June 2, 2016

8 reasons to visit Stratford, Ontario

If your only thoughts of Stratford are field trips to see Macbeth for English class then you need to sit down for this one 'cause I'm about to blow your mind. Ever since our Belly Monster crawl through Stratford a few years ago, I've been quite smitten with this tiny town. Here is a list of my favourite things to do, eat, and see in Stratford, Ontario.
 The Booze |
Much like Hamilton, Stratford absolutely loves to support their own. Everywhere we went restaurants were pouring Junction 56 Gin and Black Swan.  Owner Mike Heisz quit his job at Blackberry to open Junction 56 Distillery back in July. They're open for tours, and of course, tastings.  Same goes for Black Swan Brewery, started by two teachers who are absolutely adored by the community. We couldn't sit down for a meal without someone recommending them. 
The Architecture |
One of my favourite things about Stratford is the very European feel it has. The architecture and the general aesthetic of the streets are so quaint, you really feel like you're tucked away in some little village outside of Paris - but everyone speaks English, so that's a bonus. On our last visit just before Christmas, all the shops and streets were lined with gorgeous garlands and ribbon. I felt like I was going to turn the corner and run into Lorelai & Rory Gilmore. I am not going to claim to actually know anything about architecture - I'll send you to Rebuild Hamilton for that. But this city has a plethora of instagram worthy homes and pintrest worthy store fronts. 
The Shopping |
I know what you're expecting when I say "shopping" in a small town. But no, I'm not into that kind of shit. You know what I mean, a bunch of little knick knack stores selling cheesy souvenirs.  I swear on my heart there is some really good shopping here.

I absolutely adore Bradshaws - it's a home cooks dreams with Le Creuset in all of the colours of the rainbow and Kate Spade tableware that will make you swoon. They also have all those clever house hold gadgets that make your life a zillion times easier - yes of course I need an avocado slicer!
Small Mart also reminds me a little bit of O's Clothes in Hamilton. Very hip, one of a kind pieces with a sprucing of fun personality pieces. They have anything from Hershel backpacks, jewellery, to even furniture.

Any savvy gents out there? Cause The Artful Badger is an absolute gem. A mans, man cave. From gorgeous lush scarves to much needed beard conditioners and oils.
The Accommodation |
One of my first real "grown up" jobs was in the hotel industry - so I always pay extra close attention to where we stay when we travel.

The first time we were in Stratford we stayed at Mercer Hall. It was a little old school but the service was tailored beautifully to make each individual guest feel like they were kings and queens. I loved it. The food was also hella amazing. 

We've also stayed on this huge farm outside of town. We booked through Air BnB. They had a farm dog and a bunch of chickens running around. There was a fresh loaf of bread for us in the morning (with farm fresh eggs too).

Stratford also has a plethora of B&Bs. The Cardinal B&B was my favourite -- staying with locals gives you the most authentic experience. The owners of this B&B were actually former Hamiltonians!  It was the perfect location for us to park our car and walk everywhere! I felt like I was staying at a family friend's house. It also gave us a chance to finally see inside one of the many beautiful Victorian homes Stratford has. I'm a total house snoop. 

Food Tours |
Stratford is very quickly turning into a foodie's mecca and the town knows it! The tourism board have these fantastic self guided food tours. We partook in three tours on our last trip - The Christmas Victorian Trail, The Chocolate Trail, & The Bacon and Ale Trail

We were running around all over downtown collecting little treats and gifts from every shop. It was a great chance for us to spark conversation with the shops and to venture into ones we would normally overlook. 
Ok,  I know what you're thinking. It wasn't just dinky little freebies and pamphlets you pick up at conventions. Nope, it was actually some really good loot! From a full pack of bacon, to bacon burgers to really luxurious hand lotion. Can you tell we were cleaning house on the bacon trail?
The Markets |
If you know anything about my ball & chain, you know he loves going to farmer's markets. He loves chatting up the vendors and talking about what they're growing this season, and just being an all around chatter box. 

