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Stratford Restaurant Commentary (Long)

As a frequent visitor to Stratford, I thought it high time to share my perspective on the restaurants in town. You may go there for the theatre, but there is no reason not to eat very, very well before or after the show.

The Town of Stratford may have one of the highest ratios of quality food to residents anywhere on the planet. Slow food rock stars like Antony John of Soiled Reputations and Ruth Klassen of Monforte, as well as up and comers Max and Vicki Lass of Churchill farms, lead a host of farmers who care about their crops and creatures, right down to caring about which chef’s plates they end up on. In addition, the presence of the Stratford Chef’s School ensures a never ending supply of exceptionally well trained hands to handle those ingredients the way they should be treated. All this means you can eat very, very well – on any budget. Of course, as in any tourist town, there is also a lot of crap. Differentiating between the two is not hard. Here is my take on the best of the best:

High End: The two top options in town are The Prune (151 Albert Street) and Rundles (9 Cobourg Street). Both Chefs, Brian Steele of the Prune and Neil Baxter of Rundles have been long time faculty at the Chef School enabling them to hand pick the most talented students to work in their kitchens. If you are looking for two high end meals in town, do try both. But if time and/or budget, is going to limit you to just one expensive meal, there is no choice other than Rundles. Chef Baxter’s cuisine is that rare kind of gastronomic experience that is actually worth travelling for, in and of itself. Force me into a choice of a front row centre stage seat at the Festival Theatre or a table at Rundles, and the restaurant will win out every time.

Chef Baxter has an absolutely uncanny ability to achieve a clarity and balance of flavours, textures and appearances that is the hallmark of truly great chefs. B.C. Side-stripe shrimp, smoked butter, marinated Provençal vegetables, and escabeche vinaigrette as well charcoal grilled veal cutlet, roasted turnip purée, smashed Jerusalem artichokes, and wilted spinach were but two standouts on a recent visit. Transport this restaurant and culinary team to Europe, and then free them from the constraints of getting the entire room fed in time to get to theatre seats on time, and you would have a Michelin 2 star restaurant that people would travel to eat at. ( Dinner $93.50 plus wine, Lunch $47.50)

Mid-Tier: I hate to double list a restaurant so early in a set of recommendations, but arguably the single best culinary value in Stratford is the Sophisto-Bistro at Rundles. What began as a necessary concession to the evaporation of American tourist dollars over the past decade has become a show case to make Chef Baxter’s cuisine accessible to those on a more limited budget. If you are not going to spring for the full Rundles experience, you’d be making a sad mistake if you don’t book into the Bistro. (Three course diner $62.50 plus wine from a carefully chosen list of reasonably priced Ontario wines)

Two relatively new entrants on the scene, Mercer Hall and Pazzo's Taverna have eclipsed the former leading mid-tier options of Down the Street and Bijoux (now closed). At Pazzo’s Taverna (70 Ontario Street), Chef School alumnus Yva Santini serves up authentic Italian fare that would be right at home in the old country, complete with crostini and a mozza bar. If it is an after theatre bite you are after, this is your place. (Dinner: Apps $9-$15, Mains $16-$34)

Just up Ontario Street at Mercer Hall (108 Ontario Street), another Chef School grad, Tim Larsen serves up a carnivore’s delight of locally sourced protein with a wonderful combination of tradition and modern technique. Ground and impeccably seasoned beef short rib patties are sous vided at 58 degrees, then frozen and deep fried to serve up one of the better burgers this planet earth has known. An assortment of cured meats, house smoked bacon and fantastic homemade pickles (including potatoes!) are but a few of the other hyper local ingredients that appear on the plates here. And if you jump straight into a meal without first sampling one of their cocktails made from a variety of home infused spirits, you are simply making a big mistake.

