In her opinion:
Many of you know that I equate chefs to rock stars in my foodie world. I've had the privilege of meeting quite a few of these rock stars...the tormented but talented beyond belief Jonathan Gushue/Kurt Cobain, the hip and wonderful Vij Vikram/Neil Young, the always charming and giving Jason Parsons/Bono, the super sexy David Rocco/Adam Levine, the extraordinarily gifted Jason Bangerter/Marcus Mumford, the dynamic and super cool John Horne/Ewan Currie but I had yet to meet my foodie Gord Downie. That was until I met Tim Larsen of Stratford's Mercer Hall Restaurant at this year's Savour Stratford Culinary Festival.
Tim Larsen is cool, down to earth and a locavore. His cooking philosophy is impressive and his cuisine even more so. After watching Tim and Sean Collins at the Local Chef spotlight presentation at the Toronto Star's Culinary Stage where they prepared a "Bloody, Hearty Breakfast", I knew I needed to visit Mercer Hall Restaurant. Why not for a Thanksgiving brunch?
Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that my family usually doesn't make a big deal about, so we often look for great places to eat on this holiday and often come up short. But this year while I was on Facebook, I noticed in my news feed that Mercer Hall Restaurant would be opened on Sunday and Holiday Monday...so why not. We debated about the Nosh Monday - all you can eat tapas adventure or the brunch. But in the end it was all about the "Chicken and Waffles"!
Mercer Hall Restaurant is a nice long room with a good looking bar on your right that greets you as you walk in. The room is divided into three areas - the bar area, the middle dining room area which shares space with the kitchen and the end dining room area(those are my descriptions and not the restaurants). They are all nicely decorated and illuminated by some gorgeous chandeliers The place is classy...no doubt about it but it is also unpretentious. And it's that combination that makes you feel welcome.
We were seated by the lovely Jessie Larsen (chef Larsen's wife) who also served as our very efficient waitress during our meal. After filling our water glasses, Jessie asked if we wanted a drink to start our meal...well, since it was Thanksgiving and I have a lot of blessing to be thankful for; why not have a drink drink? I decided on the Aperol Spritzer. A wonderful combination of Aperol, Prosecco, orange juice, soda and a slice of orange.
This drink is not overly sweet with its unique infusion of sweet and bitter orange. It was a good way to start my brunch off.
For my main, I knew exactly what I wanted and had actually call dibs two days prior to ordering it when I made the reservation for brunch. It was definitely all about the "Chicken and Waffles". Described on their menu as 14 herbs and spices,
Belgian waffles, maple syrup and house-made hot sauce.
In a word - FANTASTIC-AWESOME-INCREDIBLE-SUPER-DELICIOUS-GOODNESS...I know...that's actually 6 words - I can't help it. It was one of those dishes that you were already sad after the first bite because you knew it would eventually come to an end. I loved it. The fried chicken was boneless thighs and fried to perfection. The Belgium waffles were light, airy pillows of goodness. The maple syrup and house-made hot sauce, the cement that brought the whole dish together. It was by far some of the best, if not the best chicken and waffles that I have eaten.
We don't normally order a whole dessert each after a wonderful main but I wasn't passing up the chance to have Chef Larsen's dessert. I decided on the "Sticky Toffee Pudding". It was served with a caramel and pecan sauce, caramel ice cream and a beautiful sugar wafer.
I love sticky toffee pudding - it's comfort food at its best and this dessert did not disappoint. I ordered it along with a cup of coffee and that combination is heaven. The cake was delicious, the pecan caramel sauce incredible. The toffee ice cream...refreshing and delicious. I really enjoyed this dessert.
We had the pleasure of a visit from Chef Larsen during our brunch where we talked food and most importantly about his love of the Big Mac, which really hit home with me! His visit only reinforced his passion for local food and my opinion about what a fabulous guy he really is. Definitely my Gord Downie!
Overall, I loved our brunch at Mercer Hall...I will definitely return. It's one of those places that makes you feel welcome because their food is beyond incredible, their service is perfect and the overall ambiance - fabulous. Unpretentious and extraordinary sums it all up!
In his opinion:
Mercer Hall, I have been wanting to try this place for a very long time. The reputation gathered by this establishment in the very little time it has been open is truly commendable. Also, it is not easy to establish oneself in a city like Stratford that already has many great culinary destinations ranging through all types of food.
After meeting Chef Tim Larsen at the Savour Stratford event, we made it a priority to go and check out his restaurant and I was pretty excited to do so. Some of the marvels of the restaurant also became a hinder in deciding when to go and eat. On Mondays they have tapas night (Nosh), and I'm a huge fan of tapas, maybe stemming from my 3 trips to Spain. Then there is the already legendary brunch served everyday and let's not forget Thursday is oyster night. Then of course there are some specialty days as well...
So many options and a decision had to be made. So for our first time we chose the brunch option. We arrived at restaurant and it is well decorated somewhat "pubish" but better appointed and modern than a traditional English pub. Very inviting and bright with plenty of space and a few different areas to dine in. The prominent bar occupies the whole entrance to the right and it seemed like a popular place to just hang out and have a few drinks.
I perused the menu for a few minutes, undecided on what to order (surprise, surprise) so I decided in the meantime to order myself a cocktail. I went with the Negroni Spagliato. I know it sounds like something dark from Italy but its actually campari, sweet varmouth, procesco and a slice of orange, very good and refreshing even if a bit more tart than I expected.
Fortunately I was able to pace myself, take one bite at a time, not chock and savour this extremely tasty burger (that sounded like Pulp Fiction). Anyway, it is a great burger and the fries that were served with it were fresh cut and perfectly done. Big mention has to go to the roasted shallot aioli that I requested for my fries, I could dip anything on that all day and night, very good!
The Good: Great menu, outstanding locally sourced food and a creative chef. The service was also very good.
The Bad: It's closed for 2 days (Tuesday and Wednesday) during the Winter Season.
The Verdict: Outstanding restaurant that rivals any other in Stratford. The food is great, the menu inspired and a chef that uses traditional techniques in a forward thinking menu. A must try when in Stratford.
I give it 4 out of 5 Olives as rating