A little while back I got the opportunity to visit Thunder Bay as part of a social media team that explored the city for a couple of days. I’ve never been further north than Wasaga Beach so I was pretty stoked when I found out that I’d be visiting.
I left Toronto from Billy Bishop airport on a Porter Airlines prop plane for the two hour flight north. Flying out of this airport gives you, in my opinion, the best view of the city. You take off from a runway that juts out into Lake Ontario and fly right across the front of the city before banking left and heading north. I normally fall asleep soon after the plane is in the air but it was quite interesting looking down on all these small communities that were completely surrounded by forests or water and wondering what made the first inhabitants choose those spots of land to start a life.
I spent a little more than twenty four hours in Thunder Bay but I was able to eat a breakfast, lunch and dinner in three distinctly different restaurants serving some very different food.
Breakfast at The Hoito
The Hoito is housed in the basement of the historic Finnish Labour Temple and is perhaps the oldest co-operatively owned and operated restaurant in Canada. By far the most popular dish at this restaurant are their, almost paper thin, Finnish pancakes.
Finnish pancakes? In Thunder Bay? Yes and yes. I didn’t know this but Thunder Bay has the highest concentration of Finnish Canadians per capita in the country, and the second largest Finnish population in Canada after Toronto. The first Finns came to Thunder Bay when the Canadian Pacific Railway was hiring men to work on construction of the railroad.
Breakfast at The Hoito is a must. Not only do you get an amazing history lesson, you also get to partake in other traditional Finnish dishes and chit chat with some very attentive wait staff who are quick to refill your coffee cup and offer up a full explanation of the other items on the menu.
Lunch at Bight Restaurant and Bar
Bight Restaurant and Bar is a relatively new restaurant located in the recently developed Water Garden Pavilion at Prince Arthur’s Landing right along the shores of Lake Superior, and is Thunder Bay’s only waterfront restaurant. The decor is both minimalistic and modern with features of wood, stone, metal and concrete. It may sound cold but the big glass windows lets in so much light during the day and the fireplace in the middle of the room gives it a “warm” look at night.
Bight doesn’t have an overly extensive menu but they do offer choices that’ll satisfy almost every taste. Dishes range from pizzas, to mains and even sharable plates. Their menu is billed as farm to table and they try their best to showcase local products in all of their dishes. I started my lunch with their pork belly and kimchi on cornbread, and then followed that up with the duck ramen bowl made with shredded duck confit, a boiled egg, and various veggies in a duck & bacon broth. Two Asian inspired dishes that really delivered on the flavour. Two thumbs up!
Dinner at Caribou Restaurant + Wine Bar
Most people like to splurge on a fantastic dinner and Caribou restaurant and Wine Bar is the place to do so. This restaurant first open it’s doors in 1999, According to the folks at the restaurant, the name of the restaurant was chosen so that it would not give people preconceived notions of the style and types of food or the atmosphere they’d find inside. From that point, they felt that they could present Italian, Asian, Cuban or any other style of cuisine that looked new and exciting.
The dishes I had that night weren’t unique, but they were all very well done. The calamari was crunchy on the outside yet tender inside. The rustic antipasti board came with prosciutto, cacciatore, gouda, grana padano, olives, herb ricotta and flatbread. Everything on the cheese board played well together but the herb ricotta was my favorite thing on the board. The shrimps were outstanding with the prosciutto providing a nice meaty saltiness that complimented the natural sweetness of the shrimp. Finally we come to the fall-off-the-bone tender lamb, one word de-frilkken-licious! .
There you have it. I never expected to enjoy my meals this much in Thunder Bay but I was quite surprised. I hope to visit again and discover more outstanding places to eat.