Not only does Stratford boast the largest repertory theatre in the English-speaking world, the most parkland per capita in Canada, culinary tourism, music festivals, boutique shopping, and more chocolate than might be considered wise … it’s all walkable.
As a result, a Stratford café culture is emerging. Independent coffee shops are differentiating themselves, and working out their distinct personalities. Most are fair trade (or in some way ethical), with organic/local dairy inputs, and baking. Here’s a quick roundup of five cafés to try, all within a two-block radius.
If Stratford has a place to see and be seen, it’s through the floor-to-ceiling front windows of Balzac’s, on Ontario Street. This is the founding location of now seven locations between here and Toronto, and is a local landmark. Belle époque pressed tin abounds, there’s indoor seating for 40, and in summer the sidewalk tables are prized and the shaded back deck is coveted.
Eye-openers are offered for early risers. Efficient counter service, five brews at the ready, espresso drinks (includ-ing the Café Canadien made with maple syrup), 15 bean varieties (available by the pound), and baked goods under glass. Also, plenty of teas and herbal infusions for -caffeine moderates.
SAT & SUN 7am–8pm
149 Ontario Street
The Bakery Café at Pazzo
Last season, this extension of Pazzo Taverna & Pizzeria (at the convergence of Ontario, Erie, Huron and Downie Streets) added indoor seating for 16 and three sidewalk tables. The Euro-style bakery offers fresh desserts and baking, from cookies to pies, plus light lunches made from scratch, a salad bar, and picnic baskets. But it’s the polished copper hand-pull Victoria Ardino espresso machine (plus three drip coffees) that keeps the Bakery in the “café zone.” Karen Hartwick’s Tea Leaves line is represented. If you have kids with you, the ice cream sandwiches made with Kawartha Dairy ice cream and three daily choices of cookie, will give them a happy buzz of their own.
76 Ontario Street
This past winter, Anne Campion and her loyal Revel-utionaries shifted to the renovated E.G. Budd & Sons feed store on Market Square, behind City Hall. The major re-design yielded custom furniture from the renovation and preservation of the original painted wall signage. There’s a variety of seating — at counters, café tables and a large communal table — and the new deck out back will be a summer favourite. Revel trumps fair trade with direct trade coffee from a third-generation plantation in Nicaragua, via the granddaughters at Las Chicas del Café in London, Ontario. There are French press coffees and milky espresso drinks, but try the espresso neat — the crema is as it should be and the flavours hit high fruity and wine-y notes. In summer, the glacially cold infused coffee is a new experience. Lots of Tea Leaves on hand here too. Fresh baking is done behind the counter in the open kitchen.
37 Market Place • www.revelcaffe.com
Tucked away on York Street, Buzz Stop is the specialty coffee shop that kicked off the trend in Stratford. Nancy Hotson has been selling coffee, tea and cigars since 1989. She keeps 4 freshly ground brews for takeaway, from a roster of nearly 50 varieties. Espresso drinks are available too. There are about 40 teas and a range of hard-to-get specialty foods, including Steed & Co. Lavender, The Garlic Box, and Jakeman’s maple syrup products. If your buzz of choice is a cigar, you’ll find the best local stock of Cubans, Dominicans, Hondurans and domestics. No seating indoors, but there’s a table for 4 and a pair of benches on her shaded front patio.
17 York Street • www.buzzstop.com
Formerly Sputnik Espresso Bar, the new owners, Your Local Market Co-op, opened on March 1st. Heather Walker is overseeing the bar in this an intimate sliver of a space on the west block of Ontario Street. Among espresso drinks and two drip coffees, their signature drink is the Fully Monty Mocha with homemade chocolate sauce, espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Try Katelyn Vere’s expanded array of fresh baked goods like dark chocolate cherry muffins and apricot-ginger or blue cheese scones. Cozy seating is limited to 12, but a backroom overlooking the river will accommodate up to 16 when it’s redone for summer. Summer hours are not decided yet, but begin with:
46 Ontario Street
DAVID HICKS is a Stratford freelance writer and branding consultant who believes he can quit coffee any time. If he wanted to. Really, it’s not a problem.