by Andrew Coppolino
Let’s first acknowledge that many, many popular national-chain restaurants are pretty good about accommodating kids: they offer special (and sometimes kids-eat-free) menus, toys, crayons and games that fit in well with the generally relaxed and casual – and often just plain loud – dining rooms that make these outlets so popular.
But if you’re looking for something different – and something more distinctly Waterloo Region – there are indie-restaurants and less expected venues in Waterloo Region that excel at serving kids, from a simple burger joint to more upscale casual craft-beer havens that the parents want to visit too.
In no particular order, here are a few suggestions. Please check with the individual venues for hours of opening and availability of certain dishes, remembering that menus and prices are subject to change.
Long an anchor of comfort-food eating in Kitchener, the Lancaster Smokehouse has the right combination of environment and food to keep kids occupied. The menu consists of smaller portions of kid-favourites like popcorn chicken and mac and cheese, says co-owner Tim Borys.
“We also do free ice cream treats for the kids as well as having interactive games on the menu,” Borys says.
The Lanc has a vibrant and pleasantly noisy ambiance to hold a kid’s attention and stimulate the appetite, too. “It’s the kind of place people will remember going to as kids with fond memories,” Borys adds.
There’s also great baked goods made in-house too
Kids’ menus work well but a number of restaurants offer platters which allow sharing among a family: Lancanster Smokehouse, J&B Family Restaurant and Veslo are a few examples, the latter being hearty eastern European fare.
Graffiti Market, located on Glasgow Street at Catalyst137, the world’s largest “Internet of Things” hub near Belmont Village, has the region’s only interactive “Smart Dining Tables” for both ordering food and drink and for playing games. (Actually, the tables are quite a draw for kids of all ages.)
A caveat: the tables are in high demand so plan ahead when making reservations.
Wuddup Dog, located at 960 King Street East, Cambridge, is home to a couple dozen hotdogs and sausages along with fries, poutine and other fryer fare. For dessert there’s deep-fried Oreos and more.
“We have a kid’s item called the Puppy Pack, which is a home-made corn dog with fries, juice and a dessert,” according to owner Todd Johns.
Kids 13 and under eat free on Sundays with the purchase of two regular adult combos, says Johns. “We’re also bringing back our Little Tyke Open Mic when school is out.”
Also in Cambridge, Little Louie’s Burger Joint and Soupery, as seen on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here,” is just plain fun and delicious, no matter your age. There isn’t a kids’ menu, but there are sliders on the menu which are a good size for kids.
“It’s a burger joint, so it’s everybody-friendly,” says chef-owner Steve Allen.
If healthier eating is high on your list of priorities, you might want to check out The Chopped Leaf at both the Kitchener Boardwalk and Waterloo Northfield locations: with the purchase of an adult meal, kids eat free after 4 p.m.
The name alone should tip you off: Moose Winooski’s has a kids’ menu and is a kid-friendly environment that is fun and lively, according to Bill Siegfried, Charcoal Group director of operations.
“The atmosphere at the Moose lets kids be kids. We encourage it, and parents really appreciate not having to stress about their kids being loud. We try to make it as family friendly as possible,” says Siegfried.
In Wellesley, the Nith River Chop House has a western, ranch-house décor that is pretty interesting to sit amidst. Sunday night is the restaurant’s “Family Night” feature, but there’s also a new menu for kids under 12: build your own meal with a drink, main course, side and dessert.
“We’re currently renovating the patio, and we’ll have a projector so kids will love movie nights,” says general manager Chelsy Padron. Sister restaurant Drayton Chop House has the same menu.
Near the University of Waterloo, the newly renamed The Round Table (formerly The Watchtower) has “kids eat free Sundays” when an adult purchases an entrée. Otherwise, kid menu items are $9.
“We also have featured family-friendly trivia and events along with a lot of family board games,” says co-owner Cameron Shaver. Shaver recommends checking the restaurant website and social media for up-to-date event listings.
At about a dozen items, the kids’ menu at the lively Bauer Kitchen (TBK) in Waterloo is a full one. The restaurant, an historic former felt factory inspired in its design by the SoHo neighbourhood of lower Manhattan, is appealing to both parents and kids.
As for the food, burgers, pasta, chicken and pizza are there, but so is a brunch menu that includes French toast, waffles and a yogurt bowl. Look for an update this spring and summer, says new TBK chef de cuisine Graham Pelley.