Cheap and Cheerful: Ruth Klassen, Ontario’s cheese maker extraordinaire, could not work harder to keep her new Osteria “off grid” for tourists, so that locals always have an affordable place to get a table for locally sourced and foraged ingredients. This restaurant is hidden away at 80 Wellington Street, under an artfully whitewashed Monforte sign that prevents all but the most penetrating gaze from divining the actual name. It is a delightful space furnished with entirely reclaimed materials, and includes the best secret patio in the town. Chef Phil Phillips prepares an ever changing, limited menu where the hits seriously outnumber the misses. Complemented by very reasonably priced wines, micro brews and ciders, this is a meal that will be as satisfying to your palate as your pocket book. And under no circumstances should you leave without buying some Toscano or Black Sheep from the cheese display at the door. (Apps $6-$10, Mains $12-$16)

For lunch one day, you owe it to yourself to stop by Rob Bob’s hotdog cart, conveniently located in the heart of the town, just outside Pazzo’s (66 Ontario Street – or what would be 66 Ontario Street if there was a building there instead of a fountain and parkette). There are two different guys manning this cart, but if you happen by on a day that Derek Barnes is there, you are in for a treat. What Dogmaster Barnes lacks in formal culinary education (he is one of the very few non Chef School grads on this list) he more than makes up for in enthusiasm, research and hard work. Let Derek dress your dog for you and your sausage will be graced by a variety of classic and unique homemade condiments, applied in the perfect order, with a running commentary on hot dog tradition. Have your dog “dragged through the garden” in traditional Chicago style, or have Derek add some of his fantastic homemade kimchi. The choice is yours, or Derek’s, if you want. The dogs and sausages are made to order for Rob Bob, and served on the freshest buns you may ever eat, sourced daily from the Butcher and Baker a mere hundred yards or so away from the cart. They may not serve hotdogs in heaven, but if they did, these would be the ones.

Revel Café (37 Market Place) – Here, you can begin your day complementing a decadent pastry and with a fantastic sustainably grown and ethically sourced coffee, while rubbing elbows with actors gearing up for the day’s performance at one of the theatres. The tourists may get drawn in to the more visibly located Balzacs on Ontario Street, but the locals know that Anne Campion serves the best coffees, lattes and treats that can be found in town in a wonderful space on . The pastries are made on the premises and are well worth the calories. On a hot sunny day, make sure to have one of their refreshing iced coffees, made in one of the most interesting pieces of coffee apparatus you will come across and served with a surprising and fitting ice cube.

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  1. Nice detailed review of many of the better options in Stratford, WillinTO.

    Here are some other recent threads about dining in Stratford:

    Stratford Festival 2013

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/902286

    Please help with our Stratford visit

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/905120

    Stratford report, July 11, 2013

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/908836

    I agree that Neil Baxter is a very talented chef. I recommend his spring cooking classes which take place in Stratford each year on weekends in March and April.

    Two places in Stratford I haven't tried as of yet are Rene's Bistro http://www.renesbistro.ca/ and Monforte on Wellington https://www.facebook.com/MonforteOnWe... (I realize you mentioned Monforte on Wellington above). They're next on my list.

    2 Replies
    1. re: prima

      I must disagree as to the relative merits of the coffee at Revel v. Balzacs, at least re: the espresso. I find the espresso at Balzacs consistently superior to the more bitter version provided by Revel.

      1. re: alvino

        I like the coffee at Balzac's.

        I haven't ordered coffee at Revel. I like the lemonade at Revel.

    2. We went to Rundles a few years ago. At the time the menu was $75 a head. My memory was that the food was just ok. What I do remember clearly was that it was a huge rip off. The $75 a head, much like the current price, covered three courses. There was an amuse bouche which came in a plastic shot glass. My app was three slices of tuna, each the size of a loonie, with bean sprouts and nothing else. My main was a beef tenderloin which I remember being fine, but none of the ingredients justified the price paid.
      Maybe it has evolved greatly over the years but at least on my experience this restaurant wouldn't even get one star, let alone two. I guess my question is what justifies those prices for three courses. It wasn't like they used truffles, caviar, or even baby carrots. It was all run of the mill ingredients, with one amuse, which I think was a chilled soup, and no mignardise.
      I couldn't help but feel that since they run a short season as a restaurant, they felt the need to charge more. I would have thought the cooking school gig would somehow help make ends meet.

      2 Replies
      1. re: dubchild

        On my visits to Rundles Restaurant (the formal dining room), in 2011 and 2012, I've always had at least an amuse bouche, 3 courses and mignardises, and I've sometimes have had an extra course compliments of the Chef. I found the portions at the Sophisto Bistro were larger in 2011 and 2012 than they had been in 2010. As of yet, I haven't dined at Rundles or the Sophisto Bistro this season.

