A town named Stratford is an appropriate place for Shakespeare, to be sure. And Canada’s Stratford Festival, a little more than a two-hour drive east from Detroit, is a popular summer destination. Two of the three festival theaters are in a park-like setting overlooking Lake Victoria, created by dams on the Avon River. Benches provide sites for picnics or for observing swans, ducks and geese on the lake. Our recent stay showed us mostly good food. Thankfully, there are no faux-Elizabethan "feastes."
For instance, a few doors from the Avon Theatre, the downtown venue (about five minutes by car from the other theaters), are two worthwhile spots. Foster’s Inn has much to recommend it, including being open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t get the idea this is a diner; far from it. The interior, both bar and restaurant, are done in Victorian tones, including a combo of glossy navy blue and turmeric yellow, with the occasional stained glass window and patterned carpet thrown in. An open kitchen adds to the appeal. The dinner menu is rather contemporary, although there’s plenty for the conservative eater as well, with items like roast chicken stuffed with mushroom duxelles. And prices are reasonable for Ontario’s theater towns, who make most of their money during the festival season, usually May-October. Mussels steamed with white wine and saffron were splendid, entrees of a 10-ounce strip steak with frites and a fish special of walleyed pike with spinach and bok choy (although the kitchen had run out of bok choy, substituting more spinach) made us happy, and rhubarb napoleon finished things off snappily. Entrees were $23.95 apiece, Canadian, although at this writing, the exchange rate is so close that we assumed we were spending dollar-for-dollar.
At breakfast, the most striking item is French toast. Foster’s version uses French bread and tops it with Canadian cheddar cheese, sauteed caramelized apples and maple syrup, a fine combination, all the better for being unexpected. And how well it works with the crisp bacon. Another Canadian specialty, peameal bacon, closer to English bacon in cure and similar to what we call Canadian bacon, came on a breakfast version of a BLT that included a fried egg. An English-style fry-up brings eggs, grilled tomato, bangers and beans. The bangers have more meat and fewer breadcrumbs than their British counterparts, and the beans are dark and sticky with molasses. Good stuff. There’s also a sidewalk area for eating, nice on a summer morning.
Foster’s Inn also has rooms upstairs, which we didn’t investigate, but there’s information on the website.
111 Downie St.
Stratford, Ont., Canada
Next door to Foster’s is the Globe. The name refers to the style of cooking, not Shakespeare’s old London theater. The Globe does a tapas-style menu, with smaller portions that are handy for two people to divide, although the food itself is "mixed international." For instance, Joe’s favorite dish was kung pao sweetbreads, for which St. Louis Chinese restaurants use shrimp, and is a perfect example of what chef Max Holbrook’s imagination provides for his menu. Our group also shared dishes like mushroom risotto, pesto lasagna, and steamed mussels with gasrlic aioli. We were pleased with everything, and prices are reasonable, less than $11 Canadian for each dish we tried, often much less. All of the ice creams on the interesting dessert list are housemade, too.
127 Downie St.
On an interesting street overlooking Lake Victoria, the York Street Kitchen is a tiny, charming, hole in the wall that also does three meals a day, seven days a week (although they stop serving at 8 p.m.). It’s so casual that a "soup of the moment" is on the chalkboard, and it changed during our visit from cabbage and sausage to potato-leek, for instance. In a town that shows off Shakespeare, we joke that lunch here is Chekhov, because at each table is a pad with build-your-own-sandwich options that you, ahem, check off.
All right, sorry.
Clippings on the wall rave about their breakfast burritos, and the budget-pleasing pleasures of the spot. Entrees range from meatloaf to a Mexican shredded beef salad, and that cabbage-sausage soup was a winner in every respect. The Globe also is vegetarian-friendly, with half of the sandwich options and at least one dinner choice meat-free. Speaking of sandwiches, that pad offers seven types of bread, more than a dozen main-event items like chicken, beef and so on, and a lengthy list of cheese, condiments and such to add spicing and flavor
No reservations, so be prepared to wait on the weekends, but they do carry-outs, which would be swell for a picnic in the park that overlooks the lake. (Lots of picnic tables as you stroll the shore, which will get you to the two larger festival theaters, one of which doubles as the town’s badminton club in the winter). Sandwiches begin at $4.50 Canadian; the most expensive dinner entree we saw was $16.
York Street Kitchen
41 York Street, Stratford
The most elegant and expensive spot we visited was Rundle’s. The setting is modern, the dining room feeling very spare and European, with large windows and interesting art work. In fact, their advertising mentions both the architect and interior designer. It’s a prix-fixe menu only, both at lunch and at dinner; the dinner tab is $75 Canadian per person, for an amuse-guele, three courses, a small plate of sweets after dessert and coffee. (As at many such places, certain items like foie gras carry a supplement.) Among our dishes was a truly, deeply shrimpy shrimp bisque, the best we’ve ever had, tasting of shrimp, rather than tomato, cream or cognac. A skate wing was poached in a pepper and coriander broth; lamb arrived as grilled sirloin and braised breast, with black trumpet mushrooms and roasted red onions. The dessert winner was a lemon tart with an orange sorbet, the sorbet another example of food that tastes like its base ingredient. The lemon tart was subtle and tender, but the sorbet was the big-flavor hit.
Rundle’s also has accommodations to rent; see the website for more details.
9 Cobourg St.