No matter the places I travel nor the people I meet, I am always looking for authentic local experiences and in Stratford, Ontario I found many. One such local gem is The County Food Co. owned by Chef Janet Ashworth. Within the sky blue walls of this quaint bistro, Chef Janet facilitates the collaboration of hundreds if not thousands of local farmers, food artisans, community partners, locals and tourists alike.
Just a stone’s throw from the Stratford Farmer’s Market where Chef Janet does her daily grocery shopping, The County Food Co.’s menu changes often with specials and options thought up according to what is in season and readily available. I must say, it is remarkable that such delicious creations can come from such a tiny kitchen. In my opinion, the small square footage of Chef Janet’s “workshop” goes to prove that it isn’t the size of your kitchen that matters.
It is people like Chef Janet Ashworth that are responsible for my life-long love of food and local flare.
When we arrived – regardless of it being a weekday – the place was hoppin’! Many people were in line at the counter choosing between entrees, sandwiches, sides from the salad bar, desserts and specials of the day. Despite the small space and hand-fulls of people, the staff are friendly and quick and there always seemed to be a table available just at the right time for the next round of patrons to take a comfortable seat.
The walls of the bistro are full of the daily specials, the “full grab” sandwich menu, the names of the local craft beers on draught and, my favourite, the names of the local farmers and artisans that County Food Co. partners with to create their menu. I love the combination of individuality and Chef Janet’s ode to the community that is partly responsible for her great success. After all, if it was not for her many partners, she wouldn’t have all the delicious ingredients to put together her fantastic menu.
My husband and I ended up sitting at a table for four and were quick to split it into a table for two for a pair of great ladies looking to enjoy a catch-up lunch. While sitting and partaking in our meal, my attention was drawn to the smells and smiles of The County Food Co. I think there is something to be said for all the whisperings and conversations that those sky-blue walls have heard.
I indulged in a grilled vegetable and goat cheese wrap with a side of quinoa and greek salad. The wrap was warm and savoury and the quinoa the best I’ve ever had. I especially loved the budding garlic chute garnish – such a pretty plant. My hubby had bruschetta and grilled vegetable salad with a farmer’s sandwich that was gone before I could snap a picture. And, as if that wasn’t enough – Chef Janet had just finished making a fresh batch of garlic asparagus chive chowder with fresh-picked spring asparagus. It was like no chowder I’ve ever tasted – the consistency was to my taste, the asparagus had the perfect crunch and the garlic and chives were almost sweet on the tongue. Talk about a party in my mouth! I wish that I had room for dessert but it just was not in the cards.
On my way out I took some time to admire the artisan pantry at the front of the shop – it was filled with relishes and picked vegetables, sauces and other preserves just waiting to be taken home and turned into someone’s own culinary creation. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that in the bathroom the walls are fully clad with messages from happy diners – what an interesting and fun idea to have crayons available for people to write with.
The next time I visit The County Food Co. (and let me tell you there will definitely be a second, third, fourth, etc … time) I’ve made up my mind to grab a picnic pail and ride the blue County Food Co. bike down to the river for a picnic. What a fabulous idea – and quite romantic if you ask me. As much as I love extravagance, I think it would be superb to hear of a County Food Co. proposal … who knows, maybe it’s already happened. The romantic, lover of local things that I am thinks that such an engagement would be absolutely divine! Not as divine as Chef Janet’s food but certainly close.
Spending lunch with Chef Janet and her team was one of the highlights of my trip to Stratford. I didn’t feel like a visitor – more like I’d been welcomed into the kitchen of a close friend. And, it was wonderful to see young and old, local and tourist, all sitting together enjoying the best of what Stratford has to offer. Eating here was truly an endearing local delight that I think anyone and everyone who visits this beautiful little town must experience.