519 Schmecks: Eating Along the Iron Horse Trail

5.5 kilometers of old rail line turned community trail connects beautiful downtown Kitchener to the heart of uptown Waterloo, Victoria Park to Waterloo Park, goose to peacock, physicist to factories — it’s all along the line. Established in 1997 as a joint effort between the two cities, the Iron Horse Trail moves an awful lot of local traffic.

Let’s abandon feet for taste buds and explore the real thing at hand here — food and drink! The Iron Horse Trail has become gastronomical highway. Walk with me and experience the trail the best way. Let’s eat it!?  

Let’s start in Kitchener at Ottawa St — Stock Exchange is my first stop. It’s not open to the public, but we’re family so I sneak in. Jill makes an amazing product we know and love, but rarely take time to make — nutrient dense and delicious bone broth. Available in over 200 stores, it’s all made here — a bones throw from the trials head. A perfect first stop, the frozen tubs will act like a cooler in my bag. 

The next stop is Short Finger Brewing. In addition to being the number one spot for homebrew everything, Rob and team brew beer — amazing barrel aged funky, fun beer. Grab a few bottles for later and have at least one in their tasting room while you enjoy some “where did this come from” incredibly good Vietnamese food from local food hero Thomson Tran and Wooden Boat Food Co. in the same building. Bahn mi and beer in hand, brewery bay doors open, trail rolling by — the horse is good.   

Once we’re back on the trail, it’s time for ice cream, KW is spoiled with culinary stars and Four All Ice Cream may top the list. Not much to say here, Four All rocks and you know it. They make some of the best ice cream money can buy; it’s that simple. Just off the trail it somehow transforms the concrete banks of Schneider Creek to something truly sublime.

Onward, we’ll make your way through Victoria Park where one will always be tempted by the amazing smells of a myriad of multicultural barbecues and where families and friends gather over feasts taking advantage of the park. This area is also home to some great neighborhoods where you are sure to see community gardens, signs for the annual Cherry Park Cherry Fest. If the wind blows just right, smells of the smoker at T and J’s Seafood cranking out top notch goods. 

That reminds me, you’ll cruise right past City Cafe where you can find the best bagels in the 519. Be sure to pull a wide u-turn, get some T and J’s smoked salmon to top the bagels.

Back on track and nearing Belmont Village, our bag will be growing heavy and our bellies should be nearing full. No stopping this time, but just drool through the next 1,500 metres passing Graffiti Market, Arabella Park, Culinary Studio, Belmont Bistro, Raja Fine Indian — to name a few. 

Next bend brings Vincenzo’s, the culinary gateway to Uptown Waterloo, so we should load up on cheese. Leaving Vincenzo’s we are once again overwhelmed with dining options, until we reach trails end in Waterloo Park we won’t be out of sight or smell of great local gems, Red House and Thai Sun boasting tempting patios to the wavering walker.  

Unique buildings and architecture surround us as we enter the park. The juxtaposition of the Grist Mill is not lost, the windows of the Perimeter Institute playing backdrop to the Mill’s stone walls really sum up Waterloo nicely for me. I’m off to see a peacock about some cheese and enjoy a beer under the shade of a large old tree. The laws about that are changing, right?

Check out my recipe online for an incredible pho style soup using beef broth from the Stock Exchange — Iron Horse Soup. 

Nick Benninger is a local chef and restaurant owner.