Panoramic shots of a minimalist black barn surrounded by lush fields and vineyards have become unmistakably recognizable as the headquarters for Restaurant Pearl Morissette.
They’re the quintessential capture of the Jordan Station restaurant that has consistently ranked among the best in Canada since opening in late 2017 under the leadership of co-chefs Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson.
These days though, the focus of photographs is on the equally striking structure beside it: Le Pré. It’s the newly constructed outdoor dining room and kitchen by the restaurant that topped enRoute Magazine’s best new list in 2018.
As with the indoor dining room upstairs in that striking black barn, currently sitting empty as a symptom of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a table at Le Pré has become a coveted reservation.
“It helps us stay relevant,” said Hadida, who, like Robertson, has worked in Michelin-star kitchens in Europe.
Le Pré also gives diners what they’ve been craving over the past few months of sheltering — and eating — in place: Restaurant Pearl Morissette conviviality in a safe and beautiful setting.
That includes a multi-course tasting menu for lunch and dinner, Friday through Sunday. But now, to limit diner and staff contact, those meals include abbreviated wine or juice pairings, or wines by the bottle. Cutlery is set in a hutch on the table for safe and easy access and removal. Keepsake menu cards are also placed tableside instead of being handed to guests at the end of the meal.
Seats on the tented Le Pré patio are limited to ensure the safety of all, but they’re available to everyone.
“What’s really exciting about this is it will be wheelchair accessible,” Hadida said.
“We’re trying to reach out to people who have been inquiring about that over the years.”
Over the past few months, though, Hadida, Robertson and a pared-down restaurant staff have been reaching out in other ways in an effort to feed people while providing farmer-suppliers with an avenue to sell their wares.
After shuttering for two weeks in the early days of the pandemic, Restaurant Pearl Morissette (RPM) operated as a country market until earlier this summer, selling food and wine, and serving as an outlet for local producers to market meat, vegetables and fruit.
It gave RPM fans the chance to safely support local farmers and the restaurant while avoiding grocery stores lineups and touch points. RPM also started an ongoing vegetable box subscription program to channel the abundance that had been planned and planted pre-pandemic in the restaurant’s gardens.
“We started the country market because it felt relevant and necessary when people didn’t want to go to the grocery store in the early days because it was uncomfortable.” Hadida explained.
But as the weeks went on and people started to feel more relaxed about venturing out, RPM staff turned their focus instead to a way of dining that had never been part of the business plan: takeout.
“It felt like people were missing fun, feeling fancy and spontaneity,” Hadida said. “You can only cook so many meals at home that’s a chunk of meat, vegetable and carb on the side.”
So he, Robertson and other members of the kitchen team decided break the pandemic dining doldrums with multi-course takeaway that came with instructions for finishing the main at home.
Menus were simpler and more collaborative than dine-in versions from times before coronavirus, but they were unmistakably Pearl Morissette in content and presentation, featuring ingredients produced in line with sustainable, regenerative farming.
“We can do that in so many ways. We don’t need a dining room for that. We don’t need 12 courses. We don’t need a sommelier,” Hadida said. “We just built out a menu that was functional. It was prepared at the last minute before pickup.”
It felt good to feed people again. And given the response, people were still hungry for the calibre of meal that landed RPM in the 17th spot on Canada’s 100 Best list this year.
“We put our hearts into it, for sure,” Hadida said.
Soon after, though, restaurants in Niagara were OK’d to open patios. Visiting one instead of ordering takeout or cooking at home was a chance at something vaguely resembling normal after months of avoiding public gatherings. That’s when Hadida and crew decided to shift their focus once again.
Takeaway was shelved in favour of Le Pré, which Hadida hopes to run late into the fall with outdoor heaters and warm ambience. Come winter, RPM staff are practised enough to revert back to takeout, if necessary.
Reservations for Le Pré can be made via the Pearl Morissette website. Blocks of bookings are released one month at a time.
“We had to sit down (when the pandemic started) and identify from the start what the restaurant is,” Hadida said. “Our focus has always been ‘Make it great and (success) will come from that.’ This was different. Now it’s thinking outside the box.”
Le Pré – the open air terrace for Restaurant Pearl Morissette
Located in the prairie field next to the big black barn, here you will find the same beautiful approach to ingredients and hospitality that many of you have come to love.