Luckily Stratford has more than one year round market. We visited both the Slow Food Perth County Sunday Market and The Stratford Farmers Market. When you're surrounded by such rich agriculture, you know the markets are going to be legit. Lots of fresh produce, artisan cheese, meats, and breads.

Foraging |
One of the biggest highlights of our trip was stumbling upon a last minute foraging tour with Puck's Plenty's Foraging Tours. We were literally in the middle of dinner when I saw his tweet about still being able to forage mushrooms so late in the season. I immediately DM'd him (yay social media) and asked if we could tag along the next time he went out. 24hrs later, we were in the woods foraging for wild watercress and mushrooms. Fun fact: Stratford was named one of the best places for foraging in the world by Travel & Leisure mag!

I was blown away by how many edibles we had right under our noses. I cannot gush enough about how amazing this experience was. We came home with a bag full of goodies we happily devoured (and froze for future devouring sessions).
The Food |
You saw this one coming right? There weren't enough hours in the day to eat everything I wanted. I know, I know, #firstworldproblems. But trust, if you consider yourself a foodie. Come to Stratford. They're right in the middle of prime farmland where some of the best meat and produce are raised so you'd better believe it's all going to be ├╝ber local and fresh. There is plenty of upscale restaurants but also some great comfort/casual vibes. Lots of no fuss restaurants just doing their thing with no #$%@s given about annoying bloggers and their cameras and the nerve of them to stand on chairs to take pictures. Just saying.
A few highlights were this epic grilled cheese from Montforte on Wellington. They have their own dairy farm and a simple non pretentious, incredibly delicious rotating menu.  Pazzo was also a place where the Belly Monsters and I absolutely loved. Beautifully made pizzas and pasta. On our recent trip, we were invited by FeastOn to one of their buratta making classes. 

They make fresh buratta in their kitchen every single day. If Italian food is your jam - these guys are worth a visit. Truly simplistic, gorgeous dishes made in house, in a remarkably beautiful styled restaurant. We try to come in for dinner every time we're in Stratford. 
Another surprising discovery on this trip was the Stratford Chef School (Carl Heinrich, winner of the first season of Top Chef Canada and chef-owner of Richmond Station, is a graduate). During the school year you get to be the guinea pigs for these up and coming chefs. We're talking multiple courses, wine pairings, and incredibly creative dishes. All executed by the students. We were luckily enough to feast from their Noma inspired menu as well as their holiday themed lunch. Don't walk in thinking it's amateur hour - we were served very complicated and skillfully executed dishes - without the overrated prices too!
Laohaus, was also a food gem we discovered. Nothing too fancy, just comfort authentic Lau dishes. The duck larb was definitely my jam and so was this beautiful sausage. Oh yeah, they also make bombass fried chicken. If I lived here - this would be my go to place. 
So the next time you're crying tears about needing a vacation but your wallet is all, "LOL No" - Keep Stratford in mind. I may have focused on all the lovely things to eat but there is a primo amount of  other things to do too! 

Happy Traveling! 

This was a press trip c/o Stratford Tourism. Opinions, sass, witty one liners c/o Chanry Thach. 

May 20, 2016

10 Reasons to Visit Niagara Parks

When I say 10, I really mean 9 reasons to visit Niagara Parks cause obvi The Falls is going to be one of them -- that's just a given! I know because it's right in our backyard, no one is rushing to go see it (see what I did there?), but consider this, 30 million people visit it every year. 30 MILLION! Not too shabby for a large body of water eh?  Besides the falls though, there are more than stellar places to eat and see while you're exploring Niagara Parks. (Hint : bring your golf clubs) 

Andrea from I'm Mad HungryHeather of Hamilton Small Fries and Jen of instagram fame TasteHamont explored (almost) all of what Niagara Parks has to over on a recent press trip. This is our Top 10 thing to do in Niagara Parks. These are my ride or die foodie girls so show them some love and check out their pages out too! (After you finish reading mine though - k?)  
photo c/o Jen
Whirlpool Aero Car | 
Chanry: They’re not kidding when they say Niagara Parks is a “56 km outdoor adventure museum”. The aero car is my new favourite thing to do in Niagara. Mesmerizing views of the whirlpool and beyonce selfie opportunities from the cable car. I felt like one of those extreme sport athletes. (But you’re locked inside and never in actual danger , so maybe minus the sport part, and the athlete part, but extreme still applies!)

