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St John's Trip - Culinary delights abound

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St John's Trip - Culinary delights abound

missanusha | Sep 17, 2009 08:46 AM

Just came back from a few days vacation in St John's. I scourged this board and other resources before heading down and was surprised at the lack of enthusiasm regarding the restaurant scene. Here's my update on where we ate. (We stuck to the Avalon coast and mainly around downtown St John's)

Ice Cream:
The only dairy bar that we ran into was Moo Moo's on King's road. I think $10 for a double scoop and a single scoop is a bit pricey, but I'll admit that the ice cream was really good. They have interesting flavours that you don't normally see in an ice cream parlour. Our favourites were strawberry with brownies and strawberry with cookies. There are some tables inside, and picnic tables outside to sit and enjoy your ice cream/milkshake/soft serve/slushie. There was a lineup even on a cold rainy weekday afternoon, so you know Moo Moo's has a wining recipe.

Fish & Chips:
We only ate fish and chips once and that was at Ches's - the location on Freshwater Road. Nice place to try fries and dressing for those that haven't had it before. Fish was good, fries were tasty. My only complaint is that I would expect a fish and chips place to make their own tartar sauce, but they only offered the little packets of blandness.

Auntie Crae's Specialty Foods:
One of our first stops in town was Auntie Crae's Specialty Foods. The staff was very knowledgeable about the local foods, and provided us samples of the various jams. The store offers a sandwich counter, small cafe in the back for coffee and teas, whole coffee beans from around the world, newfoundland specialties such as dark rum fruit cake, local berry jams, cheeses, cookies, canned and packaged goods and more. The cookies were much too sweet for me. But the partridge berry jam was excellent. (Unfortunately it got confiscated at security because apparently a jam/jelly is considered a liquid! Boo.) The store really is a mish-mash of offerings - certainly a place to pop into if you want to try some local specialties.

Coffee:
On a quest to find the best coffee in the city, we tried Coffee Matters, Coffee Matters Too, Jumping Beans, Sappho Cafe and Hava Java. Jumping told us that they supply the beans to CM, CM2 and HJ so....no one place stood out.

Jumping was the most accessible in regards to sniffing the various teas, and the barista was very helpful in providing us details about the various caffeinated concoctions. The cafe is located on Harvey Street - not right in the downtown core.

Coffee Matters/2 has the most extensive menu of all the coffee houses, and the prices of their desserts range from $1-$8. Breakfast was decent, and the desserts are average. It's what you'd expect from a run-of-the-mill coffee house - nothing more, nothing less.

Sappho is the only cafe that had character, and the only place where all the food is made in-house. The banana chocolate chip bundt cake with dark chocolate ganache icing was excellent! They only offer two coffee roasts - one dark and one medium. I thought the baristas at Sappho were the most friendly, and the atmosphere is the most inviting right from the picturesque red front door to the cozy bar table looking out through the big windows.

Baked Goods:

We visited Georgetown Bakery on the recommendation of other chowhounders. Delicious! They offer a rotating special of daily breads, as well as olive boules, baguettes, croissants, belgians, etc. No pastries per se, but they do have some date squares, lemon squares, etc. The cranberry spice loaf that we tried was stupendously delicious - crusty on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside jam packed with cranberries, currants, and other goodies. The quarter belgians were a home run with some butter and partridgeberry jam. And the croissants were also good. Get there early if you want croissants as the place is busy all the time and the yummies run out fast.

We tried Michel's Bakery on Water street after Jumping mentioned that they source some of their baked goods there. Along with whole tortes, cakes, and muffins, they also offer a rotating selection of hot foods such as Jigg's dinner, macaroni and beef, pot pies, etc. The croissants were hard and inedible, and the carrot muffin was so sweet that we couldn't eat more than one bite. As it turned out, we never got around to trying the takeout hot food that we purchased so I can't comment on the quality of those.

We ran into Manna's bakery on our way to Avalon Mall. It sounded promising but turned out to be a disappointment. I didn't find the staff very helpful, and the apple pie we bought just did not sit right with any of us. So I'm still not sure where to go in town to find some good pies and tarts?

On our way down from Signal Hill, we stopped at the Bookery which is just at the bottom of the hill tucked away in a corner. It's actually a bookstore but they offer a few treats and drinks inside. There was nowhere to sit and enjoy the food/drinks - it is primarily a bookstore after all. We tried the zucchini walnut orange loaf and a chocolate chip cookie. Both were fine, however since all treats are made offsite I wouldn't go back again unless I was in search of a book.

