Meet Mid­town, St. Catharines’ next din­ing des­ti­na­tion

The Niagara Falls Review - - LIFE - TIF­FANY MAYER EAT­ING NI­A­GARA — Tif­fany Mayer is the au­thor of Ni­a­gara Food: A Flavour­ful His­tory of the Penin­sula’s Bounty. She blogs about food and farm­ing at time­for­grub.com. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @eat­ing­ni­a­gara.

Karl Van­derkuip has no­ticed some­thing ’s miss­ing along Rus­sell Av­enue in St. Catharines.

The street that carves a swath through the city’s mid­town is home to a com­mu­nity cen­tre, apart­ments for se­niors, a con­ve­nience store, and even an ap­pli­ance shop.

But what the long res­i­den­tial street set be­tween Wel­land Av­enue and the QEW doesn’t have is a neigh­bour­hood spot to go for a bite with fam­ily and friends, or to grab a cof­fee to un­wind.

Van­derkuip wants to change that as the new owner of a mixed-use build­ing carved into apart­ments on the corner of Rus­sell and Wolse­ley av­enues.

He has vi­sions of ren­o­vat­ing the tired, white-sided two storey, keep­ing apart­ments up top and turn­ing a for­mer main-floor com­puter re­pair shopin­toa144-square-me­tre,30-seat res­tau­rant. An 81-square-me­tre joint with room to add a street-level apart­ment is also an op­tion.

Van­derkuip en­vi­sions a space like The Butcher’s Daugh­ter, the highly In­stra­gram-able New York and Los An­ge­les cafes with ex­posed brick and high ceil­ings. Some­thing with the neigh­bour­hood feel of bak­ery where first names are ex­changed with reg­u­lars stop­ping in for loaves and sweets.

“Some­thing (res­i­dents) can walk to, to be part of the life­style. It would be re­ally great for the neigh­bour­hood,” said Van­derkuip, a lo­cal real es­tate agent. “For me, a res­tau­rant at that lo­ca­tion would be a great meet­ing point within that com­mu­nity and I think that neigh­bour­hood is look­ing for it from a walk­a­bil­ity point.”

As he points to ar­chi­tect’s draw­ings that show an up­dated, sided fa­cade with large win­dows that could open to cre­ate a pa­tio feel, he ad­mits he needs a tenant to make it hap­pen.

He’s seek­ing chefs and food en­trepreneurs with dreams of open­ing a place of their own; cater­ers who want to add take­out to their busi­ness plan.

Van­derkuip hopes to get re­mod­elling un­der­way for such a spot by late win­ter or early spring.

The idea of a res­tau­rant in this es­tab­lished res­i­den­tial corner of St. Catharines isn’t a stretch. He’s sim­ply rid­ing the wave that’s cur­rently crest­ing in mid­town’s favour.

Steps away from Van­derkuip’s build­ing, 16 town­houses are un­der con­struc­tion. Old bank build­ings and fire halls nearby have been con­verted to web­site agen­cies and ar­chi­tec­tural firms. There’s a new school a few blocks west, and the old Me­mo­rial School that’s been con­verted to a Montes­sori school.

Mid­town is also be­com­ing a din­ing des­ti­na­tion with other new restau­rants set­ting the ta­ble here. Among them are the raved-about Ma Chi­nese Cui­sine in the old Her­itage Res­tau­rant build­ing on Geneva Street, Lang Viet­namese Hot Pot in a for­mer Church Street flower shop, and Mire­poix, a cosy brunch spot that opened this fall on Court Street near the Mid­town Plaza.

“De­vel­op­ment is hap­pen­ing in that area and we’re see­ing it as an­other growth op­por­tu­nity for, I’ll call it, down­town,” said Brian York, the city’s di­rec­tor of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Mid­town is the area north of the city cen­tre, stretch­ing up from Wel­land Av­enue to Carl­ton Street, west to On­tario Street and east to Ni­a­gara Street.

It’s filled with older, af­ford­able homes be­ing bought up by young pro­fes­sion­als who want to live within walk­ing dis­tance of down­town, “yet it’s still a neigh­bour­hood,” York noted.

De­vel­op­ments like the new restau­rants al­ready here, and what Van­derkuip is propos­ing are “build­ing blocks” to cre­at­ing neigh­bour­hoods like those in Toronto with their dis­tinct cul­tures.

“You wouldn’t see a night club open­ing there but hav­ing a cof­fee house or gath­er­ing place is a great thing for the neigh­bour­hood,” York said.

Es­pe­cially one on the pe­riph­ery, ex­plained Maddy War­den, owner of Mire­poix. For years, War­den slung plates of eggs and pork belly at The Bleu Tur­tle on the edge of down­town in Western Hill.

Al­though she grew up and bought her first home in Mid­town, be­ing on the bound­ary of the city cen­tre was a strate­gic busi­ness move.

“I en­joy that as­pect of the hid­den gem. It’s not quite on the beaten path but close by,” War­den said.

That it’s in Mid­town is even bet­ter.

“We’re closer to a neigh­bour­hood like Gar­diner (Place) and Woles­ley — all these fun ar­eas that are al­ready es­tab­lished,” War­den said. “There’s also a lot of de­vel­op­ment (hap­pen­ing). Younger fam­i­lies are mov­ing in who are look­ing for this sort of spot.”

And, Van­derkuip hopes, Ni­a­gara’s new­est restau­ra­teur is among them.

“I re­ally want to have the con­ver­sa­tion with some­one who wants to start a hip new res­tau­rant,” he said. “It bodes well for the neigh­bour­hood. I can’t think of a more ex­cit­ing lo­ca­tion than the one we have to con­tinue with that trend.”

TIF­FANY MAYER/SPECIAL TO POST­MEDIA NEWS

Karl Van­derkuip is the proud owner of a Rus­sell Av­enue build­ing he wants to ren­o­vate to in­clude apart­ments and a res­tau­rant —all he needs now is a tenant.

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