19 JUN 2019: Along with its claim to fame as one of Canada’s top theatre destinations, Stratford and surrounding Perth County have become an epicurean mecca brimming with artisan producers, unique food boutiques, breweries, distilleries and eateries. This is town with a fascinating history and welcoming enthusiast locals where you can save and splurge with artistic license.


The Way to Go
The comfortable Stratford Direct Bus takes folks from either downtown Toronto (near Union Station) or Vaughan (highway 400 and 7 with a short stop in Waterloo) to Stratford with return service. Buses are timed to work with performances. This service is only for those with a Stratford Festival performance or Forum ticket.

Trail Mixes
Savour Stratford boasts two unique culinary trails ($30 each): Chocolate and Bacon and Ale. Each is a self-guided tour around town with numerous stops at participating shops and restaurants where you may exchange trail vouchers for taste treats—from samples of tea, candies and olive oils to butter tarts.

Go Hog Wild on the Bacon and Ale Trail.
Home to the Ontario Pork Congress for almost 40 years, Perth County is the province’s top pork producer. The area’s brewing history dates back to the 1870s. Shakespeare’s fictitious trencherman, Sir John Falstaff, would have loved the Bacon and Ale Trail. Drop into Madelyn’s Diner for a half-pound bacon butter tart.

Chocoholics can redeem vouchers at six of 26 different establishments for a cocoa fix. At Rheo Thompson Candies, try the signature Mint Smoothie.

Location, Location
Centrally situated on Stratford’s main Ontario Street, the Mercer is comfortable and convenient to everything with free parking out back. The historic building operates as a boutique hotel (no elevator) and restaurant/bar. Mercer Kitchen & Beer Hall serves craft beer, fun cocktails, fusion food and an eclectic brunch.

Best Java Jolts
My two favourite “barista bars” in Stratford are Balzac’s and Revel.
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, now with several locations in Ontario, opened its first coffee bar in Stratford. You might find yourself lining up for your latte with one of the Festival actors.

Join locals at the communal table at Revel Coffee on Market Square. Owner Anne Campion is committed to the core values of social justice by procuring and serving ethically and sustainably produced direct trade coffee. They also have delicious baked goodies.

Calling all Bieber Fans
I’m told that the Justin Bieber exhibition, called “Steps to Stardom,” has lured Bieber fans from around the globe. Canada’s hottest pop star grew up in Stratford and this exhibition explains his humble roots. It’s one of those rags to riches stories. The Museum also has several permanent exhibits that tell the history of the town and the beginnings of the Stratford Festival Theatre.

Go Artsy
Just a five-minute stroll from the Festival Theatre, Gallery Stratford presents ever-changing exhibitions in what was formerly the city’s pump house. Ask about Family Art Classes. Entrance by donation.

Food Without Borders at The Common
There’s nothing common about chef Tim Osuki’s globetrotting menu. Try his Green Curry or Dumplings du Jour.

Walk on the Wild Side
Forager and novelist, Peter Blush, runs a company called Puck’s Plenty, a tribute to the character Puck in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Armed with a trowel and Swiss Army knife, he takes small groups on weekend forays along the Avon Trail to harvest wild edibles. Fellow foragers come home with bags of nature’s bounty including stinging nettles (gloves recommended), tender fiddleheads, spicy garlic mustard flowers, wild leeks and ginger. The pickings change with the seasons. Blush offers all sorts of cooking tips and recipes. For example, rubbing your hands with burdock roots takes the sting out of the nettles.

Salad Days
“Not all olive oils are created equal,” says Michelle Hern, owner of Olive Your Favourites. One side of her shop is stocked with vats of oils—from highest quality extra virgin to enticing flavoured creations such as Persian lime, chipotle and mushroom/sage. The other side contains various Balsamic vinegars. Customers are welcome to taste as many as they like and enjoy some of Hern’s pairing ideas. Concoct imaginative vinaigrettes such as fig Balsamic and basil olive oil or honey/ginger white Balsamic and Cilantro Roast Onion oil.
Chocolate Balsamic is brilliant with strawberries and ice cream.

Pizza & Beer
Former construction workers, Phil Buhler and Dave Oldenberger, transformed a lumberyard into JOBSITE craft brewery. The names of their beers, such as 2 x 4 Cream Ale and Wrong Nail, reflect the building theme. Come in for a tasting flight and pair it with wood-fired pizza.

Moonshine & More
In 2012 Mike Heisz attended a whisky tasting event. After quite a few samples, he leaned over to his friend and said, “We should make a barrel of whisky in my garage!” And with that, the idea for the Junction 56 Distillery was born.
Heisz distills a range of tipples including gin, vodka and moonshine. Last year they released their first batch of barrel-aged whisky to rave reviews.


The Play’s the Thing
The Stratford Festival is North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company. Each season, they present a dozen or more productions in four distinctive venues. The 2019 includes: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Billy Elliott The Musical, Othello, Private Lives and more from June to the end of October. The Festival also offers fascinating behind-the-scenes tours.

Slice & Dice
Since 1983 The Stratford Chef’s School has been turning out stellar professional chefs. Now aspiring amateurs can take cooking classes at the School’s Open Kitchen. Most classes last about three hours and costs $75. Master the art of pizzas, sourdough bread, brunch and cuisines from around the world.

The Prune and Bar 151
Formerly called The Old Prune, this restaurant was the original home of the Stratford Chef’s School. Now, enthusiastic owners Shelley and Bill Windsor, offer fine dining either inside or on the private garden patio. The fois gras and chicken liver mousse is a signature favourite on the ever-changing creative menu masterminded by chef Jamie Crosby. During July and August, The Prune partners with Stratford Summer Music for brunch. Friday nights they offer Scoff & Quaff ($69 per person). It’s a smorgasbord of oceanic comfort food served with East Coast hospitality.

Food and Lodging Fit for the Bard at The Bruce
Chef Arron Carley, executive chef at The Restaurant at The Bruce Hotel has this to say about his culinary style: “Looking into our past and understanding our roots as well as looking forward into the undiscovered wilderness of our nation we will forge New Canadian Cuisine.” His menu might include freshly foraged greens and Perth Country wild boar. Save room for the dessert extravaganza.

The Bruce Hotel, steps from the Festival Theatre, has 25 luxurious rooms and suites, each named after a Shakespearean character. The entire hotel is wheelchair accessible.


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Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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