Heather: I almost flipped my lid when I realized we were about to go on the Whirlpool Aero Car during our #FeastOnTheParkway Culinary Crawl. Dangling over a gorge full of swirling water in a metal cage from 1916 isn’t usually my idea of fun….Oh, did I mention I’m scared of heights? Seriously though, I braved this out and I am SO GLAD that I did. The views were like none I’ve ever seen. Absolutely breathtaking. And I only peed my pants a little ;)  

Chanry: TMI Heather! TMI! LOL

Andrea: This totally qualifies as an extreme sport. You’re suspended over rushing water! Like Heather, I also have a ginormous fear of heights but we both faced our fears together! Also, hold-on tight to your cameras and phones! Here’s a fun tidbit: cows were used to test the weight limit on the Aero Car! 

Jen: It’s a must-do, so just put the big girl/boy pants on and just do it! Haha.

Queenston Heights Restaurant | Queenston St, Queenston, ON
Chanry: Niagara Falls might be known for chain restaurants but there are actually a handful of locally owned gems. All five we visited on this press trip were FeastOn certified. This means they’re all champions of Ontario food & drink. They help to support local growers, producers and craftspeople. That’s pretty kick ass if you ask me. 

Heather: Quite possibly my favourite restaurant of all the Niagara Parks restos. I’ve been a couple times, and the food knocks my socks off every single time.
Andrea: The estate had a Dutch-cottage vibe with beautiful mid-century chandeliers hanging in the dining room. Our first meal of the day, and possibly one of my faves, was Braised Short Rib with Sundried Tomato and Arugula Risotto. The spiced and savoury meat was a bite of heaven. followed by creamy and rich carbs. It was so elegant, I felt like I needed to eat with my pinky sticking out. When the chefs talked about the dishes, you could see their passion in using and supporting local products. They’re doing good things over here!

Jen: Totally agree with Chanry and Andrea! Love seeing the passion in the chefs and it’s always about eating and supporting local products. Also, this place has beautiful, BEAUTIFUL views of the Niagara River.

Whirlpool + Legends Golf Course | 
Andrea: If you don’t play much golf (like me), you can pretend and just take selfies on the golf carts. And that’s exactly what we did! Now, Legends is grand as fuck. Even the driveway leading up to the clubhouse is grander than the drive up to Parliament Hill. 

Chanry: Everyone knows about Clifton Hill and the outlet malls and the usual “Niagara Falls” tourist destinations. But did you know Niagara can get fancy AF too. We’re obviously not cultured enough for this type of pastime but Like Andrea said - Legends was grand AF. Like the-hills-are-alive-sound-of-music type stuff. I don’t claim to know anything about golf but we’re told the Whirlpool golf course is Canada’s most highly rated and renowned public golf courses. That’s gotta be something to brag about
Jen: Correction (re: Chanry and Andrea’s comment) -- You mean “Chanry’s House” was grand AF LOL. If I feel like dusting off my golf set (yes, I have my own set. Korean Kid FTW) and decide to play golf, Whirlpool and Legends golf course would be the place to go!

Heather: I’ve never played golf in my life, but I think I’ll take it up after seeing Whirlpool & Legends.

Whirlpool Restaurant | 
Andrea: It has a cute cottage-look with white interiors and pale green accents. The dining room we visited was flooded by light with garage-style doors that can be rolled up during the warmer months!

Jen: I could play Real Housewives here. Enjoy my wine, sit there and not play golf :p

Andrea: Dude, I’ll join you. Let’s take lots of selfies on the golf carts.

