Winging It: Stratford, ON
There is much more to Stratford, ON than its namesake theatre festival or Justin Bieber.
While most people think of Stratford as either the setting of its namesake theatre festival or (much to the eye-rolling chagrin of many locals and visitors alike) the childhood stomping grounds of Justin Bieber, few recognize it as the location of the illustrious Stratford Chefs School. It’s among the top cooking schools in Canada and is the only culinary institute in the country operated by working restaurant professionals.
Which means, of course, that Stratford is home to a lot of darn good chefs. Many of the school’s instructors and students work in local restaurants along with graduates from the program who have decided to settle in Stratford. Combine all of that culinary prowess with the rich farmlands that surround the city and the result is a vibrant food scene that is worthy of a lot of attention.
The city’s best dining and shopping destinations are found in the compact downtown core, which makes it a prime base for visitors. It’s easily explored on foot, with most attractions located within a five- to 10-minute walk of one another.
What to Do
The Bacon and Ale Trail is one of several self-guided tasting trails offered in Stratford. A trail pass gives you five vouchers to use at your choice of 13 possible stops, where each participating restaurant or shop will provide a signature bacon- or ale-inspired sample (or, if you’re lucky, a bit of both). This indulgent pairing stems from Stratford’s location in Ontario’s largest pork-producing area, as well as the town’s long history of brewing.
A stop at Black Swan Brewing Co. should be mandatory: this microbrewery is clearly a bit of a local darling as it’s on tap at almost every bar in the city. Black Swan’s core beers include a malt-forward English pale ale, a smooth porter and a piney pale ale.
What to Eat and Drink
Boomers Gourmet Fries is a tiny, quirky eatery with a chalkboard menu and a lone communal table with stools for eat-in customers. The menu includes burgers and other fast food staples, but poutine is the restaurant’s claim to fame. Must-try items include the Poutini Martini (smothered in white cheese curds and garnished with olives) and the goat cheese poutine (topped with goat cheese from C’est Bon Cheese in St. Marys, Ont.).
Derek Barr trained at the well-respected local chocolate shop Rhéo Thompson Candies before opening Chocolate Barr's Candies in 2003. Large glass windows at the back of the store give visitors a view into the kitchen, where most of the sweets are made on-site. The real stars of the show are the handmade truffles, which come in an ever-changing array of experimental flavours such as curry and Macallan Scotch.
Where to Stay
Foster’s Inn is a long-standing favourite choice for overnight visitors, found less than a block away from the city’s newly spiffed-up Market Square and the Avon Theatre. Set in an early 20th century building, the inn’s nine guest rooms incorporate various original architectural elements, including the hardwood floors and 14-foot-high ceilings. The decor is simple, pleasant and homey. The inn’s main floor restaurant offers great breakfast deals and killer steaks, while the patio overlooking Downie Street is a nice spot to hang out for evening drinks.