How do I possibly explain in words the comfort, creativity and culinary gem I found at Mercer Hall Inn and Restaurant? From first walking in the front door to the time I regretfully left I was bathed in absolute luxury by every hostess, server, house-keeper, manager, chef and anyone else that I had the pleasure of crossing paths with.
Without a doubt, staying and eating with Mercer Hall is one of the best Local Lux experiences I’ve had to date!
MERCER HALL INN
Mercer Hall Inn is a 14-room boutique inn and is located in the heart of downtown Stratford, Ontario. When you arrive you can park in a free parking lot in the back of the hotel and head into the Restaurant where you will also find reception for the Inn. It was at reception that I had the pleasure of meeting Jessie Larson – Restaurant Manager and “Jill of all Trades”. She works reception, takes reservations, runs the restaurant and is also married to the chef! But now I’m getting ahead of myself … Check-in was smooth and quick and with your keys you will get a coupon for a free chocolate gift at Chocolate Barr’s down the street.
We stayed in suite 209 with a fantastic view of the park, band-shell and Avon River that flows through the town. To say that our accommodations were unique would be an understatement. The ceilings in the rooms are at least 14 feet high and the gas fireplace and king bed with canopy are outdone only by the two person jacuzzi beside them. The room had a bar fridge, flat-screen, free internet, lots of storage for our things, books on the mantle and, as if that wasn’t enough, there were some fresh-baked cookies to welcome us when we arrived.
Each day after our morning excursions, we came to a fresh-made bed and clean towels as if we were just arriving all over again. In the evening the bed was turned down and we did not hear anyone else around us through our entire visit. Talk about fantastic!
The only frustrating thing I can think of is that it would be a great idea to include bubble-bath in the room’s ammenities and the unfortunate fact that my friends in wheelchairs couldn’t ever visit here because the rooms are not accessible except by a staircase.
Having arrived later in the evening, we got cleaned up (ladies there is lots of space around the sink!), and headed to the bar downstairs. The bartender was attentive and seemingly floated around the front of the house taking care of other late-night patrons like ourselves. The kitchen was closed for entrees yet had some great evening nosh selections. We indulged in the following and then ascended the stairs for some much-needed sleep.
– marinated in orange + lemon, roasted garlic, thyme
House-Made Bread & Butter
2011 Lailey Vineyards Cab-Merlot, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A Lake of Bays Draught, Muskoka
MERCER HALL RESTO
In the foyer of the Mercer Hall Restaurant you will find the bar. At night the space is lit by chandeliers and candles and the soft glow is incredibly intimate. Jessie sat us by the front window so that we could also enjoy the glow of downtown Stratford as it fell asleep. In anticipation of the delicious and decadent creations to come, we put ourselves into the hands of Jessie and her husband and Executive Chef, Tim Larsen. As Jessie describes it, it was Tim’s Steak Tartare that made her fall in love with him and the rest is history.
Each night the bar features a cocktail and as much as I want to, the only part of the one I ordered that night is “strawberry-infused burbon” … need I say more? Here is what Chef Tim and his Sous Chef, Sean Collins, ended up preparing for us:
– artisanal cured meats, Mercer pickels, toast, St. John chutney, chicken liver mousse
– Chef-cut Ontario beef, potato chips, 65° egg yolk, lemon dressed greens
– iceberg, smoked Canadian blue Mercer bacon, fresh herbs, buttermilk dressing
Wild Caught Scallops
– de Martines pork belly, golden raisin puree, pickled cauliflower
– earl grey infused chocolate with white chocolate ice-cream and mango puree
Lemon Meringue Parfait
As it turns out, the charcuterie board is 99% Mercer Hall made; it is their pride and joy. Mercer Hall Resto enjoys many partnerships with local farms for not only their vegetables but also their meat. And, their chefs are quite skilled in the kitchen as they prepare their own cured meats. It was the first time I’ve ever tried Lardo which, although an asset to this charcuterie board, is something that I do not feel the need to eat again but I can chalk it up to a new life experience care of Mercer Hall. My favourites on the board were the chutney, smoked pork and chicken liver mousse (which Janet Ashworth from County Food Co. explained we had to try before leaving Mercer Hall). I also very much enjoyed house-made mustard which was whole-seed and I have absolutely no idea how they made it so delicious – so much so that Jessie could have probably convinced me it was magic.
As much as I absolutely love beef, tartare and I will never be great friends due to my inopportune food sensitivity to any part of any cow. However, when Jessie explained that it was this dish that sealed the deal and sent her to the altar, how could I not? Hubby had the full pleasure of ordering and savouring each delectable morsel of the perfectly cooked 65° egg that could have been mistaken for yellow butter. And, all the while I was noshing on The Wedge – a modern take on a popular 70’s salad. Apparently “The Wedge” is all the rage these days and popping up on menus across the province. But, none of those will likely be able to boast Mercer Hall’s house-made Canadian bacon.
And then came the scallops. Oh, those sweet, smooth, creamy, perfectly panned scallops. I dare thought I’d be able to put another bite of anything in my mouth – until Jessie suggested dessert. I – who am severely in love with earl grey – was delighted to see an earl grey infused chocolate, mango, flower-donned creation arrive at our table accompanied by a second plate of lemon meringue. The Italian that I am, I’m more used to lady-fingers soaked in espresso and layered between the sweet flavours of marscapone. I’ve maybe eaten a handful of meringues in my life so I’m anything but an expert but I will say this – yumm!
Thoroughly full and in awe of the menu I had just lived through I couldn’t have imagined the continuation of this spectacular meal that was awaiting me at brunch on Sunday morning. Hubby had the misfortune of needing to leave Stratford early but that was much to the pleasure of my parents who were more than eager to take his place. Brunch consisted of:
MH Feature Benny
– local pork, Nitro hollandaise, poached eggs, hand-cut fries, apple + cabbage slaw
– egg custard, Monforte toscano, caramelized onion, leeks, lemon-dressed organic greens
Colonel Collins’ Fried Chicken + Waffles
– 14 herbs + spices, Belgian waffles, maple syrup, house-made hot sauce
– house-smoked Ontario beef brisket, toasted rye, dark ale mustard, Mercer dills, hand-cut fries
As I’m sure you’ve already predicted, I have nothing but absolutely wonderful things to say about all of the above. However, one exclamation point that I most undoubtedly need to make is that the Colonel Collins’ Fried Chicken + Waffles stole the show for me! And, my father, who is none-too-easy to impress in any way shape or form ended up trying to “sell” it to the two ladies sitting beside us who hadn’t yet put in their order (and they did end up ordering it by the way).
Runner-up for me was the hollandaise sauce on my benny and the small black-iron pot of MH sausage that I wished I could have brought home with me. Heaven and heaven!
The staff, rooms, service, food and everything about this gem in the middle of the city is worth writing home about. Actually, they may want to start putting complimentary post-cards in each room for this very reason. I cannot imagine that anyone has ever stayed at the Mercer Hall Inn or eaten in the Mercer Hall Resto who didn’t leave being better for it. I certainly loved it and I will, absolutely, visit again – see you there!