Nicholson's Tavern, formerly the Lamb's Inn and currently the main administrative office for the rare Charitable Research Reserve, is one of oldest buildings standing in Waterloo County.
Built in 1837, the Lamb’s Inn was one of the first inns for the stage coach routes in Upper Canada. Sometime around 1853 it was notably used for a local agricultural society function.
I remember the solid, beautifully-huge stone fireplace in the centre of the tavern. It was clearly constructed by a mason to demonstrate their abilities and craftsmanship to new settlers to the area.
Ike Hertal was the original personality behind the Blair Inn, and his witty character added to his tales about his crack-shot marksmanship that helped him bag the stuffed taxidermy trophies adorning the hotel.
Over the years, the Inn sure had several cosmetic changes since my first visit with my dad back in 1958.
One of dad’s friends, Ted Munn, owned the jewel that was Nicholson's Tavern and, in 1968, friends John and Lena Melnychuk took over ownership.
Once the Melnychuks were in there, Nick's became known for the cold beer, good food, and friendly hospitality, serving homemade comfort meals that brought diners from all over the county.
The rolled ribs and pigtails were two of the reasons so many folks enjoyed the atmosphere at Nick’s.
After the Melnychuk family sold and later became the proprietors of the Queens Hotel in Ayr, one of the oldest hotels in Canada, the new owners created an all new Nick’s.
Business was booming, especially Wednesday night with the Doon campus of Conestoga College naming it their Blair Campus for their student pub nights. Those memories are the ones most of us will confess led to the saying, "what happened at Nick's stays at Nick's."
Most crossroads had an Inn but none with the following like Nick's Tavern had, with all the local entertainment, games like shuffleboard or pool, and partying.
But slowly, Nick’s went the way of similar rural taverns, losing clientele to the police RIDE programs and new, flashy nightclubs and eateries in the cities.
Rolled Stuffed Ribs
(for you to enjoy at home)
4 to 6 split racks of pork side ribs or baby back ribs
Hy's Seasoning Salt
Coleman's mustard powder
1 pound bacon
Half medium onion (chopped)
Herb mix (dried oregano, thyme, sage, salt, pepper)
Chickent stock for deglazing
Day old French bread (crust removed)
2 ounces of 10% cream
Flour fo create roux for gravy
Once you have your ribs, depending on your budget, hand rub some Hy’s Season Salt or your favourite pork rub into the ribs and coil them, securing with a bamboo skewer. In my opinion the side ribs taste the best because of the fat seams and cartilage tissue adding more flavours when fully cooked.
Once you have done this let them rest for an hour or more to marinade while the oven heats up to 375F.
In a roast pan with a lid, place the 4 or 6 coils on top of some chopped onions and sauerkraut. Pack them close, it's okay to be touching.
Now cover ribs with an equal mixture of garlic, onion, Colemans mustard powder, ground pepper and a kosher salt to taste. I like to ease up on the salt because there is a good amount in the rib rub and stuffing. Sprinkle Hy's on like it snow over each rolled portion.
Now place on the oven rack and roast uncovered for 60 minutes without opening the oven.
While that’s happening, make the stuffing.
Start with a medium hot fry pan and fry up about a half a pound of bacon.
Pour off the rendered bacon grease into a container and set aside just before the bacon starts to brown.
Add in a chopped half onion and a rib of celery. Continue to sauté on medium high heat, stirring to evenly cook.
Add in the seasonings and mix in well. My preferred herb mix has oregano, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.
Continue to sauté and deglaze with some white wine. Loosen up that cooked-on residue and continue to stir.
Add in some chicken stock. Adding this moisture will add extra flavour and make the bacon mixture soft and delicious.
Now get some day-old crusty bread and cube it up. This bread load is about a loaf of french bread with the crust removed.
Add in a freshly-mixed egg and pour over the bacon and veg mixture.
I like to add about 2 ounces of 10% cream and a few more ounces of the chicken stock, just enough to soften up the bread.
Mix by hand till all the bread is coated. It should be suitably moist but not soggy.
You now have some ready set stuffing to stick into the par baked ribs. Set aside.
Remove the ribs and spoon in a heaping amount of stuffing, but don’t pack it too tight. Follow through on the other ribs.
Now, put the roaster lid on and set the timer for 90 minutes. Lower temperature to 350F. Do not open the door. The aroma at the end of 90 minutes will tell you it’s just about done.
Remove each rolled rib using a spatula and let set on a platter.
Return the roast pan to a burner on the stove and heat till simmering.
Using the reserved bacon fat, render it down in a frying pan with equal amounts of flour until you have a dark roux.
Add heated drippings from the roast pan to roux mixture and stir for about 9 minutes, adding some chicken stock and juices to create a thick gravy.
Now plate the rib portion and remove the skewer.
Drizzle the hot bacon gravy over top and serve with applesauce, coleslaw and mashed potato, or sauerkraut, just like at Nicholson’s Tavern.
Chef Wayne Conrad Serbu writes monthly for CambridgeToday. The former executive chef also shares recipes and memories from his more than five decades in the hospitality industry on his blog, the kitchenman.