I’m often asked to share some of my favourite Canadian cities to travel for food. My answer might surprise you. One of the cities at the top of my list is my hometown, Windsor, ON. Windsor, is a small city in a region packed with big flavour, lots of hidden foodie gems, vineyards & more. Beyond the diverse food scene, there is so much this region has to offer travellers interested in history & culture. This is why I’m excited to have partnered with Southwest Ontario tourism to showcase a Black Foodie tour in Windsor- Essex & Chatham-Kent & dive deep into the many ways this region shaped Black Canadian history.
On this tour I had the opportunity to visit churches built over a century ago by African Americans who had escaped slavery in the United States and built a new life in Windsor. I learned about prominent figures like Josiah Henson, who built settlements, schools & risked their freedom to help others enslaved escape. I learned not only about the heroism of those who took part in the Underground Railroad but also about the many ways Black people created a full life in Canada. I walked the grounds of Buxton, an all Black settlement in Chatham- Kent that thrived in education and business despite objections to it’s existence. This tour opened my eyes to how Black Canadians fought racism, found joy and built community in Southwest Ontario and paved the way for me. Along the way, I ate delicious food & spoke to a number of small business owners for whom food is their passion. I’ve shared a recap with all my tips & picks for a Black Foodie tour across Southwest Ontario. Check it out and watch the Black Foodie video & IG highlight for more snapshots of this epic tour.
A Windsor Specialty
Windsor is famous for its tasty pizza, so much so there are documentaries and entire Instagram accounts dedicated solely to praising this pizza. I knew that foodies from far and wide visit this city just to get a taste but I wanted to know what it is exactly that sets Windsor pizza apart. I got the the answer while visiting the Chimczuk museum, the curator explained that the pizza here is influenced heavily by Detroit. Windsor pizza is known for its exceptional taste and quality. Some of the unique features of Windsor’s style of pizza is that it typically is topped with shredded pepperoni for even distribution & generous toppings above local Galati Cheese Company Ltd. mozzarella cheese.
My first stop for breakfast was Twisted Apron, a unique spot which includes a restaurant, bar & cooking studio. This place is known for their delicious all day brunch. I savoured every bite of their steak & eggs topped with a rich hollandaise sauce along with a plate of french toast that was out of this world. As a sauce queen, I was glad they had a variety of creative syrups and fruit butters to top off the french toast. Lucky for me, I got to sample a number of restaurants & cafes throughout my trip, like the small town of Amherstburg’s picturesque café, Caffeine & co . This cafe has an assortment of creative baked goods to satisfy your sweet tooth, like their sought after creme brûlée cookies. They even managed to convert me into a carrot cake fan with a slice of their popular super rich carrot cake. I recommend grabbing some sweets from their cafe and having a picnic nextdoor at Amherstburg’s beautiful waterfront (in the spring/summer of course!).
While in Windsor, I stopped by the Goat Tap Eatery for a snack and split a lobster roll with some fun waffle fries. I kept the food tour going once I made it to downtown by visiting the best shawarma spot in town, Shawarma Palace. I knew I couldn’t leave Windsor without grabbing one of their loaded shawarmas, a middle eastern pita wrap stuffed with carved roasted meat, tahini, pickled radishes, garlic sauce and more. It’s so good & open late so it’s a great place to stop to refuel if you plan on taking on Windsor’s nightlife. Later in the day, I took a quick stroll through Windsor’s Little Italy again to sample the best cannoli’s in town at Mancini’s Italia Bakery.
Lunch & Dinner
My first dinner experience was at the cozy restaurant, Artisan grill located just steps away from my accommodations at the Mariners Rescue in Amherstburg, ON. This restaurant has an eclectic menu that was perfect for me because I like a little bit of everything! They are now serving up fall special menu but while I was there I sampled a number of their standard dishes like Lobster thermidor & calamari but my favourite dish was definitely their mini stuffed Yorkshires which consisted of yorkshire puddings filled with shaved Angus Beef, red wine demi-glaze and horseradish aioli.
For the next portion of my tour in Chatham- Kent, I dined at the Chilled Cork Restaurant & Lounge located within Retro Suites hotel. After a full day of travelling, it was great place to relax in a comfy booth & eat! I dug into a great dinner of blackened salmon, my favourite part was the appetizer again, a baked brie with apple chutney & pears. It was heaven!