Chanry: This is what you get when you take four foodies to a golf course restaurant. 

Legends on the Niagara Restaurant |

Andrea: If I wasn’t pacing myself, I would’ve cleared my plate and licked it clean.. I don’t have manners. The pork tenderloin came with a sauce that hit all the Asian notes and, of course, it was paired with bok choy and bean sprouts. The dish was a balance of savoury, sweet, and spicy flavours.

Chanry: I couldn’t agree more with the way Andrea described the dish. It was one of my favourites of the night. The noodles could have been more authentic, but the flavours were still there.

Elements on the Falls Restaurant |
Andrea: Elements has the sickest view out of all the restaurants because it’s right at the top of the Falls. We sampled Timbale of Spaghetti Squash and Bean Pulses, which was super artistically constructed on a tile of slate. It was a dish that was too beautiful to destroy.

Jen: This is the restaurant that is the closest to the Niagara Falls. Sometimes you just gotta pay for the view. But when the food is as good as the view...

Chanry: Table Rock Centre is the heart of Niagara Parks and is as close as you’re going to get to the excitement of the Falls. Elements on the Falls is located inside Table Rock and open all year round. It’s almost worth getting a table just for the spectacular view. They have a gorgeous wrap around window with the most perfect view of the falls - minus the cold mist and annoying bus loads of tourist cramping your space. 

Heather: Like Chan said - no tourists, view of the falls; This place is freakin’ romantic. It’d be such a good date location. 

Andrea: Seems like Heather is hinting at something. You gonna be back there soon?

Wild Play Niagara |
photo c/o Wild Play
Chanry: Opening this summer is two new high-adrenaline experiences. Ziplining AND Adventure Courses. I’m both shaking in my pants and giddy with excitement writing this. There is going to be lots of climbing, zip lining, jumping, swinging and lots of hysterical screaming and crying (from me) but I am looking forward to enjoying every minute of it! 

Andrea: This is for all the adrenaline-junkies out there and clearly, Chanry is one of them! Hopefully the Adventure Course won’t be too challenging, I don’t remember the last time I exercised LOL

photo c/o Wild Play
Jen: AHHHHHH I love Ziplining! So freaking excited!! Don’t worry Andrea, I will push you, jump with you, zip with you and swing with you LOL. I will even let you scream! Haha

Andrea: So basically, you want to hold my hand and watch me die from a heart attack! JK. I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy it more than I know!

Queen Victoria Place Restaurant |

Heather: The open patio at Queen Victoria is perfect for warm summer evenings. Plus if there’s a Falls light show happening, this is the best place to check it out. All over a delish plate of food.
photo c/o Heather
Jen: Summer is coming and if you are a patio-lover then this is the place to go! Amazing view of the Falls without having to see it through a window. This huge open patio is perfect for a nice pitcher of sangria, beer or any ice cold beverage (for you peeps who don’t drink).

Andrea: I’ll get that pitcher of water. Or juice! :D Maybe I’ll fance it up with a cocktail.

Butterfly Conservatory | 
Andrea: A playground for botanists, insect lovers, nature enthusiasts, and families. The gem-like glass roof creates a lush and humid environment and diffuses sunlight for gorgeous photography! Watch butterflies nibble on oranges and bananas or sit on the benches scattered around the path and take it all in. Andrea: A playground for botanists, insect lovers, nature enthusiasts, and families. The gem-like glass roof creates a lush and humid environment and diffuses sunlight for gorgeous photography! Watch butterflies nibble on oranges and bananas or sit on the benches scattered around the path and take it all in.
photo c/o Andrea
Heather: Guys, butterflies actually feel surprisingly strong when they land on you. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Visit the Butterfly Conservatory. You’ll also get the best pics of butterflies and your friends will be jealous.
photo c/o Andrea

Niagara Falls |
Andrea: Have you seen Niagara Falls from the American side? No? Me neither. Don’t even bother because it can’t get any better from the Niagara Parkway! There are so many great spots on our side and it’s so easy to get a decent shot. The most thrilling view is by the Visitor Centre. Listening to the rush of the Falls is so intense, you physically feel the power and force of the rushing water! Here’s a fun tidbit: Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, as measured by vertical height and flow rate. Go Niagara!
photo c/o Andrea
Chanry: Wow Andrea, that was deep.

