Hessenland Country Inn, located on the beautiful shores on Lake Huron near St. Joseph, is one of my favourite places on the planet. As a photographer I’ve had many opportunities to enjoy the Hessenland experience during weddings and events. I’ve always found it to be a venue that’s relaxed and comfortable yet so lush and absolutely delicious at the same time!
Hessenland is gaining in popularity as a place for Ontario destination weddings and events. Its lakeside location enhances its retreat-like qualities and its full service, accommodation, dining and atmosphere make it an easy destination to choose.
The grounds at Hessenland are breathtaking: the gardens are manicured perfectly but are left natural enough to offer that fresh country appeal. You can sip a cocktail poolside before you sit down to dine either in the garden or one of the many dining rooms. The linens are crisp and white and they contrast with the rustic elegance of the coach house and natural surroundings. The food is fresh (and dee-lish!) and the service is always friendly and relaxed.
If you’re interested in Hessenland for a wedding or event you’ll have to check out Hessenland’s new app (how awesome is it that they have an app?!): “Hessenland, there is now an app for that!” It’s a wedding planning tool specific to the Hessenland wedding couple where they can book your vendors and plan their wedding itinerary. There’s also a section for guests to be able to plan their stay at Hessenland and in Huron County as a whole. How’s that for making your wedding planning not only relaxing but fun and enjoyable?
Today, however, we’re not here for a wedding. We’re headed to Hessenland to enjoy one of their most famous traditions: The Mongolian Grill. The Grill is a delicious outdoor BBQ that the chefs prepare right before your eyes! It’s a favourite in Huron County.
I had the chance to chat with co-owner Liz Ihrig about Hessenland’s popular Mongolian Grill event:
Ruralist: Can you tell me a bit about the history of Hessenland?
Liz: Christa, Ernst and Frank Ihrig immigrated from the German province of Hessen. Upon immigrating to Canada, Ernst and Christa decided to open a business that blended hospitality with Ernsts’ love of horses. Hessenland got its start as a dining room on a hobby horse farm in 1984. Since then, the Ihrig family has continually delighted its guests with German traditions and European fare.
The original property of Hessenland consisted of the original 19th century farmhouse, a barn (now the Coach House Reception Hall) and 40 acres of farmland, which was the old Bedard Homestead.
In the 80s and 90s, the Ihrigs saw an overwhelming demand for venues for weddings and large events, and thus expanded the restaurant to include the Garden Room and the Coach House Reception Hall. The beautifully landscaped gardens and easy walk to the beach behind the Inn help make it a fantastic event destination.
Today, upon entering the Inn, you will notice a modern twist to its otherwise old world charm. Antiques and modern design are now featured side-by-side in the main part of the Inn. With the 2nd generation of Ihrigs at the helm of Hessenland (Frank, the Chef, and myself (his wife)), weddings and events have become a focal part of our business, though the focus has never strayed from what made Hessenland a unique and special Inn: serving guests according to our motto of “walk in as a guest, walk out as a friend.”
Ruralist: What exactly is the Mongolian Grill?
Liz: Our version of the Mongolian Grill includes a three-course meal with a glass of wine. Guests dine in our Garden Room or Garden Terrace. They are asked their choice of the wine selection for that evening, as well as their choice of the featured soup or garden greens. Once they have completed their first course, our guests then make their way to the buffet area where they choose raw ingredients for their main course: seafood, beef, chicken, fish, different types of vegetables, and herbs and spices. Next, the guests go to the grilling station outside in the gardens. While they are waiting to have their food cooked by two chefs, the guests are treated to the sweet entertainment of Pedro Quintana on the keyboard. Once their food is cooked, guests then head to the “sides” area where they can pick up roasted potatoes, rice or spaetzle (German homemade buttered noodles which is a house specialty).
The best part is that you can go up as many times as your tummy allows to sample different types of combination of foods and vegetables. To complete your meal, you are treated to the chef’s sampler plate of sweet.
What’s unique about the Mongolian Grill event is that you are in essence your own chef! Remember, all the food is presented raw on the buffet and you are the one that will put the combinations together to be grilled by the Chef.
We like to source out local meat, fish and vegetables but there are other items that are more Asian-inspired, as well as some seafood. You will also find that all of the herbs are literally picked fresh that day from our very own herb garden. Fresh, fresh fresh is what people love about this dinner; it’s a healthy style of cooking that people enjoy and the best part is that they get to choose what they love!
Ruralist: What is the inspiration for a Mongolian Grill in Huron County?
Liz: The Grill started eight years ago and was inspired by a guest who had requested this type of dinner for their event. After the event, Frank thought it would be something fun and different to offer our guests, especially on a day when the dining room would not normally be busy. It’s also a style of eating that Frank enjoys: he’s a grazer and would prefer to eat small amounts of different types of foods over a period of time rather than a lot of food at one sitting. When we plan any special event, you may notice that the menu is often inspired by Frank’s preference for grazing.
But back to the Mongolian Grill. I must admit the first season was a hard sell–people just could not wrap their heads around this concept of choosing food from a raw buffet. With good old fashioned word-of-mouth, however, momentum grew to bring this summer event to what it is today: a weekly sell-out for which advanced reservations are required.
Who knew a Mongolian Grill at a German Inn with Cuban entertainment would be the right mix for a successful night?
Ruralist: Can you tell me a bit about your chef?
Liz: Frank, the son of the original owners Christa and Ernst Ihrig, studied Hospitality at the University of Guelph and then moved to Europe to obtain his chef’s papers at the Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch in Frankfurt, Germany. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, Frank took his love of cooking all around the world, stopping at the Greystone Country Club in Milton, Chateau Whistler in beautiful British Columbia, a winter season in Switzerland, six months in Hayman Island, Australia and finally back home to Huron County where he settled down and took over ownership of Hessenland with myself.
The Mongolian Grill is an event you won’t want to miss. Hessenland hosts the grill every Thursday during the summer, beginning on June 28. These events sell out EVERY time (how’s that for a ringing endorsement?) so make sure to book early!
If you have any questions about the grill or Hessenland as a destination, give Liz a call anytime. She’d love to hear from you!