Bobcaygeon punches above its weight. Despite a population of only 3500, the main street boasts more cafes and patios than some cities I’ve visited. Part of the charm is down to its role as a hub for other nearby, smaller communities, and the memorable distinction of being spread across three islands as well as the mainland. Its location along the Trent-Severn Waterway makes it ideal for sport fishing, and starring in a Tragically Hip song certainly helps. Lately it’s also become a destination for foodies, which was the impetus behind my recent visits.
My first stop was the Great Butter Tart Tour Tragedy, a dinner theatre mystery put on by Globus Theatre in the Lakeview Arts Barn. The venue itself adds to the sense of occasion – a former cattle barn turned dance hall turned black box theatre, its atmosphere feels both lived-in and vibrant. I came from Peterborough, a short enough drive at forty minutes to make it an easy day trip, but the gently winding country roads feel much further removed.
I warmed up my roleplaying skills by chatting with “Heidi Highsun” (played by actor Lainey Bates) about the show’s connection to the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. From her I learned the tour features over fifty stops. We’d be spending the entire evening in the dining room, but patrons at other Globus shows could opt for a plated three-course menu prior to hitting the theatre.
I sat down and introduced myself to my tablemates for the evening. This experience is perfect for a group of friends, but luckily butter tarts make for an easy icebreaker. As the show kicked off the actors tried to stir up controversy on the subject of runny tarts. Our table remained stubbornly moderate, preferring our tarts at a mid-gooey consistency and refusing to be drawn in on whether raisins were sacrilege. The mainline intrigue had to do with a taste off and the treacherous bakers who’d do anything to win. It’s a light and silly premise, but the professional cast sold it well as they moved about the room. The immersive style means you will inevitably miss some interactions, and you’ll need to confer with others to get the whole story.
I, for instance, missed my first interaction because I was bellying up to the bar. I ordered the Birch Bark White IPA by the Bobcaygeon Brewing Company both to help me get in the murder mystery spirit and because I was curious to try the combination of a wit beer and an IPA. I’d recommend it to fans of either style – it had the familiar grapefruit aroma of a wit beer, deepened by a hoppy bitterness. The IBU is low enough even the hop-phobic stand a chance of enjoying it, but the brewer offers a range of other styles including an APA, an amber ale, and a stout.
After appetizers of bocconcini and cherry tomato skewers, lightly spicy orange and ginger meatballs, prawn cocktail, mini Yorkshire puddings with a nice horseradish kick – oh, and a murder – dinner was served. Journalistic integrity demanded I try a little bit of everything. To match a Canadian staple like butter tarts, the main course is classic comfort food: sausage, mashed potatoes, roast beef, chicken in cream sauce, pork with apple, Caesar salad and green beans. There’s also a Thai green curry for anyone craving a hint more spice.
The show’s energy picked up in the second half once the bakers turned detective. There were some nice uses of space, such as an argument pantomimed in front of an outside window that revealed a possible conspiracy. After the murder was unmasked, the audience celebrated with a round of tarts provided by Kawartha Shortbread, The Little Pie Shack and Bobcaygeon Bakery.
The selection of butter tarts was quite something, ranging from simple to deluxe. But if a butter tart lover dragged you along, there are alternatives like berry cobbler and warm chocolate brownies with sauce. I relied on the waitstaff to bring me my tarts because I was too full to make it to the buffet table, but everything was well-reviewed by my tablemates. To book tickets for the final Butter Tart Tour Tragedy on September 29, call the Globus box office at 1-800-304-7897 or 705-738-2037.
Before I left I asked a local tablemate where I should eat on my next trip. Her top picks were Kawartha Coffee Company and Just For the Halibut, so a couple of weeks later my family and I struck out for Bobcaygeon again and worked up an appetite strolling around Kawartha Settlers Village (85 Dunn St). The homes and artifacts represent a century’s worth of history, spanning the period from 1835-1935. I wondered at the dubious medicinals in the General Store (“Blosser’s Cigarettes, for the Relief of the Paroxysms of Bronchial Asthma”), and my wife, a teacher, appreciated the vintage schoolhouse. Kawartha Settlers Village really is a living history museum – on the way out we noticed a sign for a municipal election bearing the same name as one of the historic family homes.
Afterwards we hit Kawartha Coffee Co. (58 Bolton St), one of those places where it’s immediately apparent that someone is passionate about their business. The patio’s centerpiece is a mural by artist Penni Holdham entitled “Bobcaygeon Constellation.” It’s a tasteful tribute to Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip, whose song “Bobcaygeon” probably provides most Canadians with their first introduction to the town. I visited with my wife and three-year-old son, and all of us we were impressed by the breezy, welcoming vibe. The food truck parked by the entrance seemed to supplement the indoor kitchen and made tacos the natural choice. Our pulled chicken tacos were delicious and postcard pretty. The patio is also pet-friendly, so if you’ve brought your dog to the cottage you won’t be limited to take-out options when you stop in town.
If you’ve left room for dessert, Bigley’s Sweet Treats (55 Bolton St) stands out in even at the height of patio season thanks to their bright teal-and-millennial pink colour scheme. They offer a spectrum of indulgences, including impressive-looking dipped soft serve cones, frozen yogurt blended with real fruit, and roughly a zillion flavours of Kawartha Dairy ice cream. Be forewarned that even the baby cone is ample, so the merely peckish should order conservatively.
For our third outing we decided to try Just for the Halibut. The taphouse proper was closed when we visited on Labour Day, but they had an outpost at Bobcaygeon Beach Park (45 Park St) that was still serving up. This turned out to be a perfect choice, since there are several shady picnic tables, a beach, and a small playground where kids can play while waiting for their food. We ordered both the halibut and the less expensive haddock so we could compare notes. The difference isn’t night and day, but I can confirm the halibut does indeed have a richer, creamier texture. Both varieties were battered and fried to perfection. The chips, too, were hand cut and perfectly crispy. They stayed that way even the bottom of a cardboard box, which is no mean feat. If you hate it when your fries steam themselves to the consistency of wet spaghetti, you’ll appreciate the care taken at Just for the Halibut.
I’ve passed through Bobcaygeon a half a dozen times now and there are still a few places on my list. I peered in the window of the Grilled Cheese Hideaway and was charmed, even with the lights off and the chairs up. Next time I’m through on a Saturday I’ll hit the Farmer’s Market and try preparing my own feast with local ingredients. It’s easy to miss the downtown if you’re taking the highway north, but don’t be fooled – Bobcaygeon is a hotbed of culinary, historical, and natural attractions.
Plan your trip to Bobcaygeon with Kawartha Lakes Tourism by clicking here.
Photos of the Great Butter Tart Tour Tragedy by Sarah Cassidy