Next I had a delicious taste of the south in Canada at Comfort & Soul. The owner brought her flavours from the American south to the Chatham-Kent area. She served up a crispy fried chicken & waffle plate with a unique whiskey sweet & savoury syrup alongside a number of southern staples like mac & cheese, biscuits and her own version of candied yams topped with a crunchy layer of rice crispy. I was skeptical at first of the rice crispy topping but it ended up tasting delicious! On my last night I stopped by CBH & Grille and I’m glad I did. They had a great selection of Portuguese foods to feast on. I tried a little bit of everything with their sampler plate. The perri perri shrimp was my fave but the entree of steak & scallops were a close second!
For my first night I stayed in the luxury estate, Mariners Rescue. Not only was it conveniently located in the heart of Amherstburg. It sits right across from the waterfront and a number of independent restaurants, cafes and stores. It’s a beautiful home equipped with a full kitchen, pool & several more amenities. It’s great for a girls trip or family adventure. The best part is there’s an ice cream parlor (seasonal) and a taco spot right next door.
The next evening I checked into the Retro Suites hotel in downtown Chatham. I loved that this boutique hotel had a variety of interesting themed rooms. Every suite is unique and I happened to get the log cabin theme which was extra cozy. I highly recommend grabbing dinner at their restaurant The Chilled Cork. The food is delicious and the staff is exceptionally welcoming.
Check out the video above to get a sneak peak inside.
My favourite part of the trip was definitely the eye-opening experiences I had touring Black historical sites across Southwest Ontario. This region is especially important to Canadian Black history because of its proximity to the United States. Enslaved African Americans escaping slavery used the underground railroad – a network of people that helped enslaved African Americans escape to northern states and Canada. Given the short distance between Detroit & Southwest Ontario, many crossed over the Detroit river in search of a better life.
However, things weren’t easy for the Black refugees who made it to Canada. Threats existed from bounty hunters who would crossover into Canada & racism was prevalent. Churches were often a refuge and the center of Black communities in Canada. My first stop was to one of those historic churches, The Sandwich First Baptist Church. It was powerful to walk the church floor and learn how people may have literally found sanctuary in the sanctuary by escaping to hidden nooks beneath the church floors to avoid capture by bounty hunters.
I then stopped by a familiar museum, the Amherstburg Freedom museum where I used to work as a college student 9+ years ago. It was great to return and get a refresher on Amherstburg’s black community. It was here I learned about how epic Emancipation day celebrations were in this region. Everyone from famous Motown singers & civil rights champions like Martin Luther King jr came to the Windsor to take part in the celebrations commemorating the day the British empire abolished slavery on August 1, 1834.
While exploring Chatham, I visited the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum. Here I got a thorough overview of what life was like for Black Canadians who settled here. What made this tour extra special was an elder local resident and expert Dorothy, joined us and had some awesome stories to share about what Black life was like while she was growing up in Chatham. Dorothy gave personal context to historic buildings and churches & shared interesting stories from her youth of how the surrounding Black communities here came together. While taking a walking tour through what’s known as Black Mecca I also learned about the many notable Black residents who were from Chatham-Kent, like Mary Ann Shad – first woman publisher in all of Canada. She not only created a publication, The Provincial Freeman to speak out against slavery, she created a school and later went on to become a lawyer.
Later I took a tour of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic site which tells the story of Josiah Henson whose story loosely inspired Harriet Beecher’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although the term uncle tom has a negative connotation today because of the portrayel in her book, the real life story of Josiah Henson is pretty incredible. This site includes his original home, a church in which he preached as well as a museum that highlights the many great accomplishments of Josiah Henson. Josiah was a published author, minister, abolitionist and community leader. Under his leadership, the dawn settlement was established as well as a vocational school for Black people who had escaped slavery. He believed strongly in providing Black settlers the skills for self sufficiency & determination.
One of my favourite stops on the tour was the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum because this was the area I knew the least about and I was excited to learn. This site includes a museum that showcases an overview from earlier times in Africa, to the middle passage, slavery and the Buxton settlement. One moment that stood out was when the curator handed me a real pair of shackles from a slave ship. Because it’s a small museum, the curator encourages guests to interact with the museum materials & exhibits. I had studied the middle passage in depth in university but standing there with the shakles in my hands was powerful & emotional moment for me. It was another reminder of how resilient Black people who were enslaved were. The Buxton settlement is a testament to this as Black Canadians created a new life in a completely self-sufficient Black settlement. Creating a successful integrated school, businesses, and community despite the fact they were unwelcomed by many white settlers in this region. They not only survived- they thrived and the fact that their ancestors are here to tell the story is amazing!
I left this trip with a much deeper understanding of Black Canadian history and greater appreciation for the trailblazers who made a way for us here in Canada and the US. I highly recommend this tour to any foodie with an appetite for good food & learning!
However all thoughts and opinions shared are my own.