The ‘old dairy building’ finds a new role in life

DessertAlbert Cipryk, teacher/chef at Niagara College for the St. Catharines Standard

You may have noticed over the last 400 or so columns that Off the Burner is not a critique or review forum. Periodically, however, I depart somewhat and am moved to comment on a new establishment, culinary in persuasion or at least of the hospitality bent.

So here goes.

A man of East Indian descent but living in Africa, Ashak Merani, immigrates with family to Canada in the early 1970s. Family buys grocery store. Family focuses, works hard, expands holdings to include a motel. Family expands holdings even more, brothers divide assets to pursue individual enterprises. Ashak Merani pursues hospitality real estate and at press time controls a Four Points Sheraton in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and in Niagara Falls, Ont., a Days Inn, and, the subject of this column, the Sterling Inn and Spa.

Backtrack a bit. Around 1930, Bordens Dairy took over Cairns Dairy on Magdalen Street in Niagara Falls. Bordens operated there until 1974, is remembered for the last horse-drawn milk cart in the city, and their ice cream. From 1974 until 2005, the building saw a succession of bars such as Castle Rock and the Basement.

Jump ahead to 2007. The “old Bordens Dairy building” as it seems to be known in local parlance, has emerged from ugly duckling to swan status in the incarnation of the Sterling Inn and Spa. Family success and progression has worked its stuff and Faisal Merani, son of Ashak Merani, has immersed himself in the family business and now hangs his hat at the Sterling Inn, overseeing in various guises the family properties.

Now, how does an old dairy plant-cum-smoky rock bar become a slick boutique spa and hotel? And slick it is. Forty-one rooms with steam/spa showers, fitness centre, his and her side-by-side massage room, high-end dining and a specialty chef’s table for up to 12 guests.

Niagara chef and consultant, J. Mark Hand, was called by the Merani family to put together the food and beverage package for the hotel – kitchen design, chef, sommelier, food and beverage staff. Scoring large in Food and Beverage Manager, Hand hired Adam Ashukian, ex-Prince of Wales, Vineland Estates and various Vancouver properties.

After spending an overnight of dining, rooming and, alongside Chief Researcher, having a massage, it was quite obvious to us that “the old dairy building” has found its new role in life.

But the real capper is the cuisine. In the planning stages, the decision was made that the cuisine would be “fine dining,” that it would be regional-seasonal and that they would bring a slice of wine country into the city. In his search, Hand could not have found a better chef for the plan than Cory Linkson.

Linkson graduated from Niagara College’s chef apprentice program in the early 1990s. Stints for five years each at Hillebrand under Tony Deluca and at Peller Estate winery under Jason Parsons and other notables has rounded chef Linkson into a highly skilled and imaginative culinary craftsman.

Our dinner one evening at Chef’s Table with 10 other guests was absolutely stellar and without hesitation I enter it into the top five meals I have ever had in Niagara.

The wine list is 100 per cent VQA Niagara and includes such gems as Hillebrand Glenlake Merlot 2002, Pillitteri Family Reserve Merlot 2002 and 13th Street Cuvee Thirteen.

Chief Researcher and I did a half-time change on two starters, a Seared Sea Scallop on couscous salad with lemon thyme beurre blanc and a Beetroot Cured Salmon “Gravlax” with Salade Nicoise and a boiled quail egg. Outstanding flavours.

Following was one of the most interesting and delicious soups I have ever tasted, a Truffled Jerusalem Artichoke Veloute garnished with fire roasted peppers and hot smoked trout.

Next courses were Arctic Char with a Potato Horseradish Crust and a Toasted Almond and Brie Crusted Beef Tenderloin with a foie gras red currant jus. CR and I did the half-time change again – twice the bang for the buck and double your flavour pleasure.

Of course it wasn’t possible to eat any more after that so we just had the White Chocolate and Basmati Rice Pudding with sundried cherries and Gamay jelly and the Callebuat Chocolate Torte with spiced cabernet poached pear. Oh, Mama.