        I find my dollar doesn't go as far in tourist towns like Stratford or NOTL, which I just accept as part and parcel of dining in a town with a summer theatre festival and seasonal restaurants.

        In terms of best value in Stratford this season, Pazzo Taverna gets my vote.

        1. re: prima

          Shared the charcuterie plate, cheese plate and grilled cheese with a friend at Monforte on Wellington today. Will definitely return in the near future. Neat space, friendly service.

           
           
      2. When you say "Bijoux (now closed)" you mean Bijou Restaurant, right? When did they close? I have a reservation for the end of August.

        3 Replies
        1. re: caviartothegeneral

          Yes, I meant Bijou - I think I misspell that restaurant's name over 50% of the time. And clearly I was wrong about it being now closed. Sorry for any panic I introduced. I guess what I should have said was "now under new management" . Aaron and Bronwyn Linley, the couple behind Bijou since it opened, moved over to a new Boutique Hotel opening next Spring, to be known as The Bruce. While the hotel is a long way from opening, the restaurant is currently recruiting staff and should open soon. I had heard that the Linleys had put Bijou up for sale and would not be operating it this year as they prepared to get things going at The Bruce. I'd simply assumed the restaurant was closed. Your reservation suggests the opposite, and if Aaron and Bronwyn are doing double duty at Bijou and The Bruce, it is likely still worth a trip to Bijou, which was always a great choice in the mid tier, although still a second choice in my book to the Sophistro-Bistro. I'll check with some friends in Stratford and see if Aaron is still behind the stove at Bijou. If so, it is a good choice. If not, it would be anyone's guess as to what the food would be like. I'll report back once I hear.

          1. re: WillinTO

            A bit more info on Bijou. While Aaron and Bronwyn are gone, Aaron's sous chef, Steve Doyle, is managing the kitchen, so the food is likely still fairly similar to what it used to be.

            1. re: WillinTO

              We had dinner at Bijou two weeks ago and found their dining fare to be up to their usual standards. Still one of my faves in Stratford.

              I endorse your recommendation of the Prune as a high end restaurant but most vociferously disagree with Rundles. I find the food here mediocre and not at all worth the exhorbitant prices they charge. Wait staff were unfriendly and not attentive. This is one place I will not visit again.

              Big thumbs up to Pazzo and Mercer Hall.

          2. Has anyone dined at Raja recently? Which dishes would you recommend?

            1 Reply
            1. re: prima

              Tried Raja tonight, which was pretty good. Popular place post-matinee. We ordered the mulligatawny (I didn't try it), appetizer platter for 2 (sheekh kabob, chicken tikka, bhaji, pakora, samosa), bharta, Bengali duck, fish (salmon) masala, mutter paneer (but received paneer makhni), rice and naan. I didn't figure out it was the wrong paneer dish until midway through eating the paneer (although I had noticed the lack of peas in the dish when we received the dish, which makes sense in retrospect), and I didn't bother mentioning the mix-up since we had eaten most of the dish, and it wasn't much of an issue for us. I found the Bengali duck (a dish with which I'm not familiar with) and paneer makhni (same sauce as butter chicken, so I'd guess Raja's butter chicken is likely a sweet, very red, very tomatoey version, as well) too sweet for me, and found the masala fish ho-hum.

              I would reorder the appetizer platter, bharta and naan on another visit. Prices are higher than similar Indian food would cost in TO (roughly Babur level, but about 25 percent higher prices- most meat mains at Raja were $15-$20, veg mains $9), but it's still a good value for touristy Stratford, and the same price similar Indian food costs in London, ON.

              I noticed they had a kids' menu, too. They also do take-out.

            2. Bijou is still going strong; we had a lovely dinner there on July 12.

              Last year we discovered Mercer Hall and had dinner at the bar -- loved it so much we went back for lunch the next day (and repeated the order of scallops). Very unfortunately, standards have fallen dramatically. We had lunch there on July 13 2013, and it was very disappointing. They have down-scaled the menu (without down-scaling the prices), apparently aiming for a young and unsophisticated crowd. I had the "Merc-muffin", their take on McDonald's. Came with a large pile of nice hot fries that were completely limp and gushed grease under mild pressure from the fork. The egg was fried and not very gently; poached would have been a great deal nicer. The waiter expressed no curiosity as to why the entire pile of fries was untouched when he cleared the plates. We were planning to take my sister & bro'-in-law there next week, but after that lunch, we cancelled and will try the Parlour.

