We were on the island province earlier this month and I’ll share some thoughts on places we ate around the island because I couldn’t find much up-to-date and consistent reviews I could “trust”.
Some quick caveats. We were there during the shoulder season, so many places (such as Malpeque Oyster Barn, The Catch Kitchen + Bar, Richard’s Fresh Seafood) listed on popular sites were already closed for the season. Second, most restaurants seem to cater to tourists which reflect in their pricing (which seem really high to me considering they use a lot of local ingredients). Third, there’s a very laid back attitude there so don’t expect city-quality service (something a lot of reviewers seem to complain about on other websites). Just chill, your food will arrive when it does, and you’ll have a good time. We did. Some reviewers also complain about restaurants not addressing problems to their satisfaction. The one occasion I observed a diner complaining their seafood was overcooked was quickly met with options to redo it, taking it off the bill, or a free dessert. To be fair though, you probably won’t find many places that cook seafood just done/medium/medium-rare here (other than shellfish). If that’s what you want, renting a cottage would be preferable as you’ll be able to get the seafood a MUCH cheaper prices (I wish I thought of that). Finally, not all places that serve raw oysters have people that can shuck them properly.
--- East ---
Rick’s Fish & Chips. My favourite fish & chips of the trip. Plain but succulent fish. Lobster roll on a pita that packed a bigger lobster punch than the one we had at Water Prince Corner Shop. The heavily battered deep-fried mussels were surprisingly damn tasty.
21 Breakwater. The food here was simple and well done. Bar clams were nice but a bit too much acidity from the pickled components. Lobster & cheddar panini was ok but in general the components in lobster rolls/wraps/paninis don’t do it for me. Awesome thin crispy fries accompanied the panini.
Windows on the Water. Another place with fresh seafood prepared simply. They oysters here were shucked properly. I was impressed by their shrimp and scallop au gratin. Get a reservation because sitting outside on a cold night is not fun.
Clam Diggers. Very good non-traditional chowders and ok crab cakes. The steamers were the best we had on the trip. The fried clams were above average. We loved that their dishes really put the taste of the seafood front and centre. They also have a great view if you elect to sit outside.
Fireworks at Inn at Bay Fortune. Well, I don’t really want to comment on our dinner here. You can get a rough idea of what to expect from their website and when you make a reservation they’ll tell you how the evening is going to go down. We really enjoyed how everything tasted and the progression through the evening. I think not finding out everything about what’s going to happen adds to the experience. Sharing the table with strangers was uncomfortable for some diners but in the end they were all saying how fun it was. There was actually so much talking that when the servers came to change the course, many had to quickly stop talking and try to gobble down the remainders on their plate. Talking about remainders, they’re not kidding when they say it’s a feast. There is a LOT to eat. Masterful oyster shuckers. Service here is better than some top city restaurants. Highly recommended.
--- West ---
Wind & Reef. If you know the chain Red Lobster then you’d find this place serves very similar food. It seemed a lot of local families were there to celebrate various special ocassions. Red Lobster is not my idea of good seafood restaurant.
Vinny’s Coffee & Pizza Shop. I must have been dazed when I walked in this joint and asked if they served coffee and then we didn’t even order pizza. The nice lady must have thought I was high. She should have whacked me and asked me to read the restaurant name again. They also have deep-fried seafood and burgers. Thankfully the food was better than I expected and it provided relief to my wallet. It also seemed a lot of their customers knew each other.
The Landing Oyster House & Pub. Worst oyster shucker ever. I also hate mushy-liquidy horseradish. They tried to fancy up the pub fare here (like the recent trend of gastropubs) but otherwise the food was quite forgettable.
--- North ---
Ship to Shore. Another place that tries to fancy up the food (at least from the Fall Flavours menu I had). The food flavours were muddled and one of the fish dishes was way overdone. The presentation amateurish. Not trimming the long thin roots from the carrots was not a good idea.
Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers. We really should have backed out after seeing a gift shop was attached to the restaurant. But it was getting late and restaurants were closing soon (everybody seems to eat really early on this island). Then, of course, TWO tour busses came in after us. I guess that’s what you get when you offer an AYCE salad bar. Quite a confusing place in all and the waitstaff were visibly struggling to keep up. The salad bar is pretty standard. The lobster itself and AYCE mussels and chowder were way too salty for us. Dipping them into the melted butter helped to mask the salt slightly. On the other hand, I had three of the AYCE desserts. I’m a sucker for diner-style pies and tarts. Our innkeeper told us about a quieter place for lobster suppers later but I don’t think I’ll be returning to any place with the word “lobster supper” in it’s name.
The Pearl Eatery. For me, this was the first place that showed elevated dining on the island (I went to Fireworks much later on the trip). There was still room for improvement (the radish amuse bouche failed on several levels and the dish presentation was still pretty basic) but the taste and combinations were really good. They also cooked a good medium-rare steak. You’d be surprise how many places understand rare and medium but medium-rare is a crap shoot. The Fall Flavours menu was also good. My only real minus is the high price compared to a similar meal in a city (but then North Shore is probably the most touristy place on the island). Reservations are recommended though as the place is basically a home where the main floor was converted to a restaurant. There were a few walk-ins who were turned away while we were there because they didn’t have reservations.
--- South ---
Water Prince Corner Shop. Fresh seafood prepared very simply. Lobster was good but mussels and steamers slightly overcooked for my taste (the table next to us actually complained about their clams but I didn’t think it was complain worthy because I know many who are just fine with the doneness). Had my first lobster roll on the island here which I still don’t get the concept. I feel the mayo/celery/seasonings just detract from the lobster but that’s just me.
Dave’s Lobster. My final attempt at anything lobster roll-like and I still don’t like the combination of flavours. I had the half-and-half. The lobster taste is definitely more prominent at Dave’s. I also tried their taco and again I thought the other ingredients really overpower the lobster. Dave’s might be the most publicized lobster roll on the island (see Chatelaine) and it’s definitely the most expensive.
Gahan House. Standard pub fare but I thought to try the fish tacos and mussles. Pretty blah. There was also a spicy hot pepper soup which was terrible. But the main reason for the visit was the beer which I’ve been sampling around the island. Their bread-and-butter beers were widely available everywhere it seems and there was only a handful of seasonals on tap (which were featured in several places around the island as well). Unfortunately the two waitstaff I talked too weren’t up to speed on the beers (ok, I’m a beer nut) and their description of the beers were way off (they were probably describing a different beer on the menu). My verdict? Definitely try their beers everywhere you go. There’s no compelling reason to visit the actual brewpub. Their brewing operation downstairs is does not seem very active anyway as they seem to brew offsite nowadays? Also tours are offered at their offset brewery but not at the brewpub.
Terre Rouge. I had pretty high expectations for this place since it was in the city and was ranked #86 in Canada (even though I don’t really pay attention to rankings). But unfortunately if I was to recommend a place NOT to go in PEI, it would be Terre Rouge. First a word about service. The place was about half full when we got there and the service and apps arrived in a timely manner. Then as more people came in, fluctuating from 75% to 100% capacity, everything slowed down to a crawl. Our 3.5 course meal took 2.5 hours(!). It was not only our table that experience this as there were other tables that were visibly pissed everything was taking so long. This went beyond the “laid back attitude” I described earlier and I was already quite chill being my last day in PEI. There was this older gentleman whose complexion was turning redder and redder the longer he waited. And I don’t think it was his drink neither. And the food? An amuse bouche that was basically a crostini? WTF? Plating was very amateurish. On the verge of looking like someone puked all over your fancy white plates (the braised lamb and barley risotto was memorable this way). Some dishes were way overcooked. Some were way under-seasoned. Some had way too much stuff on the plate. Some didn’t make sense at all and were confusing in the context of the “farm to table” concept they were executing. There were components of one dish that seem to appear on multiple dishes though the night. Empty glasses neglected as diners waited for the kitchen. Their only acknowledgement was a quick “sorry it was so busy” when they brought the cheque. Second most expensive meal we had in PEI and by far the worst.