Heather: Andrea said it best.

Jen: *Points up* What she said!

Dessert by Niagara Parks Chefs |

Chanry: HOLY @%#^.. That’s all I can say. No wait -- I want to say more. Every time I’ve seen one of these on the interwebs I think yuck cause it always looked way too rich and everything is just swimming in chocolate. Well, nope. I was wrong. It was a beautiful dessert. The sorbet was the perfect temp and the sponge cake was incredibly light and moist. It was a bomb dessert and we all had fun with it. Kudos to the Niagara Parks Culinary team for pulling off a fantastic dish. < watch the video here >

Andrea: This got me feeling all kinds of excitement and happiness! I’m with Chanry on this one. I’ve only seen this online and the amount of chocolate on the plate usually turns me off. I was unable to give a shit about sweetness and richness when I got to witness the melting action. The whole experience was S T U N N I N G.

Jen: I was screaming out loud when I saw the dessert come out. I see this on instagram all the time and I watch it on loop, dreaming one day I’d be able to have one. My dream came true, peeps, it came true! One word describes it best - UNBELIEVABLE!

Heather: :O! (insert shocked, jaw dropping emoji)  That is all

Check out more info on Niagara Parks here & here | This was a press trip c/o Niagara Parks. Opinions, sass, witty one liners c/o Chanry Thach. 

December 4, 2015

3 Days with I Heart Hamilton

Chanry: Three days with I Heart Hamilton, how did I get so ...lucky? Just kidding! It’s been an amazing few months for the Hamilton food scene and I can’t even believe it’s been two years since Kristin and I joined forces on a blog post. Fortunately, the universe brought us back together for three days of food, fun, and (very) filling media events. 

Kristin: It has been a long time since I Heart Hamilton & The Hungry Gnome joined forces on a blog post! (Remember when we went to Che, over TWO years ago now? I just read mine and Chanry’s blog posts again - it’s amazing how far things have come since then, in both our friendship and Hamilton!). Lately we’ve been pretty inseparable and on a roll with our local adventures. The past few months have been a blogger’s dream in Hamilton - so many events.
Day One: Lake Road Restaurant 229 James St N, Hamilton, ON

Kristin: We all saw a sneak preview of brand new restaurant Lake Road during Supercrawl. Learning that it was a new venture by the team behind the acclaimed Twisted Lemon in Cayuga, and hearing about a stone oven cooking up pizza and some of the best bartenders in town serving up fabulous cocktails, it was on my list to visit.

For their grand opening last month, Lake Road pulled out all the stops. It wasn’t your average grand opening, it was a gala. Oh, you fancy. Chanry and I attended with a bunch of bloggers and we all dressed to the nines!

Chanry: I was pretty much foaming at the mouth when I heard Chef Dan Megna and Laurie Lilliman were coming to downtown Hamilton. I knew they were going to elevate the restaurant scene with exceptional cocktails and over the top food pairings. They have a bit of reputation for killin’ it, if you know what I mean.
Kristin: When I first got there, I entered a room full of balloons and dessert. That’s all I needed. I could have gone home after that. Seriously, it was spectacular. Several different kinds of cake, a massive plate of gorgeous fruit, colourful macarons… heaven.

Chanry: Riiiiight? Errrmahgerd the dessert spread was absolutely divine.
Kristin: Watching the bartenders at Lake Road whip up the drinks was something else. These guys were having a blast, and it was so entertaining to watch. They had a special “speakeasy” style menu downstairs (yes - two floors!). I really enjoyed the Lavender Tom Collins.

