Haldimand County is a rural municipality on the north shore of Lake Erie. It has strong farming roots and welcoming communities scattered throughout.
It is also home to one of the most innovative kitchens in the province.
Led at the helm by husband-and-wife duo Chef Dan and Laurie Megna, Twisted Lemon Restaurant and Boutique Inn has been creating spectacular dishes and innovative cocktails for years. It has gotten them noticed — and not just by the local community.
People drive to their small town of Cayuga — more than 100 km from Toronto — just for the dining experience.
Recently the couple added a boutique inn to their offerings so out-of-town guests now have a place to spend the night.
"We have 3 boutique suites that are equipped with artisan organic soaps from Laura's Soap Delights, coffee from Relay Coffee Roasters in Hamilton, and custom chocolates from My Sweet Sweet World Chocolates in Haggersville," Dan says, underscoring just how local they like to source products.
Twisted Lemon is dedicated to being as sustainable as possible, they tell me, and to supporting the local community and producers.
But never content to do just the bare minimum, Dan and Laurie created an entire tourism ecosystem around their growing business.
"We've partnered with a number of different local businesses. We've actually brought them in and we've created our own little tourism initiative with local businesses to give our diners an opportunity to experience the entire community," Laurie says.
"Now that they have a chance to stay over, they're here long enough that they can go to the brewery or go to the yoga studio or go do a fishing charter and we've combined forces with all these local businesses."
It is this concept that won Dan and Laurie the Business of the Year Canadian Tourism Award presented by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC).
Dan and Laurie met in the restaurant business and when they decided to open their own place, they knew they wanted to leave behind the toxic parts of the business.
"We have been celebrating local food, sustainability and inclusivity from the moment our doors opened," Dan says.
Their journey was not without challenges and they even appeared on the reality show series The Opener with David Adjey.
But on July 19, 2009, they opened Twisted Lemon and nearly 15 years later, continue to have a thriving restaurant business with integrity.
"We always strive for win-win-win," Dan says. "It has to be good for our guests, it has to be good for our business and it has to be good for our staff."
Being in such close proximity to farmers and producers has made a big difference in Dan's kitchen.
"When we were working in Toronto, we would get deliveries to the backdoor and they would come in boxes with the names on the boxes," Laurie said. "And now we have the actual farmers and growers coming to our back door with the dirt still on the roots."
One phone call to a local farmer to put in an order for a feature they have, means "they are pulling it out of the ground or cutting the rhubarb or the asparagus whatever right then, so that's how incredibly fresh it is. And that's not just for the produce. That's also for the game."
Dan adds that a lot of the producers they work with are also regulars at the restaurant.
"It's pretty cool."
In January 2021, Twisted Lemon also launched a line of in-house cocktails, called Clarity Unruffled Cocktails, that feature unique flavours and can be taken home to enjoy.
Because of Dan and Laurie's commitment to sustainability, the cocktails are created with practically no waste.
The glass bottles are returnable, after which they are sterilized and reused; some of the by-product is composted and some is used by Dan in the kitchen, turning the unique flavours into things like dressings, ice creams or cheesecakes.
"Because it's all organic, we can get creative with it and it is a unique flavour profile that you can only get here," he says.
To showcase just how local the food is that appears on Dan's plates, we've asked him to source some of the ingredients in this Pan Seared and Roasted Duck Breast dish.
The duck breast comes fresh from La Folia Fields in Burlington.
The edible flowers are grown at Twisted Lemon.
In fact, the couple say they grow the majority of the vegetables they use.
"60% of the produce used in the restaurant is from our very own organic garden just 33 steps from the kitchen and fertilized with our own vermicomposting system. Seeds are either saved from last year's harvest or sourced from Match Box Garden just up the road."
For beef and pork dishes, like this standout steak, Dan turns to VG Meats in Stoney Creek.
Dairy is sourced from Hewitt's Dairy, 50% of the wine used in the restaurant comes from Ontario made and they use all local craft beer, "including a custom collaboration with Concession Road Brewery in Jarvis."