Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Relaunch of Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel in Stratford


Photos by Terry Manzo Used by Permission 

The relaunched Mercer Hall has changed its name to Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel. Mercer bills itself as a one-stop location to explore the world of craft beer and one of the best beer bars in Ontario. They offer fifteen draft lines, Stratford’s only cask engine, and have crafted a rotating list of over 120 brands including international award-winners, and hard to find one-offs that rotate very quickly. Over half the bottles are Ontario brews. 

Alex Kastner, Director of Food and Beverage, at both Mercer Hall and The Prune Restaurant,  started his career in 2005, as a runner at the former Church Restaurant. He has his finger firmly placed on the Stratford culinary pulse. “There are so many Stratford restaurants that have excellent wine lists,” says Kastner, “Yet there was no one in Stratford who really tapped into the pulse of the craft beer movement in Ontario. There really is something for everyone when it comes to drinking beer.” 

The interior of the restaurant has been refurbished to project a casual more accessible ambiance. Katner has added some communal tables that they hope will help foster a sense of community and conviviality. In a conscious decision to eliminate any trappings of fine dining the service staff now wear jeans and custom t-shirts. The service is casual, upbeat and friendly.

Kastner said, "They decided to get away from the prix fixe menu that they felt ticked the locals off. The prix fixe menu is a Stratford tradition." It is an arrangement that is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where dining theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously and later, there is a lull and the menu offerings become less restrictive. The new vision is a focused effort to make the restaurant more accessible in terms of food and drink. They want the locals to feel welcome year round.

The casual brasserie-style ambiance is essentially inspired by the izakaya, the informal Japanese beer pubs that Chef Ryan O’Donnell encountered during his travels in Japan.
Chef’s collaborative well thought out menus feature items that are meant to be shared communally and are perfect for the lively, dynamic atmosphere. “We wanted to create an experience that can be tailored to a variety of experiences,” says O’Donnell. The all-day menu is divided into categories: fresh salads, small plates, medium plates, substantials, fried chicken & wings, sides, burgers & bowls and desserts.

O’Donnell’s cuisine finds its roots in Stratford foraged cuisine and fine dining and he is known for incorporating Ontario ingredients into cultural dishes. The new 40 plus item menu (which includes some interesting sides and condiments) has Asian culinary influences and underpinnings. Featured items change often to reflect local and seasonal ingredients.

Some interesting cultural interpretations include Mercer’s Tonkatsu pork schnitzel coated in panko breadcrumbs; chicken karrage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with lemon togarashi mayo; improbably delicious steamed pork buns with spicy aioli, cilantro pickled onions, carrots ribbons and lime; and spätzle ramen with braised pork belly and soy egg. Barbecued pulled pork rice bowl with kimchi sauerkraut; and grilled whole sardine with scallions and wasabi mustard.

There are also pig tails with chili potato salad, in homage to the Huron-Perth Germanic heritage with buttered biscuits and baked beans.

Pastry chef Simon Briggs who is an instructor alongside O’Donnell at Stratford Chefs School is also part of the high functioning 18 member kitchen team. Chocolate ice cream with dehydrated chocolate cake, chocolate sauce, salted coco nibs and seabuckthorn berries is a current dessert offering.

Comfortable, cosmopolitan guest rooms that have had a recent face-lift are located above the restaurant.The restaurant is a member of the Feast ON program that has helped to identify culinary champions committed to showcasing Ontario grown and produced food and drink.

"From local heritage pork to boasting ethically-farmed or sustainable line-caught West coast seafood they support farmers, fishermen and artisans in Perth County and across Canada."

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