BLYTH — There was a time when, if you traveled to Blyth to see a play at the festival, you had one option with respect to dinner — the home-cooking provided by the Blyth Inn.
Then, three years ago, the hometown couple of Peter (Fanshawe College culinary grad) and Sarah Gusso opened Part II Bistro (the II is actually a knife and fork). The bistro is called Part II because the couple first opened the Blyth Station House B&B when they returned to the quaint village in the heart of Huron County in 2009, after traveling abroad and honing their culinary skills.
The bistro is conveniently located across from the Blyth Festival Theatre on the village’s main street. Its tastefully casual decor is a blend of rural charm and urban chic. The walls are adorned with colourful, festival posters, recognizing that the restaurant would have no reason to exist were it not for the patrons the festival draws annually.
Since my partner Lois and I first dropped into the bistro shortly after opening — even before it had a liquor licence — we were impressed with the service. It was friendly and courteous without being fawning. Our waitress served 18 guests with effortless ease during our most recent visit.
But it’s Part II Bistro’s delicious food that has kept us returning. The emphasis remains on fresh produce, locally grown or raised.
A meal routinely begins with a complimentary ’soup shot,’ which is a couple of ounces of cold or warm soup. When we last visited on the occasion of the festival’s opening night, the soup was a warm curried carrot and sweet potato blend with coconut milk, topped with salsa verde oil.
For starters Lois and I had mushroom bruschetta, featuring locally grown mushrooms with red onions, garlic, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and spinach, topped with Blyth smoked cheese and truffle oil. This is not the bruschetta you get in taverns and road houses, while watching the Maple Leafs lose another game on a big-screen TV.
We mentioned to the waitress that we would be sharing, so instead of serving the full order on a single plate and providing a pair of smaller plates, the order came on two artfully garnished separate plates. A small but nice touch. It’s that kind of attention to detail that keeps patrons returning to Part II Bistro.
I’m about as far away from a vegetarian as you can get. I enjoy cooking, barbecuing and eating steaks, ribs, pork and lamb chops. I love wild game, especially venison.
If you enjoy venison, you will love the striploin which, in my books, is a house specialty. If you have never tried venison and want to enjoy it at its best, this is the dish for you. It’s tender, mild (no gamey taste) and lean, lean, lean, served on a sweet potato mash with bacon and cheddar, asparagus, carrots and parsnips, with mustard and rosemary cream sauce.
Lois has been raving about the bistro’s home-made ravioli since ordering it on our first visit. Forget about the tiny pasta pillows you get in conventional Italian restaurants. Here you get a pair of bowl-sized ravioli filled with butternut squash, sweet potato, roasted garlic and blue cheese, topped with a basil tomato sauce. Lois gave me a taste and it was so scrumptious I didn’t miss the meat. For an evanescent moment, I contemplated going to the dark side and becoming a vegetarian.
In previous visits I enjoyed:
— Pad thai duck, featuring an in-house applewood smoked duck breast set on noodles with julienned peppers, snow peas and carrots, bound in a coconut cilantro peanut sauce, topped with toasted cashew nuts.
— Rack of spring lamb brushed with maple apple butter, topped with a pistachio and rosemary panko crust, set on a bed of garlic mashed potato with a curried cream reduction.
Now for dessert. In an age of waist-line consciousness-raising, it has become customary for adults to share desserts. This is fine under most circumstances, but when you and your partner equally covet creme brûlée, standards of etiquette have to be modified to keep the peace. In short, Lois and I each ordered one — and were delighted we did.
A little background is in order, here. When I was a child one of my favourite — and I mean most favourite — desserts was my maternal grandmother’s custard pie. I loved it then and I cherish the memory now.
As with everything on the Part II Bistro menu, the creme brûlée is not routine. The lovely custard is infused with the iconic Canadian staple of maple syrup, with a crunchy sugar coating, topped with a wild blueberry compote.
I would be remiss not to mention another dessert, pavlova — a crunchy meringue topped with whipped white chocolate cream and fresh berries. I want you to think literally here. Fold back the blankets of time and remember when you were a child and tasted, for the very first time, cotton candy or sponge toffee that evanescently melted on your tongue. Pavlova is neither sponge toffee nor cotton candy, but it recalls the deliciously magical memory of a long-ago sensory sensation.
The beer on the list comes from some of Ontario’s finest independent, craft breweries, while the red or white comes from some of the province’s finest wineries. And it would be criminal to add cream or sugar to the freshly brewed coffee.
We made reservations for 6 p.m., two hours before curtain and had lots of time to enjoy the food and the atmosphere, never feeling rushed or harried between courses.
P.S. Every time my partner Lois and I drop into the bistro Chef Peter offers something new and exciting. Most recently it was tender, juicy, succulent beef cheeks — yes they are actually the cheeks of cattle — on a bed of local cheddar cheese and mashed potatoes. The beef melted in your mouth after being cut with a regular knife — no steak knife required.
Lois and I now view dinner at Part II Bistro essential to our evening at the Blyth Festival.
Information and reservations at 226-523 or online at part2bistro.ca/contact-us/