              Montforte is a great new addition, and the patio is indeed a gem. We ate snacks there a couple of times in July and enjoyed both experiences. We've been "investors" in Ruth's cheese operation for a couple of years (pay up front to raise the capital she needed, get a bunch of coupons to redeem on cheese at the markets in Toronto), so we know the cheeses well. Salads were fresh and lightly dressed, charcuterie + cheese platter at $18 is good value. A nice touch is the wine pricing -- you pay only for what you drink. (You start with a full bottle, drink what you want, and they measure the remainder against a pre-marked empty bottle at the cash register.) Wait staff was very friendly, attentive, and helpful.

              Revel is doing well in their new location, much bigger and more comfortable than the previous space. Try to get there early and snag a seat on the very comfortable deck out back.

              You didn't mention Foster's, (111 Downie St ) but it is also a good cheap/cheerful spot for dependable pub grub, with limited but coveted sidewalk seating.

              10 Replies
              1. re: StuartR

                Agree, Mercer changed their approach and menu this year. I liked the food a little more last year, but I do like their current Wedge salad.

                I've usually preferred the pub grub/comfort food at Down The Street over the food at Foster's and The Parlour. I like Down The Street's burger. I've only been to Foster's once, so maybe I could've ordered better. Which dishes do you recommend most at Foster's? Hope you enjoy your meal at The Parlour.

                1. re: prima

                  Prima,

                  I was just in Stratford on Sunday (picnic with sandwiches from the York St. kitchen on Erie - yum) but I have a friend who ate at Foster's last weekend. He had a Salmon entree in a coconut broth and thought it was great! That being said, I checked the menu online and mains seemed to be in the $20-$25 range, not particularily expensive, but not exactly "cheap and cheerful"...

                  Or is a $25.00 entree considered cheap these days in Stratford?

                  1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                    I haven't eaten at Foster's this year, but in the past have probably ordered from their "lounge" or lunch menus, which have choices much less $$ than their dinner menu. (e.g., pizza, pasta, mussels, all under $15). I may be a bit price-desensitized, as I'm used to Toronto restos' pricing.

                    Down the Street is pleasant, though we've only tried it once for a meal, I think (after-theatre drinks otherwise). We were going to go there for the planned lunch next week, but they don't do lunch on most weekdays :-(

                    1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                      Reasonable might be a better word than cheap. I guess for cheaper food in Stratford, there are some faster food options and chains, if you're willing to travel further along Ontario or Erie Streets, there's the take-out/picnic options, and there are a couple Chinese and Thai restaurants. There's also Features and a diner on Erie St. I usually follow up a matinee with a nice, relatively upscale dinner, so I've usually gone to restaurants with the $25+ mains. I haven't tried any of the diners,chains, Chinese or Thai restaurants in Stratford.

                      I would consider $20-$30 dinner mains reasonable in Stratford. To put it into context, an upscale casual dinner at Pazzo Taverna, Bijou or Sophisto Bistro runs around $60 for 2 or 3 courses, and an upscale formal dinner at Rundles, The Church or The Prune will cost $100+. Fosters, The Parlour, Resto at Mercer Hall, Pazzo Pizzeria, Monforte on Wellington and Down The Street are at the more economical end of the independently-owned full service restos in Stratford.

                      Raja worked out to $40 each, including tax, before tip. My last dinner at Pazzo Taverna was $50, including tax, before tip.

                      1. re: prima

                        Agreed, Prima re: reasonable, especially for a "tourist town" like Stratford. My trips tend to be very spur of the moment and not necessarily for the theatre. I just like the vibe and it's a really short drive for me - 20-25 min (I think it took me that long to get from Thornhill to Avenue and 401 in T.O. this weekend) Enjoy just sitting by the water and browsing the shops... looking forward to trying the pizza at Pazzo next visit.

                        Curious, if you (or anyone else) has tried the Mozza Bar at Pazzo Taverna?

