If you are a fan of either Shakespeare or Bieber (“Bill and Biebs”, as they are known around here), you may have heard of the little Ontario town called Stratford. Only an hour-and-a-half drive from downtown Toronto, it’s an ideal theatre-centric day trip or weekend getaway for many a city-dweller. However, did you know that Stratford, Ontario is also an amazing gastronomic tourism destination? Read on.
On a lovely Saturday morning, Brad and I hopped in the car and started our leisurely, scenic drive over, even stopping at Castle Kilbride in Baden, Ontario (it’s currently under renovation, so may not be worth your while to stop there at the moment). According to the Stratford Epicurean Trek, it was important that we not miss Shakespeare’s Pies, a traditional family-owned pie shop. After pondering over many mouth-watering options, opted for a seasonal strawberry pie to share. Talk about Breakfast of Champions!
Then we pulled into town and were greeted by one of the most picturesque sights I’ve ever seen. The City Hall in particular is a great grounding feature of the whole square.
If you happen to be in town on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday, you should make sure to check out Art in the Park, where local artists have their works on display for purchase. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about different mediums and strike up some interesting conversation.
In fact, there is something beautiful to see everywhere you look. Just across the road from Art in the Park, you might find yourself the closest you’ve ever been to a real Swan Lake (though it’s really the beautiful Avon River). Swans are a symbol for Stratford as well, with a whole weekend dedicated to them in April! Just another one of the many things I happily learned while exploring the city.
We also took a stroll through the some of the perfectly groomed gardens. The Arthur Meighen Garden in particular, had some great lily ponds, and is home to the Shakespeare statue.
But back to the food. Though there are a million different foodie stops you could make throughout the day, Stratford Tourism has some really top-notch options, including the famous Chocolate Trail, which we were encouraged to partake in. Of the 20+ options in town, you can pick from six to use your tickets on.
Our first stop was definitely a must-stop: the adorable ice cream shop called Jenn and Larry’s Brittle and Shakes. In speaking with Gail (the mother), we learned that this shop was Jenn’s (the daughter) ideal way of helping Larry (her father) revive their former family business. It’s now more popular than ever and I guarantee you will walk out of there happier than when you walked in. Make sure to grab a bag of the peanut brittle too—it was a huge hit back in Toronto!
Though the Yerba Mate was tempting, the strawberry chocolate black tea won me over. I would never usually go for this combination, but it’s surprisingly great!
Next up was some actual chocolate in its most decadent form: truffles! With three each to choose, we had a hard time deciding, but the chili, lavender and ice wine ones won out in the end. Delicious. Derek Barr (of Chocolate Barr’s) also wins points for adding a bit of food and name pun to his brand. Amen to that!
After picking up some more delicious Brix chocolate from Bradshaw’s gift shop, we meandered on over to Mercer Hall, and enjoyed some lovely Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau des Charmes to pair with it. It happens to one of my favourite vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake too. By the way, I’m not going to say too much, but it’s definitely an asset to be a Blue Jays fan in this establishment!
Though we had considered getting a signature mocha from Revel Caffe (we were a bit full from a nice Italian lunch at Fellini’s to consume a mocha at that point!) we decided to make out last stop on the trail Olive your Favourites. And boy, are we glad we did.
This is the kind of store that will really transport your senses. With a shiny selection of unique and bright olive oils on one wall (many sources) and exciting mouth-pursing balsamic vinegars on the other (mostly from Modena, Italy), it was freakin’ bread heaven.
While everyone who does the Chocolate Trail gets a small bottle of the sinful Aged Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar to take home, each person also gets a 10% discount on anything in store.
After sampling many (Brad joked that we had basically done the equivalent of 10 olive oil and balsamic shooters each!) I finally decided upon the patriotic Aged Maple Balsamic which Michelle artfully paired with the French Walnut Olive Oil to delight my future house guests with. I also couldn’t resist a bottle of the earthy Mushroom and Sage olive oil, which is rumoured to be one of their top sellers (I have no doubt!).
Finally, we ended out culinary tour with an outstanding dinner at The Prune (the accompanying Restaurant Review is here). With amazing service, food and ambiance, this was a breathtaking meal, and having the Stratford Chef’s School in affiliation with it makes it all the more easy to support.
Though I could have stayed at the Prune all evening, I swear I could hear the trumpets a-blaring! Alas, it meant that it was time to run off to see King Lear. It was an truly an incredible experience for the senses, and for the emotions too.
Though I couldn’t make it this year, Savour Stratford, the annual culinary festival held in July, is also gaining attention as a not-to-be-missed event. Coupled with everything else that Stratford has to offer, it’s a trip that I am sure I will be making again and again.
Please Note: In case you thought I was joking, the whole Bieber fever thing…is still very much a thing. You can even pick up free “Justin’s Stratford Maps” to lead you to destinations such as the Boston Pizza where he often hung out after school. To each their own Stratford trip…For more information on all things Stratford, Ontario please go to www.visitstratford.ca.