If there’s one thing better than a road trip, it’s one filled with incredible food! In the Canadian province of Ontario, you’ll find not one but two road trips focused on a beloved Canadian dessert -- the butter tart. Located just a short drive from Toronto, both of these routes offer a wide variety of delicious pit stops, wonderful scenery, and friendly communities.
Both routes can be enjoyed year-round, and each season has its own advantages. In winter, though some bakeries have reduced hours, visitors are rewarded with delicious seasonal flavors and beautifully decorated small villages. In spring, communities come into bloom, and the trip is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. In summer, festivals and special events abound, and you can sample butter tarts at farm stands, markets, and more. Finally, in autumn, the seasonal colors are spectacular, and it might just be the prettiest time to explore. But no matter what time of year you choose, you can be assured of a fantastic foodie adventure.
What Is A Butter Tart?
The classic Canadian butter tart traditionally has a thick, pastry crust filled with a gooey, rich, sugary syrup. It’s often compared to a Quebecois sugar pie or an American pecan pie (minus the nuts, of course), but as any Canadian will tell you, the butter tart is a true Canadian treat with its own distinct flavor.
Butter, sugar, syrup, and eggs are combined to make the heavenly filling. There is considerable debate among Canadians about further flavor additions. Many purists will defend the classic butter tart and argue that simple is best. Others are willing to concede that maple syrup, walnuts, or pecans are acceptable additions. But nothing is so controversial as raisins! A vocal minority loves them, while others hate them. Finally, a few bakeries push the envelope by adding chocolate, caramel, chili, and even bacon to make novelty butter tarts.
However you make them, butter tarts are more than just a sugary snack. They’re a part of the Canadian identity, and Ontario, in particular, is crazy about them -- so much so that butter tarts have warranted not one, but two tourist routes.
Trail Or Tour?
Raisins aren’t the only controversial elements of Ontario’s butter tarts. There is both a Butter Tart Trail and a Butter Tart Tour! To make things even more confusing, both are located in southern Ontario, just a few hours from each other. But there’s nothing for tourists to fear. While the trail and the tour once had a rather tense rivalry, differences have (mostly) been set aside in favor of good-natured competition, and they compare their coexistence to that of a wine region with multiple wine routes.
The Butter Tart Trail
The Butter Tart Trail was established in 2006 in Wellington County. The heart of the trail is about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto in an area that is largely agricultural. Small, community-focused bakeries are the focus of the trail and the leading tourism draw for this quiet area. There are more than three dozen locations participating in the trail and, in addition to bakeries, there are gift shops and studios that sell butter tart novelties. Here are some notable locations to mark on your map.
Where To Start: With The Grain, Guelph
While it’s hard to pick just one stop on the Butter Tart Trail, there’s a strong case for visiting With the Grain in the city of Guelph. Not all visitors have the time to go off the beaten path and explore the more rural bakeries, but With The Grain is located in a city and is easily accessible as an afternoon detour for visitors to Guelph’s many attractions.
In addition to butter tarts, With the Grain produces cakes, cookies, bread, squares, and more. Try their Bee Sting square, which has a shortbread base and caramelized honey and almonds on top. They also have jars of jam and preserves and locally roasted coffee.
Super Sweet: A La Mode Cafe & Ice Cream Shop, Drayton
Just when you thought that butter tarts couldn’t get any sweeter, you can enjoy them with a side of ice cream in the small community of Drayton. This cute cafe’s motto is “Every day should start with coffee and end with ice cream,” and to that point, they’ve got an extensive menu of espresso drinks, with a good selection of breakfast sandwiches and lunchtime paninis (look for the apple butter, bacon, and triple cheese panini!). Butter tarts are available in six-packs to take home.
Foodie Favorite: Belwood Country Market, Belwood
This country store and takeout bakery is the place to go for culinary adventurers who are keen to try some of the more unusual butter tart flavor combinations. In addition to classics like plain, pecan, and raisin, Belwood Country Market sells raspberry coconut, blueberry white chocolate, Reese’s peanut butter cup, and Skor varieties. They also offer grab-and-go sandwiches and heat-at-home meals like shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and spaghetti.
Great For Gluten-Free: The Red Door Restaurant, Fergus
This gluten-free-friendly cafe features butter tarts on their stomach-sensitive menu. But beware -- their in-house recipe includes raisins! The Red Door is also a terrific lunch stop, with a menu strong in soups, sandwiches, and coffee. The community of Fergus is home to one of the largest and oldest Scottish Highland Games in North America, and it’s well worth spending several days enjoying the festivities.
The Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour
When the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour was first established in 2011 as the “Butter Tart Tour,” the similarities between it and the Butter Tart Trail were too strong to ignore, and there was confusion between the two routes. Since then, it’s been rebranded as the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. It’s also different in that it lays out an itinerary of 50 bakeries to visit. These must meet certain criteria, including that everything must be baked on-site.
Where To Start: Bobcaygeon Bakery, Bobcaygeon
With so many charming communities to choose from, why does Bobcaygeon top the list? This small town is known to every Canadian, even though very few have visited it. One of Canada’s most popular rock bands, The Tragically Hip, has a song titled “Bobcaygeon” that every Canadian knows the lyrics to. Therefore, it seems only fitting to eat one of the country’s most popular treats in a town made famous by one of its most popular bands.
At Bobcaygeon Bakery, the list of butter tart flavors includes plain, pecan, raisin, rhubarb, maple, and chocolate. Beyond butter tarts, they have seven different kinds of savory quiche, along with sweet pies, bread, and European-style pastries.
Fun And Farm Fresh: Quaker Oaks Farm, Sebright
This beautiful, family-friendly working farm stands out from the already diverse offerings of the Butter Tart Tour. The Quaker Oaks Farm store includes treats like handmade stuffed olives in 15 flavors, domestic and imported cheese, preserves, maple syrup, honey, retro candy, and, of course, butter tarts! The 117-acre property also serves as an animal sanctuary, and you can feel good knowing your yummy treats are supporting a good cause.
Cute And Cozy: Betty’s Pies & Tarts, Cobourg
With homemade pies complete with little hearts and a wide variety of seasonal goods starting at just $1.25, Betty’s Pies & Tarts is a down-to-earth bakery that makes everything from scratch and offers great value. That authenticity is evident in every bite of their butter tarts, which may just be the best on the tour (though you may not want to tell the other bakeries that). Their award-winning recipe is 40 years old and still going strong.
Holiday Heaven: Baked 4U, Peterborough
With 10 varieties of butter tarts (including a few named after Canadian celebrities), Baked 4U is a fantastic stop to stock up on butter tarts as well as other tempting baked goods. Come Christmas, they also offer exquisitely decorated seasonal sugar cookies and gingerbread houses, plus holiday-themed butter tart flavors like gingerbread and mincemeat. Baked 4U also offers loose-leaf teas and British food products.
Located in the small city of Peterborough, this is the perfect spot to pick up special treats if you’re visiting friends or family members.
Pro Tip: Even if you can’t visit the Butter Tart Trail or Butter Tart Tour, you can still make butter tarts at home. Chatelaine’s recipe for classic butter tarts is a good one to start with. Another good choice is Canadian Living’s version -- but it does involve the controversial raisins!