                        1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                          It's more of a section on the menu, than an actual bar. I tried the bufala mozzarella with fig, and my friend tried the burrata. I found the one I ordered to be ok. I didn't try the burrata.

                          If you're in the mood for cheese, I'd recommend Monforte on Wellington over the Taverna.

                          I like the salads, garganelli, ribeye and lemon Vesuvio dessert at Pazzo Taverna, bur found their chicken cacciatore and lobster cannelloni mediocre.

                          1. re: prima

                            cool, thanks. Is the pizza at Pazzo worthwhile?

                            1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                              Haven't tried the pizzeria on the lower level of Pazzo yet, so I haven't tried it. The foccaccia in the Taverna is great, so I'd think that's a good sign.. The pizzeria and the Prune are the next on my list. :)

                        2. re: prima

                          I notice that yours is the only reference to The Church in this thread, and I'm wondering if it has changed over the years?

                          Our only experience was many years ago, and we were impressed only by the sheer gall to charge a 600% markup on a wine that we routinely bought at the LCBO for about $9. Service was prententious and food unmemorable.

                          We've never gone back, but might give it another try on someone else's recommendation if it has improved.

                          1. re: StuartR

                            I haven't dined at The Church in a very long time. I have no idea what the food has been like this season. http://www.churchrestaurant.com/menu.php

                  2. We just had a couple of days in Stratford. Thanks for the tips. We had dinner one night at the Sophistro Bistro at Rundles. The food was excellent. I had the shrimp and my partner had the charcuterie platter. The shrimp was a little skimpy, but the charcuterie was very generous in portion. We had the scallops --so succulent!-- and the lamb as the mains. They were both absolutely delicious. The ambiance in the Bistro side is simple, but you pay $30 more/person to sit in the more formal Rundles section.

                    We also had dinner at Monforte (Osteria). Get the cheese platter!!! Great local cheeses. The pasta I had was nothing special, but the beet soup was excellent.

                    We had lunch at Fellini's on Ontario St. Excellent kale and artichoke soup with a delicious sandwich reasonably priced.

                    1. I went to The Prune last week. Very small portion of stuffed zucchini (around 200 calories at most) for a main dish in the vegetarian 3 course prix fixe ($59). The Chefs' School 3 course prix fixe at $49 included house-made ravioli(quite good), pickerel (no veggies or potatoes included with the main, just fish) and poached peaches (1/2 peach, but delicious) with strawberry granita. Not substitutions with the Chefs' School prix fixe, but still a better value than the vegetatian prix fixe, although portions were still smallish, to the point where everyone at my table ate at least 2 dinner rolls, if not more, because we were still hungry. The wow moment of my dinner was found in the carrot terrine amuse bouche. The desserts were good, and I might return for dessert another time. The regular 3 course prix fixe, which I did not try, is around $75, iirc. Service was friendly but green. For upscale continental bistro food in Stratford, I have preferred the food at Sophisto Bistro at Rundles over the last few seasons, although I haven't dined at Sophisto Bistro this season.

                      After dining in Stratford around 10 times since May, Monforte on Wellington is my current favourite place to eat.

                      Think I might try the burger at Downie St Burgers, or return to Down The Street next time I'm in Stratford.

                      1. Thank you for this. I was in Stratford this weekend and ate at Monforte three times, and brought back some of their wonderful cheese. I would never have found this place without your review, and it was a great experience -- very friendly and welcoming, and the prices are great. The highlight was the pan-seared trout with a salsa creme, but all of my meals were excellent.

                        1. Any 2014 thoughts? Going this weekend. I think Monteforte is a must for brunch/lunch and Mercer for the burger Friday night, but kinda stuck on a nicer dinner option for Saturday. Our show is a matinee so prefer a leisurely dinner. I can't figure out Sophisto's menu from online, they must have options? My husband is sometimes happier with less pretentious options, Pazza is somewhat appealing... Help!

                          15 Replies
                          1. re: julesrules

                            Looks like The Bruce (mentioned above) is open -- the menu looks appealing:
                            http://www.thebruce.ca/Dinner-Restaur...
                            Look forward to any reaction.

