Fine Dining - Wasaga Beach Style
In the Spring of 2012, a young man phoned to ask where he could reserve a nice dinner in Wasaga Beach to bring his wife for their anniversary. He indicated that he was looking for a place that was "nice" and explained that he wanted it to be very special. I'll admit I was stumped for an answer. I rhymed off the places that are popular with locals. But the reality is, Wasaga Beach has been lacking fine dining restaurants of the sort you might find at Blue Mountain Village. Shortly after getting this call I learned that Collingwood's Catch 22 was moving to Wasaga Beach.
Now to be fair there are places that serve good food. People tell me Barcelo's is yummy. The Georgian Circle has many fans. I happen to enjoy Fiona's very much. Everyone has their own favourite place. The food quality is good in these places but the surroundings and fare are perhaps too casual for really special occasions. This is Wasaga Beach and most of the time we like to wander around in sandals and t-shirts, but now and then the occasion calls for something a wee bit more upscale. Enter Catch 22 - Fresh Market Grill.
Catch 22 owner and chef Bob Bickmore was just getting ready to open when I dropped in to talk to him about his decision to move to Wasaga Beach. Bob explained that Wasaga Beach has been his home for many years and he felt it would be a good location for his brand of food and service. I certainly can't argue with his logic. Wasaga Beach has been lacking for fine dining since the Dyconia's restaurant with their famous prime rib dinner closed down.
Mr. Bickmore, a resident of Wasaga Beach understands the casual nature of this town so when he designed Catch 22 for his prospective clients, he kept that in mind. The result is a very warm interior with dark lacquered wood floors, complimented by natural tan walls with lots of large windows to let the sunlight in. One should never forget that sunshine is one of Wasaga Beach's most popular attractions.
I'm sure many people who live in Wasaga Beach and surrounding area are already familiar with Catch 22's food. It's been a popular and successful venture since it moved into the old R-U Ready's building on Hwy 26 at Collingwood's east side. Patrons will remember that Catch 22 - Fresh Market Grill specializes in seafood and pasta dinner selections with lighter fare including sandwiches and fish & chips at lunch. The new menu, which you can view HERE (lunch) and HERE (dinner) offers a range of tantalizing selections including rib eye steak with house cut fries, chicken in a Madagascar peppercorn sauce and lobster. There is something for everyone on this menu.
The important questions are how is the food and service? Does Catch 22 - Fresh Market Grill live up to their rather large reputation? I had to find out for myself. As it happened, my Mother was visiting the area and she offered to take me to lunch at the restaurant of my choosing, so I jumped at the chance to try Catch 22. We arrived at about 1:30 p.m., which for most restaurants is the "slow" time of day but were shocked to see that nearly every table was taken. We had to wait for about 10 minutes before being seated. I see this as a good sign. Busy restaurant usually equals good food. Reservations are probably a good idea.
We waited for a further 15 minutes for the waitress to take our drink orders. I've been a waitress a time or two in my life and I could tell from the volume of people that patience was going to be needed on this particular day. It wasn't as if the wait staff were sitting on their hands - they were moving fast! There were a couple of large tables of a dozen or so patrons each who appeared to be celebrating something. Nearly every seat was spoken for. The volume of talking and laughter just a foot and a half away was a bit distracting although that's the luck of the draw in my mind. The next time I visit Catch 22 might be full of couples out for a quiet romantic evening. If a little raucous laughter is the worst thing you can say about a place, you're doing good. The surroundings are both pleasing and clean.
We each ordered the romaine salad, one with a slice of thick cut, double smoked bacon, and a couple of orders of seafood crepes. There were some interesting choices on draft including a few micro-brewery selections which could be sampled in smaller portions. This place has two thumbs up just for that but I'll continue to tell you about the food.
As we waited for the salad to arrive, the large table next to us was just receiving their food. Good god it looked amazing! Steak on a bun which was really steak on a large crusty, toasted french bread, generously portioned chicken wraps, fresh crispy green salads in square containers, large portions of perfectly golden brown fish & chips, delightfully arranged fare which beckoned us to return. It's lunch and more suited to an afternoon crowd but it's clear that the menu is not just scaled down for daytime diners. There are several items you won't find on the dinner menu and vise-versa.
The salads arrive and I'm relieved to see the romaine lettuce is crisp and an appealing shade of light green. It's been a long time I'll admit since I've been in a restaurant which seemed to care about the quality of their salads. Most times it is an afterthought; the least popular item to prepare perhaps. Mine was sans bacon, lightly dressed (just the way I like it) and covered with flakes of fresh, fragrant Parmesan cheese with chunks of crunchy, herbed croutons. Very nice. The Muskoka cream ale is good too. We always have fun to playing beer critic with the micro-brewery samples - at least until we've tried them all and chosen a clear favourite.
With salads finished it takes a little longer than it should for the crepes to arrive - but they are steaming hot and have not been waiting under a heat lamp. The wait times can be tied to the demands of the large groups in the room. Again, patience is a virtue at least on this visit. Our waitress remains friendly and upbeat which helps plenty. She manages to be attentive enough given the circumstances.
The seafood crepes (2 of them) are fat with shrimp and scallops. Crepes are always tricky for me because they can be rubbery, or made soggy by sauce. I prefer mine to be dry-ish with just enough sauce inside and out to keep them from being turned into Pablum while my Mother wants the sauce to envelop them like soup. She wins. Still, the crepes themselves stand up to the volume of cream sauce. Somehow the chef has managed to create a crepe which stays intact to the last fork full. The only real criticism of the meal is that the sauce is a tad too piquant for our tastes. The menu describes the sauce as "lemon dill cream" which may have been the signal that lemon would be the dominant taste. The lemony flavour does not detract from the meal, although we set aside the extra lemon wedge as it is unnecessary.
With our forks in the "finished" position, we commence another wait for the bill to arrive. The waitress, despite being busy remains calm and patient as my Mother pays with her debit card, without her glasses, for the first time. The cheque comes to approximately $70 with taxes (without tip); a little pricey for an everyday lunch but perfectly appropriate for a special occasion.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give Catch 22 a solid 9. The quality of the food and the surroundings are on par with anything you will find at the Village at Blue and the price was slightly less than some of their restaurants. I will definitely be back to try out some of the other offerings. They looked and smelled amazing!
All I can say is Catch 22 - Fresh Market Grill, welcome to Wasaga Beach!