Out of the Ordinary Dining in Huntsville
By Kim Kerr-Dearsley
Although not quite what you’d call a ‘hidden’ gem – it is, after all, located in the very heart of downtown Huntsville Ontario – Main St Local Kitchen is, nevertheless, a gem.
Chef Ryan Clarke and his wife Christina are the owners and inspiration behind this hip and trendy establishment, and in the two years since it opened have been thrilled to see their Main St Local Kitchen become one of the most popular restaurants in Huntsville. As locals will attest, they certainly had big shoes to fill, having brought the much-loved Louis’ II – a landmark Huntsville eatery that had adorned Main Street for decades – firmly into the 21st century.
After a great deal of work renovating and rebranding, the location has once again become a local favourite that’s also making waves with the many cottagers and tourists that flock to Muskoka each year. Pay a visit and it’s not hard to see why this restaurant in Huntsville’s town center is always busy: Chef Ryan and his team don’t just provide quality food, they provide the kind of first-rate dining experience that keeps people coming back again and again.
Main St Local Kitchen in Huntsville
Chef Ryan was born and raised in Huntsville and recalls fondly his childhood growing up surrounded by the pristine lakes that Muskoka is known for. But like so many kids, he found himself eager to leave his small-town home behind him and headed for the big city to complete his education.
After graduation and trying his hand in the tech sector, Chef Ryan found himself no longer able to ignore his passion for cooking… and his desire to return to his home town. After gaining experience at locations including the prestigious Deerhurst Resort, an opportunity presented itself to purchase Louis’ II – the place where he’d actually gained restaurant experience at the age of 13 (the owner was a family friend) and where he had his first taste of the fun to be had sharing great food with diners. Naturally, he jumped at it.
“It’s not just having the chance to create interesting dishes,” he confesses after greeting us with his trademark smile. “As the owner, I just love the interaction with my guests. It’s why I do what I do, and why I love what I do. Sure, running a restaurant can be hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort when you do what you love.”
As locals will attest – yes, even those who may at first have been a little hesitant after the popular Louis’ II transformed into something much more contemporary – all that effort has certainly paid off.
“We tell them not to worry,” says Chef Ryan. “The Caesar salad is still on the menu!” (And yes, it’s still excellent.)
A Memorable Dining Experience
It’s very evident from the bright décor, relaxing ambience, and the warm welcome we received from Chef Ryan’s team, that he and Christina know what it takes to create a great dining experience for every guest; it’s a winning formula that keeps them busy year-round. When we visited the Friday before March break – usually a quiet time in cottage country – the restaurant was busy with families, groups of friends, and couples, all enjoying a great meal.
“You always have to be one step ahead of the game,” says Chef Ryan. “The restaurant industry has changed dramatically, and these days customers don’t just want quality food and drink, they also want a great experience. And we pride ourselves on serving both.”
This pride in what they serve certainly shows. Chef Ryan sources the finest ingredients, wherever possible using fresh local produce and suppliers able to provide the best quality meats, from grade A beef to quality cuts of pork, fish, and chicken. Come summer, you’ll even find Chef Ryan down at the Huntsville 100k Farmers Market on the hunt for the freshest local vegetables and other ingredients to use in his kitchen.
He’s also a big fan of the region’s top breweries, and serves up a variety of craft beers from Lake of Bays Brewery in Baysville and Gravenhurst’s Sawdust City Brewery. Other local purveyors whose products Chef Ryan uses (and recommends) include popular names such as Big Ass Garlic, Yummies in a Jar, Mark’s Muskoka Maple, and Muskoka Honey Bee Products, to name but a few.
Taking Care of Dietary Needs
Another favourite (and much-mentioned) local source Chef Ryan endorses include Wheat-Free Delights, a gluten-free bakery also located in the heart of the town of Huntsville and which provides (delicious!) fresh burger buns daily.
“We’re very aware of the dietary needs that people struggle with these days,” he says, adding that he himself lives with an intolerance to gluten. “So I know what it takes to provide our customers with the certainty that every measure is taken to learn of any dietary restrictions before-hand.”
This is just one of the reasons you’ll find Chef Ryan and his staff busy not just welcoming their guests, but taking the time needed to discuss menu options, dietary needs… and yes, sometimes just catching up with the regulars, or simply giving them a wave if he’s too busy (I lost count of the number of times I heard departing guests, happy after a great meal, call out “Cheers Ryan!”)
A Memorable Menu
And what a menu. As you peruse it, it’s immediately evident that Chef Ryan is certainly committed to in-house freshly prepared food – something the staff are proud to point out when reviewing the menu and the day’s specials with you, too.
After asking Chef Ryan of his favourites – a toss-up between the smokey burger, the alfredo, and the pork and pear dish – as well as tips from our superb waiter (Spencer also recommended the pork), it was time to order.
Kicking things off with a glass of cabernet from Ontario’s Tawse Winery and, for my partner, a pint of the excellent Nightwatcher Oatmeal Stout from Lake of Bays Brewery, we tucked into the Caesar salad. Large enough to share, it was a rich, garlicky delight that went well with our drinks.
While my partner chose the oh-so tender pork and pear with its delightfully tangy sautéed red onion glaze (not too sweet, he stated, despite the pear), for me it had to be the special of the day: Jambalaya. Inspired by a family friend who runs a restaurant in New Orleans (naturally!), and who supplied the spices, it was a must-have treat, especially as I’d been lucky enough to have the real thing when in Louisiana recently. Chef Ryan did his NOLA-based friend proud. A mix of rice, sausage, chicken, shrimp, and spices (but not too spicy), it was simply delicious.
Although full to bursting (portion sizes are generous, though not over-the-top so), Chef Ryan did tempt us with something sweet to finish things off. While I went for the excellent homemade ‘Local churros’, my partner opted for the equally delicious coconut cream pie. Consisting of a tasty coconut custard that was topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut, it was, said Chef Ryan, a recipe passed along by his mother. In a word… awesome.
The verdict? This Huntsville restaurant is highly recommended! And let’s face it: it’s thanks to top Huntsville restaurants like Main St Local Kitchen that Muskoka has made a name for itself as a leading foodie destination in Canada.
To learn more, visit the Main St Local Kitchen website at https://mainstlocal.ca.
Kim Kerr-Dearsley is a Muskoka-based freelance writer who specializes in luxury travel and lifestyles.