                              1. re: caviartothegeneral

                                Interesting. As an aside, drives me nuts when they don't say anything about the desserts! Same as Mercer. An interesting dessert menu can make the difference for me. Especially when one of their options is 2 apps and a dessert, which sounds about right to me...

                              2. re: julesrules

                                I haven't been to Stratford yet this year, but I'm looking forward to returning to Monforte on Wellington for a few meals. Monforte is open post-theatre some nights, too. Monforte on Wellington provides updates re: the menu through Facebook from time to time. https://www.facebook.com/MonforteOnWe...

                                I went to Pazzo Taverna (main floor) 4 times last season, and will return at some point this summer. I liked Pazzo's salads, pastas and desserts better than the chicken or steak.

                                I didn't have a chance to check out the Bruce last season. It's on the top of my list for this season.

                                I returned to The Prune last year for the first time in a long time, but wasn't too impressed with my meal. Skimpy servings that weren't interesting to me.

                                I'll probably return to Bijou at least once this year. http://bijourestaurant.com/menus.php

                                One new option for this season, is Little Red's Pub and Eatery in St. Mary's, owned by Chris and Mary Woolf who used to run Woolfy's on Hwy 7. https://www.facebook.com/littleredspu...

                                In the past, Sophisto Bistro usually has offered 5 first courses, 5 second courses, and 2 desserts, with a choice of a 2 course or 3 course prix fixe, but it looks like this season's online menu has a different prix fixe menu set out for each day from May 30th to June 8th. I was able to scroll down to see the upcoming prix fixe menus. Maybe Rundles is trying the one size fits all approach to simplify orders for the kitchen. Might be worth calling to find out if Sophisto is offering more than one menu each night.
                                http://www.rundlesrestaurant.com/Soph...

                                1. re: prima

                                  Thanks Prima! I will check out the new suggestions. I may be having an iPad issue with the Sophisto menu because I couldn't see future menus, will check it out at work. I've been following Montforte for a while and definitely want to do a brunch or two there!
                                  Any thoughts on Madelyn's, specifically the butter tart?
                                  Will report back.

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    I haven't had a chance to try anything at Madelyn's yet. Adding the link, for future reference http://www.madelynsdiner.ca/menu.asp

                                    I've enjoyed coffee and various treats at
                                    Balzac's and Revel Caffe http://revelcaffe.com/ .

                                    Also, you might find some buttertarts and other baked treats at the Slow Food Market that takes place on Sunday from 10 am-2 pm , across from the Avon Theatre. https://twitter.com/slowfoodperth
                                    The baked goods at Lindsays Bakery at the Slow Food Market always look great. https://twitter.com/lindsaysbakery

                                    Last summer, Chocolate Barr's http://www.chocolatebarrs.com/ and Soiled Reputation paired up to make rhubarb jellies, which were quite tasty, and available through Soiled Reputation's booth at the market, as well as at Chocolate Barr's.

                                    Chef Neil Baxter's amazing sourdough and other breads are also sold at the Stratford Farmer's Market on Saturdays, afaik.
                                    http://www.stratfordfairgrounds.com/m...
                                    https://twitter.com/StratfordFair

                                    Have a great time in Stratford!

                                    1. re: prima

                                      I'll keep an eye out for those jellies! I have to admit a big part of the appeal of Sophisto was the rhubarb dessert they had last week. Now that I've accessed the menu, this Saturday's melon/passionfruit soup is probably delicious, but not rhubarb.
                                      Considering Bijou for dinner, the price point and menu seem like a reasonable compromise. And the desserts sound interesting ;)
                                      Down the Street is also an option, this is our comfort zone - gastropubby and relaxed for hubby, but with some local/interesting options for me (and again, desserts :)

                                      1. re: julesrules

                                        One thing I've always liked about Bijou's menu is the flexibility. Any time I've dined there, the staff has mentioned one can choose any of the 1st courses or 2nd courses listed on their blackboard menu as the 1st and 2nd course in a somewhat more personalized prix fixe.

                                        1. re: julesrules

                                          Just a heads up that the Perth County Slow Food Market isn't taking place this Sunday due to a car show. It'll return next Sunday.

                                        2. re: prima

                                          Great recommendation about the Slow Food Market on Sundays! Lindsays Bakery is always awesome. The scones seemed to be extremely popular. I am a sucker for all things bacon and got their bacon + cheddar croissant, they also had a bacon brioche. Both were good.

