Waterfalls, Castles, and Ontario’s Finest Barbecue at Memphis Fire

 The song says “don’t go chasing waterfalls” and in a drought, this is particularly good advice; advice I failed to heed, and as such we came up dry on a hazy, hot, and humid weekend in Southern Ontario, Canada. It all ended with some ridiculously good barbecue, though, so all was right with the world. If you’re having a tough day, go find some good BBQ and I defy you to tell me that things are all that bad.

Continuing the trend of exploring Ontario prior to my European adventures this summer, I joined the lovely Angela and our good friend Shailla to go hunting for waterfalls in the Hamilton / Stoney Creek area.

In the past we’ve done well in this pursuit – here’s one from last year, when we went out on some similar quests:

 Tiffany Falls, Hamilton

 We’ve even gone chasing waterfalls when it was -30 C, and cold enough to freeze your eyelids shut (seriously, when it’s that cold you learn to blink quickly):

 Tews Falls, Hamilton

I’ve always enjoyed the pursuit of waterfalls. It’s something physical to do in the summer, as these falls are often a few kilometres off the road over some (potentially) tricky trails, and it’s always a good challenge for photographers to figure out how to shoot them well.

Anyway, we went out hunting for a couple of falls off Centennial Parkway in Hamilton and couldn’t find them. How do you lose a waterfall? I mean, they’re huge and (usually) spewing water. But we couldn’t find the first two (Centennial Falls and Billy Green Falls) because the access was hidden better than we could have imagined. We learned later how to get there, but on the hottest day of the summer so far (32 degrees, but felt like 40 with the humidex), we were stymied, walking in circles for more than a few kilometres.

Along the way we did find this fantastic castle / monument, though, so that was a pleasant surprise:

This is the Battlefield Monument, built more than 100 years ago to mark the War of 1812. This is one of the things I love about Ontario – you can think you’ve seen it all, and then out of the blue – castle. And we found it on the day of the finale of Game of Thrones (Season 6), so I figured there was some synchronicity out there in the universe.

The heat wore us down and we gave up on Billy Green, knowing that there were some other falls not far away. We trudged back to the car, jacked the A/C and made for Devil’s Punchbowl, where we knew there were two sets of falls worth seeing (or so we thought).

After driving for a few minutes we parked on a side street close to the falls and went hiking into the woods. As we neared the first set (Lower Devil’s Punchbowl) we listened for the sound of wooshing water, but it never came. Despite it being early in the summer, Ontario has had almost no rain for weeks. As a result the falls were bone dry. We looked at the craggy rocks where a cascading waterfall should have been and knew our quest had failed. Sweaty and disappointed, it would have been easy to write the day off as a failure, but you never know how things will turn out.

After a few more minutes of hiking we stopped and listened. Shaded by the canopy of thick, old trees we were enjoying a bit of a respite from the sun, and the forest was full of life. Birds singing, animals scurrying around, a mother yelling at a kid on some far-off trail, and us laughing because it wasn’t our kid…it was beautiful. We relaxed for a few minutes and took it all in, enjoying the forest, until one of us said the four magic words that would shape the rest of our day: “Wanna get some barbeque?”

Angela, Shailla, and I have an innate radar built in to determine if we’re within easy striking distance of Winona, Ontario. Winona itself is a fine little village (town? hamlet?) but would be unlikely to draw our attention save one thing – the finest BBQ in Southern Ontario.

After failing to slake our waterfall thirst, we knew Memphis Fire would help us to feel better about ourselves. There was some (very short-lived) discussion about hitting Niagara Falls – where we were pretty confident there would be some water flowing 🙂 – but we were hot and hungry, so Memphis Fire was next.

Memphis Fire is located on Highway 8, just a few minutes off the QEW (east of Hamilton, towards Niagara Falls). We first learned about Memphis Fire a few years ago when we saw it profiled on an episode of “You Gotta Eat Here”, a Canadian program showcasing restaurants across the country.

Pulling in around 12:30 we knew it would be busy, but we lucked out and got a good parking spot. As we were walking across the lot about 12 SUVs pulled in, signalling a large group was coming. Shailla, seeing this, literally ran into the restaurant to grab us a table. It was a good choice – this place can fill up fast.

I love the decor at Memphis Grill – it has a 50’s vibe, with plenty of Coca-Cola, Elvis, and surf memorabilia on the walls.

There’s a jukebox in the corner, something you rarely see these days. I was tempted to fire it up, but had much more important work to do, all related to ingesting delicious southern delicacies, cooked in the most hallowed of low and slow traditions.

Overheated, tired, and hungry, we ordered quickly and drank about three glasses of water each. Within ten minutes our waiter brought our food, and happiness ensued.

Memphis Fire has just overhauled their menu, but we were happy to see all of our favourites are still available. The prices have jumped up a bit, which was a bit of a surprise, but honestly it’s well worth it – you won’t find this kind of BBQ anywhere else in this part of the province, so what’s a few extra dollars for a unique and ridiculously good meal? They smoke all of their meat on site, the service is great, and this place is one-of-a-kind – in my book, that makes it all worthwhile.

I was looking for variety, so I opted for the Slider Sampler. This allowed me to enjoy the pulled pork, brisket, and the popular Moo Nirvana burger. All were exceptional, but to me, the highlight here is always the brisket – it’s so tender it melts in your mouth. Of course, you can’t eat here without adding fries – cooked perfectly and just salty enough, these things are art on a plate:

Shailla opted for brisket with a chopped salad.

The salad looked amazing, and she raved about it almost as much as she did the brisket. Of course, her ordering salad didn’t stop her from stealing our fries. To be fair, we encouraged her, and the fries are worth stealing.

Angela went with the brisket sandwich, always a popular choice:

You’ll notice little black containers on each of our plates with Texan relish inside. The relish is a perfect pairing for each off the meat dishes, and I can’t get enough of it. It has a mustard base and is strong enough to give a jump to anything you add it to. I think it’s pure magic, and always order extra.

The portion sizes are big, so we usually eat about half what we are served and take the rest home, prolonging our day of BBQ goodness. I’ve never tried the ribs or the chicken here, so I’ve set a goal to go back and be fair to the other marquee items on the menu. It’s good to have goals.

Feeling much better about life in general after our meals, we made our way back out into the heat and found a nearby fruit stand where Shailla bought some cherries, which she graciously shared with Angela and me. There’s nothing like Ontario fruit stands in the summer:

We jumped back in the car and explored Winona a bit, finishing our day up on the escarpment. As we munched on cherries and looked out over Lake Ontario we reflected that this had been a perfect summer day. We’d found a castle, eaten great food, and hiked about 5k. And we learned a valuable lesson – don’t go chasing waterfalls during a drought.

 The view of Lake Ontario from the escarpment, high above Winona.

Have you been to Memphis Fire? Chased waterfalls? Stolen your friend’s cherries? What do you love about Southern Ontario, or summer in general? Comment below!


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