Last Saturday Lisa and I bundled up the kiddies and trundled on over to Winterfest, the annual outdoor winter weekend where Stratford celebrates its Canadian-ness by embracing the cold and snow and turning the icy tundra into some serious fun-dra.
It was cold.
I'm talking can't-feel-my-fingers-and-toes cold.
But that didn't stop us and hundreds of other folks and families (and real live Mounties, with Fisher above!) from throwing on a few extra layers and coming down to Queens Park - between the hibernating Festival Theatre and the frozen river - for some Arctic games, Stratford-style.
The dogsled rides were a popular attraction for brave little mushers as well as people (like us) who just love looking at gorgeous huskies in their element.
But this is a food blog, not a dog blog. This guy was double-fisting the family-sized fries from Stratford's legendary chip truck Ken's Fries.
We came across another dad with an armful of sugary-crispy apple fritters from Brit's Apple Frits, and he assured us, "These are the best part of Winterfest!"
That night, Lisa and I also accepted a generous babysitting offer and continued the Winterfest-ivities as we set out to take advantage of one of the dinner deals many of the downtown dining establishments were offering Saturday night in coordination with the event. We went to Molly Bloom's Irish Pub for a couple of pre-dinner Bloody Caesars (we were celebrating our Canadian-ness after all) and were tempted by their festive sign (above) inviting us to stay for a maple-glazed pork tenderloin dinner.
But there was one restaurant in Stratford I'd never been to but really wanted to check out that night: The Annex Room. The Annex is one place most Stratford long-time locals always mention to me when they list their favourite spots to go out for dinner.
I'd also heard that they cooked great pizza and lots of other great dishes using a beautiful fired oven (above). That night, we had a choice between two Winterfest deals. The first was a specially-priced three course menu featuring a starter of spring rolls, a Dijon crusted chicken supreme entree stuffed with goat's cheese, and dessert.
We thought the fiery oven offered a nice, warm nighttime contrast to our icy daytime frostbitten experience, so we decided to go with the other Winterfest deal, which was two pizzas for the price of one. After debating over the extensive pizza menu, the first one we went for was the Tiger Shrimp and Roasted Garlic (above), which the oven did a great job cooking since neither the crust nor the shrimp were overdone.
Our next choice was the Artichoke Heart and Baby Greens on Pesto pizza. This vegetarian pie was fresh and vibrant and definitely warmed up this winter night.
I don't usually comment on service but I can see why Francis, the head server at The Annex Room, is almost always mentioned when people tell me about why they love this warm, comfortable and inviting restaurant. She made us feel right at home, and will definitely be one of the reasons we'll return to this landmark Stratford dining room many times in the future.
I feared my first winter food blogging in snowy Stratford might be a challenge, but honestly the only difficulty I'm having is in keeping up with all the amazing culinary experiences that seem to be available almost every day! I hereby officially declare that there is no "off season" for great food in this city, as Winterfest demonstrated (albeit frigidly).