs with our own Nashville hot spice,” Gatto says. “I’m a firm believer that anything spicy goes in the summer. And anything spicy goes with your favourite beverage.”
Another version of a hot chicken sandwich, but one without the spice-fire, will also be a summer special at Gayuma Catering in Waterloo.
It’s a fusion of the owners’ cultures: Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino. Gayuma co-owners Katrina Tioco and Jin-hee Song explain what to expect.
“Our summer special is a collaboration with partners Sugbo Cakes and Pastries for our crispy Japanese katsu chicken with their (Filipino) taro bun,” Song said.
“We thought about doing this so people could have a taste of the fusion-type food which we normally provide,” adds Tioco.
Time to chill out
Ice cream specials for July at Four All Ice Cream, located in Uptown Waterloo, include the summer favourite S’mores, strawberry-rhubarb crumble and lemon and lavender.
Kitchener’s Aura-La Pastries and Provisions has had a number of summer specials (keep your fingers crossed that their unique kouign-amann ice cream will return); currently it’s ice cream sandwiches with their home-made ice cream and cookies.
And a favourite of mine: the affogato al caffe.
The Italian creation of a scoop of ice cream or gelato with a shot of espresso poured over it (“drowning” the ice cream) raises the question: is it a beverage, or is it a dessert?
Either way, the melting ice cream and rich coffee create a luscious syrup that is a certain summer treat.
Kids have made sweet frozen icicles at home for ages. A version of that tried-and-true ice pop is found at Guelph’s Lucky Belly Food Co.: the paleta is a fruit juice-based ice that is found in Latin America, says owner Dino Roumel.
“It’s a popsicle but it has pieces of real fruit that are frozen. They come in what is almost like a Dixie Cup with a stick. It’s like when we were kids,” Roumel says.
Made in Guelph, the Colombian paleta, which means “little stick,” sold at Lucky Belly include coconut, fruit punch, pina colada and blackberry flavours.
Finally, the diner classic duo of coffee and a donut give way to the unlikely but tasty and chilled pairing of a “squishee” and a donut.
The Munch Box in Belmont Village has a couple of flavours of the icy treat inspired by the cartoon version sold by Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart on the television show “The Simpsons.”
Flavouring isn’t merely drizzled over top of ice; it’s mixed throughout the ice in the machine, says owner Kyle Stewart.
He adds that for summer Munch Box also has “road trip” boxes and picnic boxes – but he also foreshadows the end of summer.
“Soon, we will also have lunch boxes for pre-order for back to school.”
But it’s much too early to be thinking about that just yet.
Recipe from Kirstie Herbstreit, The Culinary Studio
- 1 small, smoked pork hock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 onion, cut in half
- 2 pints (about 2 lbs.) yellow beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pint (about 1 lb.) new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
- 1-2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 cup 35% cream
- Freshly ground black pepper, as needed
- Salt, as needed
- White vinegar, as needed, passed at the table
Place smoked pork hock in a tall, narrow soup pot. Top with cold water (about 12 cups).
Bring to a simmer, add bay leaves and onion, reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is tender, about 2 hours. Top up with water if necessary.
Remove pork hock and let cool before cutting up into smaller pieces.
To the simmering broth, add the beans, potatoes, carrots and thyme sprigs (those little leaves will just fall off the stem, and then remove the stems before serving). Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Return meat back to soup. Stir in cream, season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls, allowing eaters to add white vinegar at the table to their bowl.