Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé
STRATFORD, ONTARIO — Some have gone on a hunt for the perfect chocolate-y treat and have always landed at their usual chi-chi downtown artisan. I, on the other hand, am a little more of an adventurous sort and am willing to look beyond my area code. Stratford, Ontario to be exact.
Fortunately, Stratford is just a 90-minute drive or an approximately three-hour train ride from Toronto. I quickly found out that I wasn’t the only one eyeing Stratford as a confectionary lover’s destination. More and more people are homing in on the idyllic southern Ontario town.
To examine the best of Perth County, I took in the Chocolate Trail. My chocolate odyssey began at Revel Caffè, situated on a quintessential Victorian street. The exterior of the café was charming and reminiscent of a trendy metropolitan java joint. I quickly grabbed a seat towards the back of the bustling café and ordered what I expected to be an average croissant and latte.
Little did I know that what lay on my plate would astounded me.
This wasn’t an ordinary croissant — it was a chef-d’oeuvre. I plunged my knife into the milk chocolate-brushed, perfectly crisp crust, and pried it open to discover a treasure of bacon and soft-boiled egg. It’s no wonder that the chef who created this play on the classic French pastry is envied among his contemporaries. Twenty minutes into my enlightening conversation, about direct trade coffee with Revel Caffè owner and barista, Anne Campion, I had to move on to the next stop of my customized tour.
I headed up the hill towards Downie Street to Your Local Market Co-op, where supporting local producers is paramount. It’s one of the reasons the reasons the store is memorable — the chocolate biscotti is the other. The treat is made with smile-inducing chocolate cookie dough, milk chocolate chips baked twice to perfection, and the pièce de résistance: A method that sees the crunchy temptation dipped in exquisite dark chocolate. With details like this I could have eaten the whole jar, but my waistline and other stops were calling.
An urgent directive had me whisked off to a 43-year-old establishment called Rhéo Thompson Candies. From the moment I stepped inside, the intoxicatingly sweet aroma of chocolate mesmerized me. Clearly, neither I, nor any other chocoholic stands a chance between these four walls.
Behind the storefront lies a European-style factory that produces hundreds of thousands of pounds of chocolate-enrobed candy. I needed not be coerced into trying one of the highly acclaimed mint chocolate smoothies, or as I lovingly refer to it: The tongue depressor. It was that good.
After being snapped from my chocolate reverie, I was transported to the past when I stopped by Jenn & Larry’s Brittle & Shakes, run by a father-daughter duo. It’s true when they say they don’t make things like they used to. Take, ice cream for example, back in the 1960s and ’70s it was made with 10 per cent butter fat. During those days, it was also known as frozen custard. Both kids and parents love it today because it’s not cold on the teeth and it doesn’t run down your sleeves. The must-haves: a hand spun milkshake and Jenn’s Thai ginger brittle.
After a day of tastings I wanted to relax and prepare my stomach for a good night’s sleep. As such, Distinctly Tea was highly recommended. Located steps away from Jenn & Larry’s, the quaint York Street brick building houses more than 300 quality loose leaf and herbal blends. Run by the soft-spoken tea sommelier, Dianne Krampien, my knowledge of herbal teas and Argentine yerba matte had gone up a few notches after my late afternoon visit.
MORE ABOUT THE CHOCOLATE TRAIL PASS IN STRATFORD, ONTARIO
Prices: Purchase your eight-stop Chocolate Trail Pass ($25) in person at the Stratford Tourism Alliance office. Participants can choose from a choice of 20 local businesses. Visit www.visitstratford.ca for more details.
Directions: From Toronto: Follow Highway 401 west to Interchange 278 at Kitchener. Take Highway 8 west through Kitchener, then join Highway 7/8 west to Stratford.
Train: Contact VIA Rail Canada for information on taking the train to Stratford. Telephone: 1-800-842-7254.
MAP OF THE BUSINESSES MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE
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