Once again, this year’s coverage of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is brought to you by one of our favourite local businesses, Foster’s Inn. Strike that, aside from the festival itself and maybe Rheo Thompson, Fosters is unrivaled as our favourite place in Stratford. The only restaurants that come close are Down the Street and Pazzo. There is no second place for accommodation; if Fosters is booked, you’re looking at something less great for more money.
Built in 1906, the building that houses Fosters in the heart of Stratford, Ontario is simply beautiful. Refurbished in 1997, everything from the intimate dining room where guests can watch the chefs work to the nine impeccably designed guest rooms is lovely. With hardwood floors, warm lighting and perks like free wi-fi and a decently late check-out time, Fosters is homey and comfortable as much as it is classily accoutred. Everyone from owner Craig Foster who will check you in, to the friendly waitstaff, bantering chefs and charming bartender are approachable and efficient.
Easily one of the most popular places in town, Fosters has a tendency to be packed. If you want a pre-theatre dinner seating, a reservation is recommended, though there might be space on the patio or in the lounge area by the bar (which have a different menu, though it’s not missing much from the dining room version). The latter is a great place for a coffee/drink/dessert after the theatre since Fosters is a go-to post-show spot for festival actors. The dining room opens early for breakfast and the bar is open until the wee hours of the morning, making Fosters one of the most welcoming places in town. It’s also located mere steps from the Avon and Studio theatres (a bit further from the near-nothing Festival and Tom Patterson) so you can finish dinner with just enough time to peruse the Theatre Store then take your seats.
The actual restaurant itself is one of Fosters’ best features. Their breakfast menu has everything from cottage cheese, oatmeal, and a fruit plate for those horrible people who are hollandaise-phobic to a full Benedict menu with five different variations on the classic. There’s also waffles, french toast, eggs every possible way, three different specialty omelets and a pile of side dish options from house-made baked beans to thick-sliced smoked bacon to grilled toast. Lunch and dinner have a lot of crossover save the lunch sandwich menu being replaced by more plated fare like stuffed chicken breasts and complicated pork dishes. Dinner offers a Catch of the Day instead of Pizza of the Day but both meals have the Chef’s Pasta and Daily Soup (the pasta, in particular, is almost always fantastic). Most importantly, though, Fosters’ best food appears on both menus. Steak Frites with the house bearnaise and garlic aioli is probably my favourite thing on the menu (and likely the best steak frites I’ve ever had) though the Caesar Salad gives it a good run for its money (fresh-cooked bacon and real sliced parmesan set it apart from the thousands of others I’ve tried). The burgers are also superb, particularly when topped with C’est Bon goat cheese and cooked to medium instead of well-done. An extensive wine and bar selection and a bartender who is particularly competent with the espresso machine also don’t hurt. I sorely miss the extraordinary chocolate tart (literally my favourite dessert I’ve ever tried) which has been depressingly replaced with a thoughtful but underwhelming gluten-free brownie, but the other desserts are pretty good (Craig, if you’re reading this, I’m starting a petition to get that tart back!).
I’m irrationally picky about my food (and my accommodations, but mostly my food) and I’ve tried almost every place in Stratford (I’ve even taken a few dinner runs through the particularly schmantzy Rundles, The Church and The Prune). But I keep coming back to Fosters because they do simple things well (and not-all-that-simply, in actuality). Their food is delicious, their rooms lovely and their inn a place that makes you want to cancel your theatre tickets and stay for dessert.