Sipping an espresso at Coffeeco in front of Market Square, I have a sense that I am in a piazza. The morning Farmer’s Market gives way to children frolicking in the square and, later, lawn chairs will be brought out for Movie Night. In Kingston, there is an unmistakable European quality and joie de vivre.
My day begins along the shore with an invigorating sunrise kayak from Ahoy Rentals. Later I will return to meditatively float in the water with a sunset SUP Yoga class. I can’t help noticing how calm it is here. Cyclists ride the Kingston-to-Pembroke trail that begins at Confederation Place and follows old railway tracks through picturesque countryside. Motorbikes rev along the breathtaking Thousand Islands and Heritage routes, the Wine route to Prince Edward County, and the CanAm route to the border.
Strolling through local art shops and alleyways I come upon Martello Alley, an artist collective that colourizes an outdoor corridor with original and printed works, some still in progress. I weave through Antique Alley for unusual collectables. There is a comfortable sophistication in the air. Seduced by the wafting aromas of MioGelato, I relent to luscious scoops of Chocolate Pudding and Cheesecake gelato made from local ingredients. At Kingston Olive Oil Co. I sample extra virgin olive oils from Spain to California, including wild mushroom and sage oil and Serrano honey vinegar. Stone City Ales is a thirst-quenching stop. Their 12 Star Session Ale is hoppy and citric, refreshingly aromatic and balanced. We pair it with bites of candied bacon BLTs and plump shrimp dumplings.
At the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning, I’m seated on the patio by the shore for lunch at Juniper Café. The menu is simple and wholesome. Warm focaccia sandwiches of roasted pork belly with apple Dijon, and salami with olive tapenade are locally sourced. Through a cobbled alleyway, I reach the courtyard of Chez Piggy to sample an ethnically diverse menu that includes seafood platters, duck wings and spring rolls. Their bread is baked fresh daily by Pan Chancho, Kingston’s indoor market, where we devour maple butter tarts, while pretzel buns baking scent the air.
The infamous Kingston Penitentiary maintains a lingering ominous aura. If you ever want to dissuade a person from a life of crime, tour tickets are reasonable. Coincidentally there is no better host city for the popular phenomenon of Escape Rooms than Kingston. Improbable Escapes stakes out historical locations around the city like the Murney Tower.
Free as a bird, I bask in panoramic views from Fort Henry National Historic Site to the 19th century Canadian municipal architecture of this “Limestone City,” and the confluence of Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River and Cataraqui River, teeming with sailboats, yachts, ferries and cruises. The Fort is a living history museum where I explore 19th Century military life, and even fire a Snider Enfield Rifle! At the Sunset Ceremony I watch a reenactment of the War of 1812. Allegedly haunted, the Fort is the place to be on Halloween to explore the Doomed Regiment and Cursed Hallows of Fort Fright. Do we dare ride in a coffin and sleep over in the Barracks Room while zombies take over? In winter, Lumina Borealis transforms the fort again through majestic light projections into a dazzling winter wonderland.
Kingston’s dining scene is exploding with diversity. Tango Nuevo offers a range of exotic tapas including Turkish ravioli of spiced beef, walnuts, paprika butter, yogurt and mint, Persian barbeque lamb tacos with pomegranate sauce and a dreamy mason jar of peanut butter tiramisu. Chien Noir Bistro reflects the French colonies from Vietnam to Morocco. Poutine of crisp frites and Quebec Brie, with a generous crown of duck confit and green peppercorn jus is my savoury addiction. If Arctic char meuniere with toasted pine nuts and pomme anna is on the menu, you’re in luck. There is a rustic character to many restaurants and pubs as they have retained their old brick and stone walls, and pressed tin ceilings. For a Pan-Canadiana menu I head to AquaTerra overlooking the harbour. A dazzling selection of dishes includes seared scallop with tequila glaze, and an outstanding rendition of seared muskovy duck breast. Roasted halibut goes Asian with Chinese five-spice, and loving care is given to short rib, with 72-hour sous vide.
Native sons and daughters from Sir John A. Macdonald to the Tragically Hip have forged Kingston’s cultural landscape from Canada’s first capital to its burgeoning music, arts and food scene. There is always something happening here. Hashtag FreshMadeDaily and discover the bold ‘taste of place’ that makes Kingston the Capital of Hip.
*Pro Tip: The best way to experience Kingston is through Kingston Food Tours: www.kingstonfoodtours.ca
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.