By Laura Byrne-Paquet
Stratford ON – We came for the theatre, but it was the swans and the food that captured our hearts in Stratford, Ontario.
First, the play. We saw Colm Feore in King Lear, and Feore was fantastic. However, after the show, we still had a few days to fill, and that’s where the birds and the restaurants came in.
My husband Paul and I weren’t the only tourists to be captivated by the birds on the Avon River…and the feeling was mutual. All we had to do was stop along the riverbank and give them the eye, and the swans, ducks and geese would come swimming over in search of swan food.
“Swan food?” I hear you asking. It’s dried corn, sold at the Stratford Tourism Alliance office and several other spots around town. Some caring locals, concerned about the unhealthy chunks of bread that tourists were tossing to birds, set up a program to sell $2 bags of better bird chow.
Stratford is a place where even the waterfowl are well fed.
If you’re human, though, you have much, much better things to eat than dried corn.
On our visit, Paul and I discovered that Stratford is home to three taste trails. And, unlike similar ventures in other places, these didn’t involve extended country drives. Almost all of the stops are located within about six blocks downtown.
Each official self-guided tour includes six vouchers for $25. You exchange each one for a different “free” treat at the places you visit. Most of the items are worth more than $4, so it’s a good deal if you use all six vouchers.
We started with a route focused on two of our favourite things: the Bacon and Ale Trail. The “freebie” we collected at gourmet food shop Turnbull & Stewart was—oh, so yummy—bacon mayonnaise. Made by Empire Mayonnaise of Brooklyn, it has a very short ingredient list: mainly canola oil, egg yolks, bacon and vinegar. Now that we’ve brought it home, we’re kind of afraid to open it, just in case we eat the whole jar in one sitting. That would be bad, right?
One of our best lunches in Stratford started with another voucher deal: a craft beer sample and a charcuterie plate at Monforte on Wellington, a cool restaurant run by Monforte Dairy. The charcuterie—which included locally produced pork paté and a piece of Monforte’s water buffalo milk cheese—was superb.
Our appetite whetted, we also ordered Spanish omelettes. Just $5 each, the omelettes were thick, delicious wedges of potato and egg, accompanied by a little dish of rosemary aioli.
Another of the routes is a maple trail, and while maple isn’t my favourite flavour (yeah, I should probably renounce my Canadian citizenship), we did get some maple sugar candies for our sweet-toothed daughter at Treasures. We also enjoyed a great maple bacon, lettuce and tomato panini at Canadian Grub to Go, a cheerful restaurant where everything on the menu is either grown or refined in Canada.
The third trail focuses on chocolate goodies, and we settled quite quickly on a brownie at Coffee Culture Café & Eatery and imported shortbread cookies rich with bits of Belgian chocolate at MacLeod’s Scottish Shop.
Each trail includes about a dozen restaurants and shops. The packages of vouchers are valid for three days, so don’t feel as though you have to gorge your way through Stratford in a single day. Leave that to the ducks and swans—they’re the experts.
By Laura Byrne Paquet
Disclaimer: The author travelled to Stratford as a guest of the Stratford Tourism Alliance.
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