“Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here’s a happy one for you.” – Roy Rogers
Everyone needs a pick me up. Enter Stratford which, for some reason is a mecca of chocolate. Within the Golden Triangle of Rheo Thompson Candies, Chocolate Barr’s Candies and Rocky Mtn Chocolate, my vice is covered. It’s easy to step out and satisfy a decadent craving here, so why not have some fun with it? There are several “trails” in Stratford to explore everything from Bacon & Ale to all things Bieber, but it’s the Chocolate Trail that calls to me.
As the venerated Stratford Festival lies in wait, the throngs of tourists visiting this pretty city are exploring the downtown and environs like never before, indulging in all the delicious culinary trails that crisscross the map.
Across from the Queen Anne Revival-Flemish Renaissance styled City Hall, we sidle up to the counter of Stratford Tourism to pick up our package of tickets for six stops on a self-guided tour and a map to all the purveyors of our sweet desires. I hand it over to my son and, like pirates, we set out for our treasure.
Our first stop has to be Rheo Thompson Candies. It’s always such a treat. The aroma of chocolate wafts through the shop. All the pretty packaging and all the holiday ideas entice us, but we’re entitled to four chocolates. We must choose wisely. My son carefully peruses the display case and narrows it down to one chocolate covered marshmallow, one maple cream chocolate, one white chocolate rosebud, and one classic Milk Chocolate Mint Smoothie. I don’t even ask for a taste, because I know he won’t be sharing, and I just love watching him run to a bench, open up his bag and devour his treat like only a six-year old can. I can’t leave empty-handed so I take a chance on something that catches my eye. Rarely is one reintroduced to an item from their childhood and be able to exclaim that it’s even better now, but that’s exactly what happens when I taste the triple-dipped chocolate malt balls. These are the unsung heroes of our Chocolate Trail experience, and my new addiction. Their light crunch enrobed in chocolate is exactly what I never knew I needed.
(Watch this Cooking With Asher episode in which our young DINE Chef creates his own signature Rheo Thompson Chocolate Mint Smoothie Cookie Bombs!)
From here we excitedly unfold the map and challenge our (his) navigation skills. While he’s never used a map before, I know when chocolate is on the line, he’ll figure it out. We make our way to Treasures, home of beautiful local artisan creations, for a beautiful jar of rich and luxurious creamed cocoa honey. Toast will never be the same again. There are so many cute artisanal products here, and I’m making mental notes as we go.
Now it’s like we’re on scavenger hunt. Just a few doors down is Bradshaw’s where I usually shop for everything we could ever want in our kitchen and fun and refined accoutrements to enliven our home. Here we discover a velvety smooth Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Sauce. Very soon we will be melting this on ice cream, cookies, cupcakes and even popcorn.
Should we keep going? I think we can spread this out and leave something for tomorrow.
The bell rings. School’s out. We’re back on our bikes and riding to Small-Mart General Mercantile. Here we (he) is entitled to two delicious retro chocolate bars. The candy section here is pure sweet nostalgia. After a receiving a brief explanation and product description, my son studies each one, and carefully selects a chocolate-peanut butter crunchy 5th Avenue and a chewy taffy Abba-Zabba bar with a secret flavour later revealed to be “peach.” This shop is chock full of eye candy more than anything else, and I end up leaving as the proud owner of new a multi-coloured lava lamp.
We’ve got one more ticket left. I need a decadent Double Mocha with Rufino Espresso and Ghirardelli chocolate from The Livery Yard, but my intrepid first mate wins the coin toss. What is a Curly Wurly? I ask. We don’t know, but he’s got the map. We hop in the car and drive to Shakespeare to find out. The British Touch is like a passport to British culture offering all things British from groceries and gifts to a candy section with our newly discovered “must-have” Curly Wurly.
Two chocolatey gooey caramel-y chains to close out our Chocolate Trail. This is the sweetest way to experience a taste of Stratford, and introduce us to all the artisanal and cultural treasures that we might have otherwise missed.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.