Stratford, Ontario is a picturesque town in southwestern Ontario that’s best known for its Victorian architecture, its parks and gardens, and its live theatre. Every year, the Stratford Festival attracts thousands looking for top-notch performances, from Shakespeare to Broadway, but the town’s appeal doesn’t fade with the final curtain of the season. Only a 2-hour drive from Toronto, Stratford is the year-round home of a disproportionate number of “makers”— chefs, artists, farmers, and producers who tie their craft directly to the community in which they live.
Eat and Drink
As you plan your noshing in the region, it’s a good idea to learn about what’s local. Perth County, where Stratford sits, is known for farming, and it’s perfectly simple to shop for your supper on the way into town. As you approach, keep an eye out for the signs advertising fresh eggs, roaster ready chickens, berries, vegetables, and bacon. As home to the Ontario Pork Congress, Stratford is about the best place in the province to buy sausages, bacon, and chops.
Some producers are taking the locavore ethos and applying it in particularly novel ways. Founded in 2013, Tallgrass Mead is a family-run small batch brewery making a handful of meads from the honey produced in their three on-site hives. Their products, which include a rose wine, a cedar-sap cider, and their flagship Honey Pops cocktail, are available in local restaurants.
If you’re into the harder stuff, hit up Junction 56 Distillery, another new small batch producer. Located in a former church building, these distillers use the grain from a local farm to produce vodka, gin, and moonshine, all of which are available in their store and around town—and, in the case of their moonshine, at select LCBO stores.
With just one year in business, Stonetown Cheese is the new maker on the block, and it’s already making waves. The dairy’s three offerings—Grand Trunk, Wildwood, and Homecoming—are award-winning Swiss-style cheeses made with the milk of cows in the next building over. It doesn’t get more local than that. The process is overseen by Ramon Eberle, a master cheesemaker from Switzerland who grew up on a dairy farm run by his family. Stonetown cheeses are available in select shops throughout Ontario.
With products like these in their own backyard, it’s no surprise Stratford’s restaurant scene is flourishing. If you prefer that someone else take the driver’s seat, head into Monforte Dairy Wellington Street in downtown Stratford. This open and airy restaurant features a wide range of edibles from local makers. A good place to start is their charcuterie plate—and do not miss their affogato, an Italian dessert with a local interpretation: at Monforte they prepare it with water buffalo ice cream.In Bijou, owner Mark Simone has created a comfortable, chic French bistro that builds its menus on regional ingredients, offering both a la carte and prix fixe options that are literally farm-to-table. Regularly working with no fewer than seven Ontario producers for their duck, beef, and pork, their vegetables, greens, and mushroom, and their cheeses and teas, Bijou succeeds in delivering the taste of the region.
For something a little more casual, try The Mill Stone, a friendly, down-to-earth restaurant and bar offering a seasonally inspired menu. An international wine list is also available, as are Ontario craft beers, but the adventurous will want to dig into the cocktail list for the Smoked Sarsaparilla Manhattan, Cilantro Sour, or Lavender Mule.
By now it should come as no surprise that Stratford is home to a cooking school. Though it’s been open for years, operating as a “pop-up” in various local restaurants, The Stratford Chef’s School only this year moved into its new, permanent home. The facility, which boasts two fully equipped kitchens, is designed to train students in all aspects of the industry. This is great news for the students—and for you. Each Tuesday through Saturday the school opens its dining room to hungry eaters who can experience prix fixe meals prepared by local and international chefs.
With so much to taste, Stratford, Ontario is carving out a new name for itself—this time, as a foodie destination.
Check out these delicious highlights from Stratford’s holiday calendar:
- The Local, Hunters and Foragers Banquet, November 25 Visit this community food centre to sample delectable dishes made with locally hunted game, foraged accompaniments, and wine pairing. This gala dinner is the second annual fundraising event; benefits go to supporting The Local.
- Bradshaws, Holiday High Tea, November 27 A proudly Canadian, independently family-run business since 1895, Bradshaws is opening its doors and inviting you in—for tea, baked goods, and music by the Stratford Symphony Orchestra. Free gift for all who attend.
- Revival House, Scotch and Chocolate Tasting, December 17 In this tutored tasting, you’ll nibble on chocolates chosen by Rheo Thompson Candies chocolatier Christine Chessel and sample Scotch selected by Certified Whisky Sommelier Steve Rae—all under the vaulted ceilings of this former church.
- Slow Food Convivium, Market, Sundays year-round Visit this Sunday market for coffee, greens, wines, and more—all locally produced. Winter markets are indoors at the Falstaff Family Centre
- Savour Stratford Chocolate Trail / Bacon and Ale Trail, year-round These passes are available for sale at the Stratford Tourism Office at 47 Downie Street, and entitle the holder to explore the town and surrounds, sampling as you go. This is a novel and flexible way to try out all that the region has to offer.