In 1836, a grist mill was built at Perry’s Pond. In 1837, the surrounding communities officially incorporated as the town of Cobourg. Over the years the mill changed hands and underwent repairs, remaining an important hub for nearby farmers for more than a century. It may have ceased grinding grain in the 1970s, but the building is still serving local producers in a different way.
You might guess The Mill Restaurant and Pub’s heritage just by looking at it — its stone foundation and weathered brick walls suggest a bygone era. The interior has been retrofit with modern conveniences, but decorative pulleys hung from support beams remain as a tip of the hat to its former life. These days The Mill is dedicated to serving up a varied menu of local food options and craft brews. The nearby grounds have been converted into Cobourg Creek Golf Course, where from May to October golfers can work up an appetite with a nine-hole course before dining. The kitchen is Feast On-certified, meaning there’s guaranteed to be Ontario ingredients on the menu. I asked General Manager Amelia Bray and Executive Chef Isaac Meadows how they managed to source as much as possible so close to home.
“At least 50% of our beverages and 25% of the food comes from within Ontario,” Amelia told me. “We’re really proud to say that in the growing season in Ontario, our [percentage] is much higher — we’re more like 85% to 90% percent, and much of it comes from within Kawarthas Northumberland.” Year-round staples like meat and cheese come from outlets like Silver Creek Farms of Millbrook and Cross Wind Farm of Keene. In the off-season The Mill keeps the locavore ethos going by using bones to make stock for demi-glaces and pasta sauces, and by freezing or preserving as much as possible. In-house pickles show up on the Ontario charcuterie board, and blueberries and rhubarb appear in desserts. I expected these kinds of seasonal grace notes, but even in winter the extent of The Mill’s local offerings surprised me.
I had assumed local quinoa didn’t exist outside of Bolivia, right up until Isaac served me a salad with Ontario quinoa. The grains were light and fluffy, mixed with cranberries for sweetness and sprouts for texture. It was the kind of dish I could practically feel making me healthier as I ate. The quinoa was produced near Guelph, and Isaac told me another one of his dishes incorporates True Saffron from Warkworth. “I’m not trying to do Mexican, classic French — I’m looking over my suppliers, what’s available that they can grow for me, and basing it on that,” he said. That means the menu is overhauled twice yearly, with additional smaller tweaks as the seasons change. Each iteration is designed to offer a cross section of traditional pub fare as well as more upmarket dishes.
Both Isaac and Amelia came by their local credentials naturally, having grown up in the area and settling down here after stints in Toronto early in their careers. They told me they believed in the economic and environmental advantages of buying local, but it made sense purely on the basis of taste as well. “Anything that has to be picked ahead of its true ripeness to be shipped across the country is never going to taste as good as something that’s picked that morning and delivered to us that afternoon,” Amelia said, adding that it gave their restaurant a uniqueness that could never be exactly replicated.
That goes double when you consider their taps serve craft beers made right in Cobourg, courtesy of Northumberland Hills Brewery and Williams Street Beer Co. If you’re looking for a good place for a pint, the ambiance of The Mill’s bottom floor matches the pub fare on the menu perfectly. The stone foundation and exposed wooden beams create an old-fashioned, unaffected vibe that encourages live music. Bands and performers pass through every Thursday and holidays are marked with specials, like lamb stew on St. Patrick’s Day. The third floor, meanwhile, serves as a reservable event space and art gallery showcasing work by the Cobourg Art Club.
I ate in the main dining area on the second floor, where a row of windows overlooks the golf course. There I got to sample Isaac’s recommendation, the beef cheek papardelle. The texture of homemade pasta was immediately distinctive and the beef was tender, but the real surprise was the classic burger. I like intense flavours and typically go the all-dressed route, but I ate The Mill’s burger without condiments. I took a first bite so I could sample it on its own, and the meat was so juicy and the flavour so nuanced it seemed a shame to mask it. For me that simplicity was proof positive Amelia and Isaac are onto something in their pursuit of Ontario ingredients, and I’d highly recommend stopping in at any season to try their latest local creation.