                                          You will also want to check out Down The Street Bakery while you're there. A great selection of breads!

                                          Chocolate Barr's is going to be moving soon to a new location.

                                          I am surprised nobody mentioned Boomer's (they were featured on You Gotta Eat Here!) and their poutine is pretty good. It is definitely a cheap and cheery place to check out while in Stratford.

                                        3. re: julesrules

                                          If you are referring to the BACON butter tart, it is worth every single calorie. The tart itself isn't overly sweet and the saltiness and fat from the bacon just makes it sinful. I can only have one a year and don't buy more than you think you SHOULD eat, because you won't be able to resist.

                                           
                                      2. re: julesrules

                                        Down the Street is another less pretentious option I've liked, julesrules. http://www.downthestreet.ca/

                                        re: desserts in Stratford
                                        I think the desserts at Rundles Restaurant (where desserts tend to include more elements than the slightly more simple desserts at Sophisto Bistro), Bijou and Pazzo Taverna are the best desserts I've had in Stratford. If splurging on the tasting menu at Rundles Restaurant is an option, the desserts and the mignardises are a treat.

                                        I haven't had a chance to try the desserts at the Bruce yet.

                                        1. re: julesrules

                                          Had a great lunch on the patio at Monforte 2 weeks ago Sat... crostini, a nice cheese plate, some delicious sautéed fiddleheads and ramps. Everything coming out of the kitchen looked nice.

                                          Thanks for the rec, prima!

                                          1. re: julesrules

                                            Trip report!
                                            We thoroughly enjoyed Monteforte for lunch, picnic cheese and crackers, and pickled ramps and rhubarb to take home (the rhubarb was served with their charcuterie plate - so good). Hit burger night ($15 for sous vide burger and craft beer after 7:30 PM Fridays) at Mercer Hall, really enjoyed it and was also really impressed with our tongue pastrami salad appetizer and composed dessert - a great deal at $8 for cake, custard sauce, ice cream, and two sauces... and all clearly housemade, because you can't get cilantro cake at the grocery store ;) Loved Revel Caffe's space and iced coffee with steamed milk and an espresso ice cube, it was truly perfect, but found the baked goods just OK. Managed pre-dinner drinks and a delicious, generous chicken liver mousse special app at Down the Street, which also had the liveliest atmosphere of anywhere we went. For our special, but not too high-end dinner, we went with Bijou. Unfortunately this was my only disappointment, finding all 3 courses just ok, although hubby was happy. They appear to have a crowd of well-heeled boomer-aged regulars and perhaps they are coasting on that a bit. Interestingly our server at Monforte recommended Rundles and was at best neutral ("uh-huh") when I said we were going to Bijou, which is practically next door. We were eating so well all weekend that I don't think a full-on Rundles or Prune experience was necessary this time but I would not return to Bijou.
                                            For our final breakfast I would have returned to Monforte in a heartbeat but indulged my hubby who loves a bacon and eggs/basic benny breakfast. Stratford has a bit of a gap for breakfast IMO. With pickings slim we went with the place across from our hotel, Let Them Eat Cake. My expectations were low but still not met, food was just crappy and cold. It was also the only place where I did not feel they were prepared for the seasonal rush, our poor waiter was run off his feet.
                                            Finally on our way out of town we stopped at Madelyn's for butter tarts. Nice filling, not runny, substantial flaky crust. The bacon tart is fun to try and nicely balanced in flavour but not superlative. I noticed they served real homefries (unlike Eat Cake) and appeared to have a local crowd, I'd go there with kids or for a greasy spoon breakfast.
                                            Overall this is a great foodie destination with so many options within a few blocks, good pricing at the mid-range and genuinely welcoming staff with no Toronto 'tude. I'd love to dine at Mercer again or have a full meal at Down The Street. I was disappointed they don't have brunch (they both open with lunch menus with a couple of brunchy options at 11:30, too late for us), but I realized they probably need to maximize pre-theatre lunch service without being filled up with cheap brunchers. No one need starve at breakfast between the cafes and Monforte, but I'd recommend eating light and saving yourself for lunch and later meals.
                                            Thanks to all especially prima and WillinTO for your detailed reports and suggestions.
                                            Edit: stopped into Barr's but did not see rhubarb jellies, alas. Lots of rhubarb on offer at Monforte (breakfast? dessert? drink? pickles?) and on the dessert menus at Mercer and Bijou.

