Southern Ontario is very lucky to be surrounded by the Great Lakes. When I was growing up in the 70’s, my parents rented a cottage each summer in the small lakeside town of Grand Bend on the shores of Lake Huron. This town was like any other lake-side town making its way on the tourist trade, with burger stands, roller rinks and arcades and was an integral part of my summer youth.
This week I headed back as an older adult with different tastes. We had tickets to see Cole Porter’s musical Anything Goes at the nearby Huron County Playhouse and we wanted lunch in town but somewhere with a vibe matching our activities. As we drove the strip, there was a plethora of eating establishments available, mostly ones catering to the younger beach crowd but nothing struck us until we got off on (what used to be called) Highway 21 where we took a chance on a place with an intriguing name: F.I.N.E. A Restaurant.
Located at 42 Ontario St. S., less than a block from the strip, F.I.N.E. (standing for, if I recall Fabulous Interesting New Experience) opened in 2005 and is situated in an older converted home. As we approached the stained glass front door, we remarked on its beauty and on entry, it had a homey cottage feel with light wood paneling throughout the main dining area. Around the corner in the back was the bar and more seating highlighted by a large wine rack. There was a washroom on the main floor and two upstairs also continuing the cottage feel.
The service was fast and attentive but not cloying.The lunch menu was inventive without being outrageous. My wife felt it was very ‘farm-to-table’ and it seemed that everything down to the ketchup was homemade.
We shared the Bonnie Doone salad with arugula, sun-dried cherries, pepitos, sunflower seeds, spiced pecans, Granny Smith apples, Boursin cheese with a homemade (of course) lemon vinaigrette. The cherries, apples and lemon gave a summer sweetness to the salty crunch of the pecans, seeds as well as the cheese. Delicious.
For a main we shared one of the specials (we’re sharers, you’ll find), a lamb burger on fresh naan bread with feta, salsa, tzatziki, onion and tomato. While the taste was delightful, there was a bit too much sauce making the naan too damp…a small complaint with such a wonderful mix of flavours. We were in a hurry for the show so we didn’t get a chance to sample the many fabulous-sounding desserts but we’ll return with more time some day. Prices were more reasonable than we expected for upscale dining in a resort town, starters ranging in the low teens and mains under $20.00 (except for the sirloin at $33.00).
Although we were just 20 minutes from curtain, the Huron County Playhouse is located 5 minutes from town giving us time to spare. The theatre is part of the Drayton Entertainment with seven theatres in 5 locations around southern Ontario (Grand Bend, Drayton, St. Jacob’s, Cambridge and Penetanguishene) offering touring top quality productions every summer since 1991. As theatre lovers, we’ve seen a variety of Drayton productions over the years in most of the locations (we haven’t made it to Penetanguishene yet) and although the selections tend to be more mainstream (Mamma Mia, Wizard Of Oz), they rival in quality anything we might see in Toronto or Montreal, in fact their production of Les Miserables 2 years ago is to this day one of the best theatre experiences I’ve had.
The show we were seeing, Anything Goes is vintage musical theatre, debuting on Broadway in 1934 although the 2011 Broadway revival is what is presented here. Some of the humour and characters might be a bit dated but I’m thankful there isn’t the need to update the book with modern references (as happens with some revivals). The real reason for the show’s enduring popularity however is the wonderful Cole Porter music with now well-known standards like the title track, I Get a Kick Out Of You, You’re the Top and You’d Be So Easy To Love. The cast is game and delivers on most counts, the only weakness being Patrick Cook in the role of Billy Crocker but this is because he pales against the powerhouse that is Jayme Armstrong as Reno Sweeney, the real star of this show. She comes out strong in the opening Kick and absolutely controls the stage whenever she is on it thereafter. Another comic standout is the terrifically funny Sheldon Davis as gangster Moonface Martin. Anything Goes continues at the Playhouse until August 6.