Southern Comfort

As you work your way down the south Okanagan Valley, you're going to need nourishment to balance all that wine tasting: here's where to find the best bites in the region this summer.

As you work your way down the south Okanagan Valley, you’re going to need nourishment to balance all that wine tasting

Here’s where to find the best bites in the region this summer…


1. The Big Peach

With three daily Air Canada direct flights from Vancouver to Penticton’s tiny, efficient airport, that city is a great touring base for the south (that allows you to skip the strip-mall and traffic pleasures of Highway 97 from Kelowna’s airport). Catch the early flight, and caffeine-start your tour at Seis Cielo on Main Street, where owner Sara Turner turns next-level “transparent trade” in sustainable Honduran beans into a range of complex micro-roasts. If it’s a Saturday, that puts you right at the heart of the famed Penticton Farmer’s Market: the portion of Main Street closest to the lake is home to ultra-local preserves, produce and baked goods; walk further south for a food-truck court and crafty maker goods.

For breakfast, head to The Bench Market and grab a seat among the locals on the sunny patio, while you await your prosciutto and egg-topped avocado toast or wafflewich. Or shop a curated best-of selection of local condiments, pickles and snacks for the road. If you’re overnighting in Penticton, the Ramada Penticton Hotel & Suites has a pool and hot tub, guest barbecues and spacious tower rooms with fireplaces and a small kitchen—though why cook, when The Station Public House is newly renovated and serving locally sourced, hearty comfort food.

The best lunch in town is at Brodo Kitchen, renowned for its gourmet takeout, dishy sandwiches and a soup-flight trio (choose truffled mushroom and lentil, pulled chicken and dumpling plus a tomato-Parmesan that’s salsa verde spiked). It also serves hearty, family-style Friday and Saturday night dinners—check the rotating calendar of dishes to time your visit for the ricotta gundi, which are not to be missed.


2. Say cheese

Nothing goes better with wine than cheese, so head to the Naramata Bench and get ready to eat the first of many wine country cheese and charcuterie boards at the Upper Bench Winery & Creamery, the only valley spot producing both wine and cheese. The new Oven Wine Bar (19+ only!) has small plates and Neapolitan-style pizza emerging from the eponymous domed, blue-tiled beast. Cheese favourites include the King Cole blue and the surface-ripened Grey Baby, which go particularly well with a glass of the 2018 Riesling, made in the minimalist (no chemicals, pesticides) style.

Take a deep breath and say cheese for a second time, at Poplar Grove Cheese, which shares a tasting room with Lock & Worth Winery (the home base of winemaker Ross Hackworth and B.C. natural wine guru Matt Sherlock). Check in advance for occasional cheese-making classes with cheesemaker by Louise Pearson, or taste rounds like snowy-white Okanagan Double Cream Camembert or golden Harvest Moon Washed Rind with a glass of Lock & Worth Semillon, one of the few valley white varietal wines focusing on the signature Bordeaux grape.


3. Meal plan

If it’s a Sunday, you’re building up to one of the signature Joy Road Catering al fresco dinners at God’s Mountain Estate (this is rumoured to be the last summer that the founders, the charming and passionate host Dana Ewart and chef Cameron Smith, will be running the dinners themselves). Fortunately, you’ll be able to collapse directly into one of the guest rooms at the eclectic, Mediterranean-style estate: the Roofless Room is summer’s most charming stay, and the Estate also offers wine dinners throughout the summer.

But you can’t exactly starve while touring wineries all afternoon, so be sure to grab a patio seat at The Kitchen at Da Silva Vineyards and Winery, where chef Abul Adame prepares Portuguese-style tapas with Mexican flare (everything from ceviche to local farmer sausage with garlic mayo).


4. Covert operation

A family-friendly stop in the Oliver area, Covert Farms Family Estate is a 650-acre farm and winery. To earn a picnic and an afternoon of lawn games, perhaps you’ll bike there. Or the whole family can spend a couple of hours doing a fun and educational farm tour that covers sustainable and organic farming of produce and grapes, the farm’s livestock—and includes a ride in a 1952 Mercury pick-up truck and a food and wine tasting on the rustic patio.

While you’re wine-touring the Black Sage and Golden Mile benches, your food options run the gamut from Indian-influenced at Kismet Winery’s Masala Bistro to an artisan bakery at Platinum Bench.

A clever move is also to stop at hip deli and community food hub Oliver Eats to load up on everything—from coffee and sandwiches to croissants, bread and grab-and-go gourmet meals—you’ll need to carry you through the day.


5. Foodie desert

Osoyoos is known as Canada’s micro-desert climate, but a food desert it’s not. Find great coffee at JoJo’s Cafe, a Main Street institution (walk a couple blocks further to pop into the town’s iconic, one-stop Home Hardware for everything from tackle to toys). Spirit Ridge Resort, long home to Nk’Mip Cellars, the first indigenous-owned winery in North America, has upped its food game with The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry. Helmed by executive chef Murray McDonald, an East Coaster of Metis and Labrador indigenous heritage who has cooked around the world and at the Newfoundland sustainability temple Fogo Island Inn, it’s named for the founding myth of the local indigenous four chiefs (learn more at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre on site) and focuses on indigenous-influenced food. Lunch is anything from bannock and spreads to a bison burger, and at dinner luxe dishes like chestnut-flour pasta with braised rabbit or a salmon platter feature wild foraged local ingredients.

Book waaay ahead for a spectacular dinner by chef Chris Van Hooydonk at the Backyard Farm Chef’s Table, a 20-seat private dinner party where elements from the sourdough bread to the heirloom tomatoes and fruit compotes are grown and made right on the farm. Spectacular Arctic char sustainably farmed nearby or ethically raised and hormone- and antibiotic-free meats are sourced as locally as possible. The wisteria-draped porch will soon frame an al fresco dining option. You’ll stay at Watermark Beach Resort, of course: with its waterfront location, waterslide-adorned pool and The Restaurant it’s a must-stay experience for families, getaway-weekend groups or couples.