                                            1. re: julesrules

                                              Super trip report! I guess Features or Madelyn's would be the best places for bacon and eggs, but I'm not sure which places in Stratford would serve a decent Benedict before 11 am.

                                          2. Thanks so much for bringing Monforte on Wellington to our attention - we were in Stratford yesterday and stopped in for a very pleasant lunch. Oh, and the sign is now very clear, not white-washed :) .

                                            Here's our summary:
                                            We had no problem getting a table at lunch on Saturday. Service was warm and friendly but rather slow so make sure you leave enough time if you are going before a play (we had plenty of time, so it was fine for us). The menu was comprised of several small dishes. We chose the four most cheese-focused, but there were also meat and salads.
                                            - the pea sprouts, peas, garlic scape pesto and sheep ricotta crostini was divine – a nice, well balanced dish and the cheese was lovely, fresh and tangy (pictured, cut by us)
                                            - cheese plate: only three pieces of (very good, of course) cheese for $10, accompanied by a really nice curry-flavoured tomato chutney, scrumptious buckwheat honey, and some very good cracker-type things (they were dark brown, thick, kind of baking powdery, not crisp, maybe with cherries or something in them)
                                            - mac and cheese: this was on the plainer side, with buttery toasted crumbs over al dente macaroni, a somewhat light sauce (not thick or creamy) which was nice because it was not too rich, but at the same time not really very cheesy. It was supposed to be a goat cheddar but the flavour wasn’t that discernible.
                                            - grilled cheese sandwich: this was most notable for all the (tasty) butter on the outside; the cheese was nice but not stringy or particularly strong tasting. The accompanying apple butter and garlic scape pesto were both terrific.
                                            - for dessert we had the buffalo milk ice cream with chocolate sauce and an espresso, accompanied by fresh chocolate chip cookies: mm, ice cream and espresso, good to the last drop. I like less-sweet cookies so it was perfect to eat it after the bitter espresso - it probably seemed much less sweet than it really was. But it was a wonderful, crisp/chewy, buttery and chocolate-packed cookie. The ice cream itself was mostly nice and creamy, though there was a bit of iciness in the mouthfeel.

                                            We also thought their wine system was really cool - you order your bottle of choice, they bring the opened bottle to your table, you pour as much as you want, then they weigh it after and charge you by the ounce!

                                             
                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Klafouti

                                              I visited Monforte on Wellington on Sunday post-matinee. It continues to be my favourite place to dine in Stratford. We ordered a smoked salmon and radish salad, chilled beet and buttermilk soup, a cheese plate with 3 sheep's milk cheeses/buckwheat honey/green tomato relish/crackers, fried green tomatoes, pork tourtiere, caprese salad, blueberry bread pudding with water buffalo ice cream, and strawberry lemonades. I'm happy that Monforte on Wellington is open all afternoon, until 9 pm, when some restaurants close between the end of lunch and 5 pm. Monforte is also open for breakfast daily at 9 am. Cash only.

                                              https://www.facebook.com/MonforteOnWe...

                                            2. I had a wonderful dinner at the Bruce tonight. Amuse bouche of gazpacho, first course of corn veloute, second course of pork cheeks with polenta, chocolate cake with cocoa gelato, white chocolate cream and chocolate tuile. Other mains included quail, flatiron steak, pan-seared sea scallops. Bread basket with 3 types of bread (sliced bread, a roll, breadsticks). Small plate of mignardises (macaron, truffle, mini berry tart). 2 courses for $58, 3 courses for $68. Tasting menu for $80. Desserts a la carte $10. Coffee was $3, and was refilled a couple times. The drinks menu includes more non-alcoholic beverages than most places, which is a nice touch. Service was courteous.

                                              The portions were more generous than the portions I've been served at Rundles or the Prune. For an upscale meal in Stratford, I recommend The Bruce. I'm sure I'll be back in the near future.

                                              The Bruce takes reservations through OpenTable.