Chef John Mairleitner has lived in kitchens and in Elgin County most of his life, and there’s no place he’d rather be.
You might have seen him cheerfully giving cooking lessons at the Arts & Cookery Bank, or cooking at local fairs and charity events in Dunwich Township, or attending FreshFest in St. Thomas. He is a familiar face at many places in Elgin County, but he is most often seen at Tall Tales Café in the village of Wallacetown, his longstanding family business that has just expanded because it is so busy.
The restaurant with its satellites of a gas station and post office has been a family business since Mairleitner’s parents established it in 1982 on the main street of Wallacetown, at 29634 Talbot Line on the corner of Curry Road where cars turn south toward Port Dover on Lake Erie, about five kilometres away.
“We are a small-town community hub in the heart of Ontario’s breadbasket,” Mairleitner says. “We are getting busier and busier and busier.
“In the summer Highway 3, the Talbot Trail, is inundated with motorbikes and campers. In the fall we have our fair and there’s the harvest, and then all winter long we get hunters coming in.
“There is something going on year-round. Whenever there is a ‘Friday the 13th’ event in Port Dover (the most recent was July 13, 2012), it gets absolutely insane here -- we can see 500 motorbikes or more come through!”
More than just its location has made Tall Tales Café successful. The talents of Mairleitner, trained as a chef at Fanshawe and George Brown college, are in demand for the quality of food he serves in the restaurant and at catered events. His pies are especially famous. It’s the crust, he says – and experience.
“When I was five years old, my mom worked in a bake shop and I was in the back chucking dough through
the machine,” Mairleitner recalls. “My parents later had restaurants and I always helped.”
What’s the secret to a good crust?
“Don’t overwork it. I show people all the time. It’s flattering being a master of something so simple.
People are amazed.”
There’s more to it, though. Mairleitner uses fresh local produce in his pies, including several types of fruits grown in his own garden, and he has a way with recipes. Listen to him describe his caramel pumpkin pecan pie:
“It has butter, brown sugar and pecan pieces, and we drizzle that on top of the pumpkin pie and bake it. I’d send you a piece but I doubt that it would get there!”
Tall Tales Café has just expanded its seating capacity to 50 seats from 36. The restaurant employs four full-time staff and a dozen part-time students, in addition to Mairleitner and his wife Holly. Their three daughters aged 14, 8 and 4 help out, too. The family tradition continues.
“I’m living the Canadian dream,” Mairleitner says.