In early October, my wife and I ventured to the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia (NS) and Prince Edward Island (PEI) for the first time to enjoy the hospitality, the fall colors, the Celtic Colors music festival and most importantly the food. Prior to our trip we researched for many weeks on where and what to eat using references such as this website, Anne Hardys book Where to Eat in Canada and many other books and websites. When we left, based on our research, we were not expecting much! However, while the Maritimes did live up to its poor reputation for food, we did come across some great food and accommodation finds that might even take us back again one day.
Sweet Basil Arrived for a late lunch and ordered an appetizer of Nova Scotia Smoked Salmon on Rosti potato with red onion marmalade and chive cream and by far this was the best part of the meal My main course of ginger chicken stir-fry was unique to say the least. Not really a stir fry with a strange sauce and garnished with fresh blueberries just because they were in season! M wife had the roasted squash ravioli with a parmesan hazelnut sauce. The combination was fantastic but the pasta was drowning in sauce. The atmosphere was very warm and service was excellent.
McKelvies Traditional Nova Scotia fish house which was reputed to be the best in Halifax. Gail enjoyed crab cakes and squash soup while I went with the local surf and turf for my first taste of the local lobster. While the food and atmosphere left a lot to be desired, it was as good as we were expecting and the lobster was fresh and tasty if not small for $39.95.
Maple Michael Smiths old room (after Inn at Bat Fortune) is missing his touch according to locals. When we dined for lunch, we found a very limited menu (both wine and food) which was well prepared but simple and unremarkable. The prices reflected the simplicity and while it may have been a force in the past, it needs to re-energize its creative forces. I would recommend the Bouillabaisse for lunch.
Bish One word WOW! The restaurant headed up by Chef Mark Griffin blew us away and would rank as one of our top 10 restaurants in Canada. The menu was creative, well presented and the room was fabulous. Soft lighting, great seats, outstanding service and some of the best food we have had anywhere in the world.
We started with the Classic Lobster Chowder and a five tomato salad with torn croutons, salsa verde and balsamic cracked pepper syrup both of which were perfectly prepared. For mains, we enjoyed seared scallops atop a lemon basil risotto with a red wine, roma tomato emulsion and a lacquered duck breast and leg confit with thyme infused roast peaches and jasmine rice. They were as good as they sounded. The wine list was long and well priced. A definite find in Nova Scotia and if we had found it before our last night, we would have gone back for every meal!
Lodging (Virginia Kinfolks B&B) a very pleasant B&B run by a lady who is passionate about her heritage and her guests. Breakfasts included southern specialties such as sticky buns, grits, spoon bread other heavenly morsels. The rooms, while small were well appointed and very cozy. Prices were reasonable and the location was central to most areas of Halifax.
After Halifax, we headed north towards Cape Breton Island for the Celtic Colors Festival and the Cabot Trail. We followed the well marked Marine Drive north to Louisburg to spend the night before embarking on the Cabot Trail. During the entire day of driving we were not able to find any noteworthy restaurants or accommodations, but we did come across J. Willy Krauch & Sons Ltd. Smoke House where they do traditional Danish style smoked fish in Tangier, NS. The can attest that the garlic smoked fish is outstanding, but make sure everyone in your vehicle has some and keep the windows open while consuming!
We stayed at the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg, NS which looked very nice in the accommodation guide. We arrived to find a modular construction motel that is moved into place for the summer season and closes during the winter. We arrived after 8 pm so only one restaurant was open in town. We opted for the lobster supper in our room offered by the hotel which was poor but welcomed due to our long day of driving.
Our time on the Cabot Trail was highlighted with amazing fall colors and some great music, but food and accommodation did not come into play. Actually, we can advise of a couple of places to avoid
Days Inn Sydney By far the dirtiest franchised hotel that I have ever stayed in! Sydney is not exactly a picturesque town and the accommodation left a lot to be desired. We made the mistake of not reserving a room prior to arriving for the gala opening concert of the Celtic Colors Festival, which was worth the drive in itself!
