The menu at Cecil’s Brewhouse and Kitchen is as diverse as its clientele.
“In a small community like North Bay, we try to be all things to all people. We appeal to families, we appeal to young adults, couples, and seniors,” explained owner John Lechlitner.
“We have some great homemade pasta dishes and everything we do, we try to do with a bit of a twist. We do a meatloaf but it is an individual bacon wrapped meatloaf stuffed with cheese. So when we look at the food side, we want to do lots of traditional foods but maybe with a modern twist and keeping in mind who that demographic is going to be. We have casual and casual pub so it could be wings, we make our own salads, homemade soups on to entrees.”
Cecil’s is well known locally for its steaks and prime rib.
“Before the pandemic at our Prime Rib Sunday there would be lots of families. Then you look through the week, before the pandemic we were still doing a little bit of entertainment. Then you would see people 20 to 45 years old, maybe 50 years old. At lunch time it was traditionally the downtown office crowd coming for lunch. Right now going out for lunch is still a bit of a novelty because people are continuing to work from home.”
Customers are taking full advantage of the outdoor patio, eagerly anticipating the reopening of indoor dining.
When it comes to food production, the kitchen staff prides itself on creating fresh, unique dishes to tantalize the pallet.
”Our philosophy has always been, some people will say we do it the hard way, but to do as much from scratch as we can. It doesn’t have to be fine dining; it doesn’t have to be casual dining to be done from scratch. It can all be done from scratch,” noted Lechlitner.
“So, if someone wants chicken strips, we take chicken breasts and we bread them. We cook prime rib every weekend. When we do pasta dishes, we make our own tomato sauces, that kind of stuff. So we do do things a little bit old school that way and I think that has been a big part of our success. And to me and our entire team here, it also makes it more fun. Anybody can take something out of a can or a package and heat it and serve it, but that takes the fun out of it. And the food is just not as good.”
Chef J P Parnell finds the fun in taking an ordinary dish and turning it into something extraordinary. The popular Asian Cashew Chicken Stir Fry is a feast for the eyes and a party for the taste buds.
“It started out as a vegetable stir fry. Originally on one of our first menu’s it was a Pad Thai and as with everything on our menu between John, myself and Terry we tried to evolve it and make it sell more. So we took the Pad Thai out and kept a bit of the peanut sauce and a little bit of the spice and it evolved that way. It is one of the big sellers, ” shared Parnell.
“People like the freshness of it with all the fresh vegetables and it is just a little bit different. You can’t really get it anywhere else.”
With over 30 years cooking experience, Chef Parnell enjoys the collaborative effort that goes into creating a crowd pleasing menu.
“We’ll try stuff that is right off the wall in what we call Cecil’s test kitchen. Some days it is back to the drawing board and we keep playing with it until we get something people like. It seems to have worked for us in a lot of our dishes, “ Parnell explained.
“I would say a good portion of our dishes have evolved from that one that we started with or we see something and we say ‘That’s crazy let’s try it.!’ For example the cinnamon bun cheesecake that sounded so good. The desserts first started going like that and we thought of the deep-fried butter tart. Nobody really thought of that before and now it is one of our best sellers. And now the cinnamon bun cheesecake is one of our best sellers. It is a group effort, any time somebody can bring some fresh ideas into it and gets the creative juices going it is fun.”
Cecil’s underwent some renovations just prior to the pandemic hitting.
“We had great timing. We modernized the room, we changed the layout a little bit, made it a little warmer, more booth seating. Again a reflection on where we thought the market was going.” Lechlitner stated.
The building dates back to the early 1900’s operating as a tavern, hotel and restaurant through the years. Lechlitner purchased the building in 1988 intending to redevelop the property.
“Once we purchased it, we decided to do renovations and hold on to it. We initially renovated the beverage room called the Connie. It had a few different names and we renovated it into Wylder’s and created a live music venue and ran it that way until 2003. We started to transition into Cecil’s and when we transitioned into Cecil’s it really became more about the food,” Lechlitner added.
“In 2015-16 we put in the in-house brewery which became the brew pub part of it.”
A few of its beers are now incorporated into some of the dishes.
“So for example, our French onion soup is made with our stout beer instead of like a red wine or a traditional French onion soup base.”
Beer was also used to create a mustard with a “hoppy” bite to it.
“We put our beer into batters on fish and different things. And we’ve got a really skilled culinary team. Lots of experience. So it is interesting the stuff that we do.”
Like other businesses, the pandemic forced Cecil’s to rethink the way it gets food to the customer.
“Like a lot of people we shifted gears to take-out, but we shifted gears far differently than most. We created a number of ghost restaurants, takeout only restaurants. I was looking for ways to not only get through the pandemic but a way to keep as many people full-time employed as possible,” said Lechlitner.
“It has been an interesting time. We created our own online app as part of that. We don’t see that side of the food business going away. It is going to reshape itself as in house dining comes back. We’ve seen that a little bit with patios. The only thing we do know is that the hospitality business, we don’t believe it will be the same as it was in February of last year. Whatever normal will be, normal will be and we’re prepared for it.
Lechlitner’s business has shifted gears over the years with the addition of the Grande Event Centre built along side the Main Street North Bay Cecil's building which among other events, caters to weddings.
“Up until the pandemic hit the Grande was doing great. It will come back.”