by Andrew Coppolino | February 2023
Thinking of bundling up the family and heading out for a mid-winter road trip? There’s a lot to see and do in Waterloo Region – and lots of family-friendly places to eat when the crew needs to re-fuel.
Here are six suggestions that include mac and cheese and a moose, that families should check out during their getaway to the Region. (Please remember to check with individual venues for dish availability and hours of opening.)
Jack’s Family Restaurant, Waterloo
Five hotels, St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market and shops as well as the St. Jacobs Playhouse all within walking distance: Jack’s Family Restaurant is busy with families.
The menu is large and varied with plenty of casual, home-style affordable dishes made for families with kids. There’s an interactive menu with colouring and crayons, a maze, crossword, word search, tic-tac-toe and corny food-related jokes. Kids receive free ice cream with their meal and eat free every Tuesday after 4 p.m. (conditions may apply).
“We’re a family restaurant owned and operated by a family. We stay in tune with the needs of our guests,” says owner Saddy Kulafi. “It’s tradition, too. We have seen customers date each other here, then get married, then have babies, then see their children grow up into teens and visit us.”
Four All Ice Cream, Waterloo
Kids of all ages love ice cream, and Waterloo Region has one of best spots for the creamy, home-made treat: Four All Ice Cream.
The small shop on Willis Way has a few “cozy seats” inside for enjoying your scoops, but there is also seating in and around the store, says owner Ajoa Mintah.
“There’s the square out front, the little park toward the Bauer Lofts, and the mall inside also has seating. Single, double and triple scoops are available, but there’s also a mini-scoop for kids, she says.
Importantly, the sprinkles are at eye level.
There is special attention paid in Four All ice cream production when it comes to allergens and keeping the flavours as natural as possible: there’s no dyes, for instance. On Tuesdays, sundaes are reduced in price, and they’re soon introducing “Waffle Wednesday” with specially priced waffle sundaes.
“For the Monday to Saturday of our ‘March Break Madness,’ we’ll have something kid-focussed each day,” Mintah adds.
Open daily at noon, ice cream “for all” in the cooler weather will surely help the warm days of spring get here all the sooner.
Moose Winooski’s, Kitchener
What is more Canadian – and what is funnier for kids to say – than “Moose!”? A Canadiana lodge tradition in Waterloo Region, Moose Winooski’s has something for every member of the family to eat, including anyone preferring a plant-based meal, according to vice-president operations Bill Siegfried.
“The Moose has always been a family-friendly spot where kids can be kids,” says Siegfried adding that the focus is on “eatertainment” that extends beyond food and service to whole-family casual-dining experience.
“There are no pretentions. We’re just a place to sit, relax and let the kids soak in the atmosphere. In summer, the grounds, paths and fountain are great ways to pass the time waiting for a table. Staff are trained to focus on the kids because it’s their dinner out too.”
Oh, and there’s a variation of S’mores on the menu too.
Play-a-Latte Café, Kitchener
This innovative business, which opened in 2018, combines a café for people caring for kids with play space for the little ones. Kids engage and be kids while parents, grandparents and caregivers relax with a host of specialty drinks such as espressos and cortados along with sandwiches and baked goods. Play-a-Latte Café bills itself as a “one-stop shop” for coffee lovers and families.
Parents can finish a cup of locally roasted coffee or latte before the brew gets cold and kids can burn off some energy — and hopefully have a long nap afterwards. The in-house early-childhood educator runs a number of tots’ classes geared towards different age groups and abilities with crafts, songs, and activities for skill development through play-based learning.
Parents can pre-book play dates ahead of time online to avoid hitting capacity limits for a safe and fun experience. There are specific start and end times to allow staff to sanitize between play dates.
Scran and Dram Scottish Public House, New Hamburg
Co-owner Sabrina Hutchison describes the vibe as “super laid back” and community focussed.
Check out “Yer Bairns” (for kids under 12 years) which includes smaller burgers, fish and chips, mac and cheese and nachos. The menu for younger kids has activities on it, including colouring, of course.
“All kids’ meals include a drink and free ice cream,” Hutchison adds. “Larger groups and parties in our event room can order our platters for sharing. Anywhere in the restaurant, we’re relaxed and fun, and we welcome families and kids of all ages.”
Hemlock Burger Barn, Waterloo
As he took over The Cedar Barn, owner-operator Josh Perovic wanted a “melting pot for guests” like Morty’s or Ethel’s in Waterloo.
“I wanted to make sure it was a fun environment for people of all walks of life. I’ve put a lot of emphasis on making this a fun place for families,” he says.
That includes a toy chest for a post-meal take-away treat and free kids’ ice cream on Wednesdays. Weather permitting, there’s free skating in the back and there are many occasions for family celebrations, such as Canada Day, says Perovic.
“We cater kids’ birthdays and end-of-year parties, and I often have adults telling us about their experiences coming Cedar Barn as a kid,” he adds. “We sell burgers and breakfasts but we are also about the experience. We are helping build memories.”
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.