Irish Loop Coffee House:
On the drive down the Avalon coast towards Witless Bay we popped into the Irish Loop Coffee House in Mobile. It's a cute little local cafe with a small menu of staples like pancakes, bacon and eggs, tuna sandwich, etc. There are about 7 little tables with plastic tableclothes, and a selection of cards and games that you can play. Perched right on the water, you have an incredible view of the Bay. We tried the day's special pea soup, a crab sandwich and some cinnamon raisin bread pudding. Pea soup was thick and full of chunks of ham and carrots. The waitress had told us that the crab sandwich was made from "fresh crab", rather than imitation crab. Turns out that "fresh crab" means tinned crab, and the sandwich was basically tinned crab with some mayo between two slices of bread. The bread pudding was the major hit...warm, and gooey with the perfect amount of raisins. I would try the restaurant again simply because it was so charming, but I'd try a different sandwich next time.

Basho:
Seems odd to find a Nobu disciple in St John's, but of course we had to try Basho. One of only two sushi joints in town, Basho is located in an unassuming building in an unassuming portion of Duckworth Street. The restaurant has two floors - a dining room on the main floor and a lounge upstairs. The lounge has same menu as the dining room as well as additional bar menu items such as yakitori chicken wings, crab croquettes, and sweet potato fries.

We were there on a saturday night, and the place had a decent crowd throughout the evening. Unfortunately they were out of tuna that night. We had lobster cantonese style, spicy salmon inside out roll, super roll, softshell crab roll, as well as two items that were gifted to owner Tak by celebrity chef Nobu - new style salmon sashimi and asparagus with scallops.

The lobster seasoned with black bean, chillies, sake and garlic was finger-licking good...literally, we were licking every inch of the shell and the serving dish.

The servers were knowledgeable but not extensively - for example, our waitress didn't know where the scallops were from...seems a bit odd when your signature dish contains scallops.

Tak did up all of the sushi orders for the house, and he had other staff working in the kitchen. The lounge is nice for a group of 2-4 people - casual and relaxed, but still the same great food you'd enjoy downstairs. There is also a bar for you to sit and eat/drink at. The main dining room is decorated in a more muted palette, while the lounge is stark red, black and greys. Along with the bar, bar tables, and a few regular tables, there is also some sofas to lounge on.

All in all, we had a great time and the food was excellent.

Baccalao:
I could write an entire post on Baccalao alone and rave, rave rave. Hands-down this was the best meal we had during our entire trip. The restaurant is housed in a former house. Their shtick is "nouvelle Newfoundland cuisine". The staff were all very friendly and extremely well-informed about the menu. Because we couldn't decide between all the delicious dishes, we ended up ordering 5 appetizers and three desserts. The calamari was light and not laden down with batter (perhaps a bit oversalted though), mussels with Quidi Vidi beer (local) were perfectly done and a very large portion for an appetizer, Jiggs dinner salt cod wrapped in cabbage with pease pudding was well presented with the pease pudding in a shot glass and I enjoyed the new spin with the cabbage roll, snow crab spring rolls were good, and the
baccalao (salt cod) fritters with lemon aioli were crispy on the outside and bursting with fish without skewing towards the heavy side. The wait staff also presented us with a sample of the moose bourginon (large enough to be another appetizer) when we enquired about how gamey the meat was.

All of the desserts are made in-house, and the dessert list is very long...I think there were about 12 items when we were there. Creme brulee, raspberry strudel, and partridgeberry pie were all well made.

In addition, the restaurant also offers some martinis made with local berries such as partidgeberry, wild blueberry, etc.

5 appetizers, 1 martini, 3 desserts and coffee all for $100!!! Best food of the trip, most friendly staff, warm and cozy atmosphere, and a well-priced menu. If you live in town and you haven't been here, then you're definitely missing out.

Blue on Water:

Our first and last meals were both at Blue on Water. First let me say that the bathrooms in there are supercool - the doors in the stalls are somewhat translucent so you can somewhat see your reflection and somewhat see out to the sink area. Blue is a hotel, bar/lounge and restaurant in one building. Service was professional during both meals and the staff was well versed with the menu.

During our first meal, we tried the seafood chowder and the seafood bouillabaise. Both came out laden down with chunks of seafood. The food was so good that we decided to go back again at the end of our trip.

It was our last chance to try any Newfie specialities before heading home. Blue turned out to be one of the few places open at 9am since I was starving and ready for brunch. Once again it did not disappoint. Fish and brewis, toutons, scrunchions, seafood chowder, salt fish cakes and much more are available on the brunch menu. We tried the toutons (pronounced "taut - ONs" rather than "tootons") which traditionally is deepfried dough served with molasses. Our toutons weren't deepfried though - they must have been baked because the buns were still light and chewy. Blue provides syrup along with molasses with their toutons. The "special hash browns" which Ontarions would call homefries was well seasoned and the chopped peppers and onions added a nice touch. Sausages, pancakes, smoked salmon bennys were all well executed.

Blue is the place you could go to for a work meeting, date, or a small group of friends gathering.

Overall, we were very pleasantly surprised by the culinary delights that we enjoyed during our stay. For a metro area of under 200,000 people, St John's offers a solid number of interesting dining options.

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