If Waterloo Region has a signature cuisine, it is likely the simple, home-cooked German food shown to its best effect at the country pubs in the farming villages around the twin cities of Kitchener-Waterloo. Expect nineteenth century buildings with rustic decor, ample portions, good value for money, and friendly banter of the locals as they discuss the home team’s chances, the outlook for the crops, and the news of the day. Menus typically feature rolled ribs, parts of pigs you didn’t realize could be eaten, schnitzel, cabbage, and apple butter.
Olde Heidelberg Restaurant Tavern
Founded in 1860, this former stagecoach stop became the first licensed brew pub in the region when their signature Old Bavarian style lager was offered. Today the tavern is known as one of the best places to chow down on a plate of pigs’ tails. For those who haven’t had this particular delicacy, pigs’ tails look much different than you’re probably expecting. Rather than thin, curly, and pink, they feature a relatively thick hard bone surrounded by tender, rib-like meat and then a layer of moist fat around the outside. Other local favourites to try are pork hocks (pig’s feet) and schnitzel; these can be ordered from the No Trim Menu (aka veggies or other sides that mess with the pure taste of meat, meat, meat). Enjoy the Honky Tonk piano music while sitting in one of the original green leather booths, or play shuffleboard and pool in the games room.
The Blue Moon
Like many country pubs, this was originally a stagecoach stop when it was built in 1884. The interior features typical wood overload (walls, chairs, tables, booths), but the blue ceiling and the full-sized white tree in the centre of the room adds a distinctive touch. You know you are in Waterloo Region by the eight schnitzel options on the menu. Try the limburger (a type of German cheese) and onion sandwich if you have a strong stomach or opt for the Waterloo County Trio of sausage, cabbage roll, and schnitzel. There are also rotating specials, and if Crazy Fries (piled with sour cream, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese) are available, get them.
Nith River Chop House
More upscale than other country pubs, this restaurant offers up many of the same comfort foods. Known for its apple butter, Wellesley’s chop house unsurprisingly boasts a fantastic ABC burger (apple butter, bacon, and cheddar). Several dishes make use of the house-made specialties of sausage and apple cider. Other delights include the Dutch croquettes with potato, braised beef, and mustard and Pork Kessler (cutlet) with apple bacon, chutney, and mustard cream. The décor is classy country, with farm tools hanging on the walls, antique lamp fixtures, and sturdy wood tables flanked by benches covered in cow hide.
Food is only part of the equation at this Maryhill joint – promoting country music was the reason musician Paul Webber bought this historic former hotel in the late 1990s. Call ahead to find out about upcoming live performances, two-steppin’ and barn dances, and country karaoke nights. On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays there are dinner specials for $8.95: all-you-can-eat spaghetti, fish and chips, and rolled ribs. From 8pm on, the menu is focused on pub apps and sides, from battered zucchini sticks to potato fritters served with cheddar, bacon, and dip.
This beams and stucco building in the heart of St. Agatha is an Irish pub mixed with German home cookin’. This unfussy establishment serves up cabbage rolls, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie liver and onions, and several kinds of fish and chips – all best followed, of course, with a slice of pie.
EJ’s at Baden Tavern
Located in a prime spot on Baden’s main drag, across from local landmark Castle Kilbride, the Baden Tavern was established as a hotel in 1874 and is now a historically designated site. This two-storey, red brick Georgian has an unusual cut-corner shape (a rectangle with a 40-degree corner on the right side rather than 90 degrees) since it is built on a triangular lot. When you enter the restaurant through a virtually unmarked, non-descript door along this side, you immediately feel like a local just for finding it. And it is mostly locals who swing by on weekends for a plate of the famous chicken wings. The menu also has some familiar pub foods with a distinctive Waterloo Region twist, like the Mennonite Burger with summer sausage atop the beef patty or the apple butter and cheddar topped schnitzel.