For vegetarians, Muskoka isn’t always a particularly good food destination. In fact, area restaurants fall either into the ‘fine dining’ category (rustic, meaty fare, often involving game) or a cornucopia of chain restaurants that you’d find anyplace in North America (Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Harvey’s and the like). Restaurants make the usual concessions to ‘those not wishing to eat meat’ – risotto and two kinds of pasta, one with mushrooms and another with pesto or sundried tomatoes.
So it’s a particular delight to find a vegetarian-conscious establishment in Huntsville, ON – a few clicks away from Deerhurst Resort, Hidden Valley and the Delta Grandview Inn, all popular area vacation spots. 3 Guys and a Stove is owned and run by Jeff Suddaby, who also has his own cooking show on Global, Who’s Coming For Dinner? (I’ve never seen the show, but after eating at the restaurant I’d be interested in checking it out.)
The restaurant itself is definitely rustic. It’s a two-level free-standing building along Highway 60 (washrooms upstairs, so definitely not wheelchair accessible from what I could tell). There are booths and tables on the ground floor (as well as the open kitchen and a large-ish bar), and tables only upstairs. Since it’s the middle of winter, I’m not sure what sort of a ‘patio’ or al fresco experience 3 Men might offer in the summer. The wait staff are friendly (in that lovely, small-town Ontario way – and I don’t mean to have an air of big city condescension about this, although I’m sure I do) without being overbearing or too in your face. The soundtrack is a stream of blues and r’n’b, courtesy of Galaxie Blues (a Bell ExpressVu music channel), from what I could tell. It’s certainly appropriate for the decor and ambience.
Okay, on to the food. It’s a biggish menu – one of those Restaurant Makeover chefs might say it’s a little too large – but the sections that concern us are right in front. The second page has ‘Rice – Pasta – Stews – Burgers’ and this is where the vegetarian magic is. Rice, pasta and stew dishes are “prepared as vegetarian entrees.” This means that vegetarians can order any of these dishes without worrying that they’re based on chicken stock or have hidden bacon bits in them. Omnivores can choose to add lamb, chicken, shrimp, scallops, etc. to these dishes.
After enjoying some tiny, freshly baked two-bite mini-buns with butter, we started by sharing Risotto Fritters, “with red onions, roasted peppers, French Brie, fried corn-dusted tomatoes and tart onion salsa.” These were really flavourful, especially the red onions (pickled, I thought) and salsa arranged around the sliced tomato base. The fritters themselves were tasty but paled a bit when compared to all the red bits on the plate.
The vegetarian main dishes we tried were a rice dish and a stew. The rice dish was the Curry Jasmine Rice, “with almonds, roasted vegetables, fresh pineapple, coconut, raisins, grilled bananas, sweet fruit chutney and wildberry yogurt.” It was tasty and provided a nice variety to the palate. There were some doubts as to whether the yogurt was truly vegetarian – most store-bought fruit yogurts have gelatin which is decidedly non-vegetarian. Other than that, though, this was a very tasty and satisfying choice.
The stew was Curried Roasted Vegetable & Red-skinned Potato Stew, also an Indian-inflected taste sensation. Described by the menu as “green chili tofu, raisins, pineapple, roasted almonds, bananas, sweetened coconut, peach chutney, blueberry yogurt & fried pappadum,” this dish lived up the delicious description. While I’m not sure why the tofu was called “green chili” (I would expect that to be a little hotter and more, well, chili-ish – instead, it was basically flavourless and a little too soft), I really liked the fruit flavours and crunchy almonds. And the pappadums were crunchy and added a nice ‘authentic’ Indian touch.
We declined dessert but were told that the White Chocolate Cheesecake is the chef’s signature dessert. At $14.95 a piece, it’s also an insanely expensive way to end your meal (mains were around $13), so it would have to be excellent.
Chef Suddaby has written a cookbook and also appears to have his own line of prepared foodstuffs called JEFF. These include coffee, jam, red pepper jelly and the like. It’s hard to say how successful these might become, but I imagine they’re more or less a vanity project.
All in all, a very positive experience and recommended if you’re vegetarian and happen to find yourself in Muskoka with an empty stomach. Worth a drive, and it might be a nice lunch destination for a day trip in the summer.