A few weekends back, Henk and I escaped to the country – or rather, the County, Perth County to be exact. And what we discovered after a couple of days enjoying farm-to-table food, exploring tiny towns and meeting with friendly locals, is that Perth County feeds you well: body and soul. Follow in our footsteps and see what we mean with this guide for where to eat in Perth County, Ontario.
Where Exactly is Perth County?
With all the different counties in Ontario, I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t know exactly where Perth County was. Turns out that it’s only about 2 hours northwest of Toronto surrounding the city of Stratford – famous for its renowned Stratford Festival and for being the home of Justin Bieber. But Henk and I weren’t coming to Perth County for the Bard or the Biebs, we were here to discover everything that these rural communities had to bring to the table – literally.
WEST PERTH: Hick’s Cafe
Hick’s Café in the town of Mitchell is exactly what you’d expect a small town café to be: a great place for a good meal that is as unpretentious as their popular ‘brekky bowl’ on the menu. But owners Sean and Sandra Hazuda don’t just serve up good food in generous portions – they serve up generosity of spirit as well. Having gone through hard times themselves in the past, they know what it’s like to be down on your luck, so at the end of every day, they offer leftover baked goods and food to people in the community who might be in need. Even though they are relative newcomers to Mitchell, having only been here two years, the Hazudas have made this small town their home in more ways than just as business owners.
The Rose and Crown Pub
Another business owner committed to his community is Phil Heisz, the owner of the Rose & Crown pub just across the street. This building has been a part of Mitchell’s downtown forever, serving many different functions over the years as a livery stable, movie theatre, garage and of course a pub. Heisz had built up the Rose and Crown years ago and sold it, but when the new owners had to walk away from it Phil stepped back in, and even moved to Mitchell from London so he could manage it hands-on.
Today it’s a place where locals and visitors can enjoy casual pub favourites, their favourite drink or craft beer, and watch the game. Phil even makes sure the legacy of local hockey legend Howie Morenz, who was born here in 1901, lives on at the Rose and Crown. ‘The Mitchell Meteor’, as he was known is remembered with framed memorabilia Phil proudly displays on the walls of the pub.
PERTH SOUTH: Stonetown Artisan Cheese
Even after being a dairy farmer his whole life, Hans Weber is as passionate as ever about the dairy business, so passionate in fact, that in 2013 he decided to expand into the artisan cheese business just when many people would be thinking of slowing down.
Originally from Switzerland, Hans appreciates good cheese, and now that his sons look after most of the day-to-day on the large dairy farm he started in Perth South, Hans and his master cheesemaker, Ramon, can devote their time to crafting delicious small-batch cheeses. The production facility is on the same property as the dairy farm, meaning the fresh milk he uses to make his cheese travels at most 20 yards from the source.
Hans and Ramon must be doing something right as their cheeses have won numerous awards, and are sold across Ontario and served at upscale restaurants including 360 at Toronto’s CN Tower. They’ve just recently been certified to export out of province as well. But why look for these cheeses elsewhere when you can buy direct right from the Stonetown Cheese farm in Perth County – plus you get to sample the range of cheeses available and maybe even share a few laughs with Hans himself.
PERTH EAST: Harry 10 Shilling
Shakespeare is Perth County’s mecca for antiquing, and all that browsing through stores filled with really cool old stuff is bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, just steps from the antique stores on the main drag is Harry Ten Shilling bakery cafe and tea room.
If you’re just looking for a cup of tea and something for your sweet tooth, the bakery café on one side of the building is a cheerful little place to enjoy a sweet treat. But if you want a more substantial lunch, or the full afternoon tea experience, Lynn Barber, Harry’s owner, serves up both in the newly-renovated adjacent tea room. And since Lynn is about as big a fan of afternoon tea as I am, she doesn’t limit the time or day when you can order one. So while Henk enjoyed a soup and sandwich combo for lunch, I opted for a full afternoon tea.
I loved the whimsical touches in the room almost as much as the 3 tiers of goodies I devoured.
Shakespeare Brewing Company
If local antiquing makes you thirsty, not hungry, Shakespeare Brewing Company is happy to help. A brand new addition to the small town’s main drag, this craft brewery is about as micro as it gets, but with small batch beers that Henk and I actually liked (some craft brews are just too hoppy for our taste). Ayden and Katie, the young couple who operates the brewery are just as delightful and easy-going as their brews, too.
Lynn River Farm & Store
Love homemade food (with ingredients you actually recognize) but don’t have time to prepare it yourself? No problem. At Lynn River Farm, you can get the best of both worlds: farm-fresh local ingredients in ready-made meals that you can just take home and pop in the oven.
Mike and Lindsay Higgins are definitely onto something at Lynn River, which they first started as a community shareholder-based enterprise. They have since evolved that model into a farm/retail operation where all the food sold in their store is made with ingredients from their own property or from other local producers. Along with running the farm and the store, Mike and Lindsay offer special events like yoga brunches and field-to-fork dinners on their massive harvest table made from old barn timbers taken from their property, too.
Mike is a passionate advocate for sustainable, ethical farm practices that are good for animals, humans and the environment alike, and he beams like a proud papa when he shows off his healthy free range chickens and turkeys or takes you on a tour of his garden. (And from what we hear, he makes a mean pasta, too – something to remember if you’re shopping their freezer for something to put in yours!)
Mmmmmm!…Mennonite Meals at Anna Mae’s in Millbank
Nevermind “Instagrammable food” that is all about the camera lens. Instead, think “good old-fashioned homestyle cooking” that is all about the tastebuds and that’s what Anna Mae’s is all about. A Mennonite bakery and restaurant that is a must-do for any visitor to Perth County, Anna Mae’s is the kind of place where the menu is simple, the portions are large, and the cheque is small. It’s also the kind of place where the mashed potatoes are made with butter and milk, the signature broasted chicken is served with its crispy skin on, and the bread rolls come warm from the oven (and definitely gluten-full).
If those aren’t reasons enough why Anna Mae’s is lined up like mad, let’s talk about their store that sells everything from quilts to homemade jams to baked goods (and yes, they do have gluten-free options!) And did I mention the ‘menu’ of pies? There are at least a dozen different selections to choose from, with special spring and summer berry pies that come and go depending on what’s fresh in the field. Is your mouth watering yet? This is comfort food at its best.
TIP: Saturdays at Anna Mae’s are particularly busy, so make a reservation, especially if you want to book the ‘buggy table’.
Friendly Folk and Fresh Food
Dorothy Day, an American journalist and social activist, once wrote: “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” After our weekend in Perth County meeting friendly, passionate people who care as much about their communities as the food they provide for them, I can honestly say that Perth feeds both body and soul very well.
Special thanks to Perth County Tourism who hosted Henk and I for our farm-to-table weekend.