Chanry: My favourite part was when Megna pulled out the 8ft Noah’s Ark smorgasbord. There was practically two of every animal on the board - from crab, shrimp, to a whole pig’s head! Which the foodies had no shame digging into. You can actually order this thing of beauty at the restaurant. You just need to give the team a heads up! I was lucky enough to experience the dessert version during the #HamontFT. I do agree with Kristin, the drinks were pretty spectacular.

Kristin: I look forward to eating there sometime during a regular day and perusing the menu. The pizza was awesome, too!
Day Two: Serve Ping Pong Bar 115 King St E #105, Hamilton, ON

Kristin: I warned everyone not to get too cray at Lake Road, because the next morning, it was round two: the launch of Serve Ping Pong’s new brunch menu.

Serve finalllyyyy opened its doors in October. Hamilton’s first ping pong bar had a ton of hype behind it, and it has really lived up to it. Not only is it such a fun place to hang out, the food is really great, thanks to Chef Steward Byfield heading things up in the kitchen.

Chanry: A HUGE yas from me when it comes to brunch. I am so thrilled to see the brunch movement finally make its way to Hamilton. We were there when Serve PP first opened (for a media tasting) and I was very excited to hear they were rolling out mimosa’s and benny’s.

Kristin: Bring on the Eggs Benny! We tried two kinds - one with pulled pork and white cheddar, and one with their house made candied bacon, garlic braised cherry tomatoes, and onion rings. We agree that we could eat that candied bacon with everything!

Chanry: Everything!! 

Kristin: It’s the best. There was also a vegetarian option for the Eggs Benny. And those handmade buttermilk biscuits! The Breakfast Poutine was also a standout for me.

Chanry: My Caesar came with a mini pizza. Fo realz. Oh, and on the 13th they are doing a pay one price and get brunch + bottomless Mimosa & Caesars. Yeah, I said it. BOTTOMLESS BABY! 

Kristin: The pizza caesar! That was a hit. I think they just need to go wild with the garnishes. Serve has a great opportunity here to really step up Hamilton’s brunch game and bring a unique experience along with it (ping pong!). I love that you can stuff your face and then get a little exercise in. I’ll be there on the 13th for that big brunch!
pic c/o Mezcal Tacos & Tequila
Day Three: Mezcal 150 James St S, Hamilton, ON

Kristin: It took me wayyyy too long to visit Mezcal for the first time. Forgive me, Hamilton. It only took one meal there to understand why it is a major local favourite. For this special visit, we were there to take part in their first Tequila Revolution event.

Chanry: I’m not even a huge taco fan but dat cauliflower taco, nom nom nom - it’s absolutely delightful. When they invited us for their first taco tasting with Canada’s only Master Tequilier, I was absolutely thrillllled. I love tequila and I was hoping this opportunity would force tequila to love me back.
Kristin: I’m not even a huge tequila fan - I'm more a bourbon/whiskey gal, but then again, I had never drank tequila like this. Tequila is meant to be sipped and savoured, and we were walked through the origins of it while picking out the different flavour notes, with the help of our Master Tequilier, Manny (not Chef Manny, another Manny!).

Chanry: Two things I learned. 
  1. Tequila does love me back, I was just drinking the cheap stuff so it was always in a hurry to exit my body. The good stuff usually stays and keeps you warm. 
  2. Don't listen to Kristin, she really likes Tequila. lol 
Kristin: Ok, ok, tequila won me over! I even got in trouble with the Tequiler for drinking too quickly. Oops.
pic c/o Hamilton Gastronomy
Mezcal wants to start a Tequila Revolution. They’re on a mission to change the bad rep Tequila has. None of that salt & lime #$% with these guys. We learned how to drink tequila at their first Tequila Revolution and now we’d like to give you the chance to mix cocktails and sip on tequila flights at their next Revolution. 

December 14th, join Tequila Tromba & Mezcal TNT for an interactive tasting. Oh, and did we mention they feed you too? Click here to purchase tickets or enter our contest below!

Happy Eating!

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