Auberge Dejeuner De Soleil Inn There are two Auberge Inns in Cheticamp and this one is not the one you want to stay at. We were given instruction to this Inn and assured that it was quaint and four stars. We arrived to find a small house in the country with hot pink walls and plastic bed sheets. Upon our departure from the town we saw LAuberge Doucet Inn on a hillside overlooking the bay!
After our time thus far in Nova Scotia we were hoping for some improvement on PEI, and based on Hardys book we were expecting it. We had made reservations to stay and eat at the Inn at Bay Fortune and the Inn at St. Peters (both the Food Channel fame). Was PEI to disappoint as well?
Inn at Bay Fortune We arrived on the last night of the season, which being a hotelier, I can understand the mentality of the staff. However, small requests such as a pre-dinner snack and drink were treated with disdain originally, but were eventually accommodated very well. The rooms were well appointed and very cozy with real wood fire places, large bathrooms, and lounges. However, the construction of the building (which was originally a farm house) lent to it being one of the noisiest rooms I have ever stayed in. People walking on the boardwalk outside your room kept us awake at night and woke us early the next morning. The walls between the rooms were also very thin which meant we had to listen to the poor couple next to us who were up sick most of the night.
The food on the other hand was everything that we had expected. The chefs tasting menu proved to be creative, well balanced and exciting. Its such as pheasant, tuna, artic char, local scallops, and beef were used in the tasting menu. While Michael Smith used to preside over this kitchen as well, now Gordon Bailey has made him self at home and lives up to the reputation created by Smith. The wine list represented the region and Canada well with reasonable prices however the service was simple and uninformed on the night we dined.
Inn at St. Peters A last minute booking and for the last two nights of the season what should we expect? The most exquisite Inn on the waters edge, some of the best and most creative food in Canada, hosts who genuinely cares about their guests and a place that would actually make us go back to the Maritimes! I guess when they say save the best for last this is what they mean ..
From the time we arrived to the time till we left two days later, every whim was taken care of; every request was accommodated without hesitation and every meal with memorable. The newly rooms are situated on a bay used to harvest mussels and is located in a quaint agricultural area of PEI surrounded by world famous gold like the Links at Crowbush in one direction and the dunes of PEI National Park in the other. The food included specialties such as Guinea Fowl and Pheasant black berry terrine served with a nasturtium salad and purple pesto vinaigrette, Bacon wrapped Jumbo quail stuffed with pheasant, pistachios and dried cranberries served with a sauté of sweet potato gnocchi on a juniper berry peppercorn jus and a rosemary infused crabapple flan encased in a pink peppercorn cardamom crust served with apple cider gastrique and Cortland apple ice cream. While this may sound too out there, it actually lived up to its descriptions! My only complaint for the weekend would have to be with the small wine list due to the end of season supply and the prices charged for wines that were too young and not of great quality.
Overall, our trip to the Maritimes was what we expected with a few glimpses of hope and one place that would lure us back. We have copies of all the menus from our trip as well as contact information for the Inns and restaurants. If you want any further information, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be more than happy to forward them to you.
Side Note Toronto
On our way to the Maritimes we stopped in Toronto for a wedding and here are food reviews from there.
Yoyos - a small community restaurant at Bloor and Keele recommended by our limo driver on our way into the city. We arrived for a late dinner (11:00) on a Friday night and they were very friendly and accommodating. Great scallops and Calamari!
Goldfish a brunch location recommended in Hardys book that lived up to its reputation although the service was very poor during our visit. The food such as the eggs benedict with a black pepper and lobster hollandaise on cornbread was fabulous!
Canoe the location the wedding reception that we attended and we were blown away! The food was perfectly presented and cooked en mass and the view goes on forever. Rumor has it that the corner table has to be reserved up to a year in advance for it affords the best views!
Provence newer restaurant that recommended in Hardys book as well. The food was very good, but the prices were quite high and the service was poor. Waiters in four and five star restaurants should know how to properly open an expensive bottle of wine as well as know what is in the food. It looked like a great patio for the summer in the front, but until the service improves I would not return.