Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
STRATFORD, ONTARIO — I’m sitting down at a table in Mercer Hall in Stratford, eating a slab of thick, moist, juicy crispy bacon — with just a few greens on the side — and washing it down with an ice-cold beer.
Yes, I’m a very happy man.
Long before Stratford was known for its famous theatre festival or Justin Bieber, it had a reputation for Bacon & Ale. During the past 40 years, Perth County has been one of Ontario’s top pork producers, and has created some of the best craft-brewed beer in the province.
For $25 (plus HST), you can purchase a pass for the Bacon & Ale Trail, which includes tickets for use at five stops on a self-guided tour that’s offered year-round. According to Visit Stratford, “Each ticket will entitle you to a ‘tasting’ of a unique bacon and ale inspired treat and the chance to speak to Stratford and area’s culinary stars, and visit Stratford’s unique restaurants and retail locations.”
And yes, if you’re wondering, the Mercer Bacon that I mentioned is on the list of things you’re going to try.
Vacay.ca had an opportunity to check out this tasty trail for ourselves and discovered that if you like bacon and beer, Stratford is definitely a place to venture on a road trip.
Revel Caffé (37 Market Square, telephone: 519-305-1600)
The morning began at this coffee shop that proudly displays the slogan “Independent Coffee for a Revolution.” The coffee is roasted fresh each week by Las Chicas Del Café roasters.
The building has lots of space to chill out and get lost within the old beige-and-rust-coloured brick walls. Many strangers gathered at a large table sipping coffee around an unfinished jigsaw puzzle during my visit. There’s lots of natural light in the building, making it an ideal place to read, study or just watch the world go by.
Bacon & Ale Trail: Try the bacon croissant — boiled eggs wrapped in double smoked espresso bacon for $5.
Mercer Hall with Stratford Brewing Company (104 Ontario Street, 519-271-2778)
A beautiful establishment that’s popular for meetings and events. Sit down and let chef Tim Larsen show you just how serious Mercer Hall is about bacon. So serious in fact that Mercer Hall even has bacon-inspired cocktails and drinks, like the Infused Vodka with Bacon ($6.95).
Bacon & Ale Trail: Wonderful menu items for both lunch and dinner. Be sure to try the Pumpkin and Bacon Soup ($9) or the MH Pulled-Pork Benny ($13), which features house-smoked pork shoulder, poached eggs and hollandaise, with apple and cabbage slaw.
Another side dish you must taste is the aforementioned Mercer Bacon ($3), a thick, flavourful and beautifully cooked piece of bacon that sits alone on a plate with a serving of fresh salad from Soiled Reputation. The pork is also from a local producer called Perth Pork Products.
Mercer Hall always tries to stay local and the beverages are all from Ontario. The menu always rotates. Currently on tap, you can enjoy Flying Monkeys from Barrie, 10W30 from Neustadt Breweries, Black Lager from Silversmith, and Mill Street Organic from Toronto. Twelve-ounce draught beer will cost you $4.50, a 20-ounce glass costs $6.
Small-Mart General Mercantile (121 Ontario Street, 519-271-6283)
From the outside, there doesn’t seem to be much of a bacon connection. Why would the Bacon & Ale trail lead here? But make no mistake about this fun little store — it has a something for everyone, including “clothing, hats, bags and accessories inspired by the RCAF, Canadian military, aviation, RCMP, CBC and other nostalgic and iconic Canadian logos.”
Bacon & Ale Trail: This place has so many bacon-inspired themes it’s actually frightening. As if that isn’t funny enough, the owners are Jewish.
There’s bacon lip balm ($3.50), bacon candy canes ($5.95), bacon soap ($6.95), bacon toothpaste ($5.95), and last but not least Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure Board Game ($24.95).
Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub (26 Brunswick Street, 519-271-2778)
All tapped out from visiting all the interesting places along the trail? Molly’s is a nice pub to sit down and celebrate your evening before heading home. Lots of great menu choices and beer to wash it down. Lots of good menu items offering everything from burgers ($11) and onion rings ($8) to a New York peppercorn steak ($19),
Bacon & Ale Trail: No shortage of bacon here. You’ll find smoked bacon on the garlic bread supreme ($8), Irish nachos ($12) and steamed mussels ($13). The traditional hamburger has a good helping of Lou’s Peameal Bacon and smoked bacon ($11). Make sure you try the loaded baked potato soup ($6) for a very satisfying bacon-esque experience.
As far as ale is concerned, you can enjoy whatever you like — Molly’s supports a wide array of international and local beers, including Stratford Brewing Company and Kronenbourg 1664. But our suggestion for any good Canadian Irish Pub is, and will always be, a smooth, tall glass of Guinness ($6.75).