Lobster five ways — now that’s what we came to Nova Scotia for and the bluenosers certainly did deliver! Lobster poutine, lobster club sandwich, butter poached lobster dressed with lobster roe mayonnaise, a lobster roll and — finally — a classic boiled lobster cooked in seawater from the Bay of Fundy, were all on the menu over one weekend of buttery bliss.
Fresh from the Bay
The king of the crustaceans was found in tiny Halls Harbour, a fishing village on the Fundy coast where Sharla and Rodger Cameron operate an unparalleled lobster experience. The Lobster Pound proudly offers “Lobster in the Rough” from a cook shack and pound which draws in and then exports 1.5 million pounds of lobster annually to North America and Asia. Visitors can pick a live lobster weighing between one to five pounds from an open water vat, have it weighed at the cash register in the gift shop then carry it outside to the cookhouse in a bucket where it is boiled in Fundy salt water. While you wait at a patio table you can enjoy a few cold Keith’s while watching the local kids jump off fishing boats into the harbour. But once the lobster arrives your focus will be entirely on the fresh-from-the-bay flavour.
If you really want to blow your diet head to The Port gastropub in Port Williams, where the lobster poutine, served hot and steaming with white lobster sauce, chunks of lobster and locally crafted cheese curds from Foxhill Farm & Cheese House around the corner is certainly not meant to be shared! Enjoy it with a flight of in-house crafted beers while you watch the tide come in (or go out).
Of course it’s not all lobster in Nova Scotia but we certainly stuck to the sea, like typical land lubbers let loose on an ocean playground for a weekend! From house-made salt-cod fishcakes for breakfast at The Bluenose II, downtown Halifax’ favourite family restaurant, to succulent scallops in crispy rice paper at Stories restaurant in the beautiful Haliburton House boutique hotel in Halifax, there was choice aplenty on every menu.
Some places keep it beautifully simple. A must stop for down-to-earth diner lovers is John’s Lunch for a full fry experience. Located near the Woodside Ferry Terminal in Dartmouth, John’s is a diamond in the rough, and the fish and chips were recently voted best in Canada by Canadian Living magazine. Testimonials from fans worldwide are printed on the paper place mats, while foreign currency is lovingly tacked to the wall as proof of its renown. Truth lies in the lightly battered fried clams, scallops and moist fish served alongside vinegar style coleslaw. The clams are truly memorable.
People line up for paper takeaway bags, some diners sit outside on picnic tables while others crowd inside at booths to sit in the steam from the openly displayed fryers. Mixed into it all is Fotis Fatouros, the co-owner with Strato Baltas. Fotis is the friendliest guy in the world. He works the adoring crowd while his son Stephen and the team fry up 40 pounds of fish a day plus seafood. Wife Patricia runs the cash with a smile. It is bliss 1950’s style.
Other restaurants like Fleur de Sel in Lunenburg, Stories in Halifax and The Blomindon Inn in Wolfville take the setting and service up several notches while remaining true to fresh and local sources. You can dine in a sea-captain’s mansion (and stay the night in gorgeous rooms) at The Blomindon Inn where in-house maple-smoked candied salmon is deliciously prepared by Chef Sean Laceby, who was trained at the Culinary Institute in Charlottetown as well as in New York and Napa Valley. He brings joy to the table in comfortably elegant surroundings. Or travel to the picturesque Atlantic side, to Lunenburg where a special experience awaits at Fleur de Sel. Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador presents his French-styled offerings of seafood, including the beautiful and delicious butter poached lobster (no shells to crack here) alongside a bento box of oysters on the half shell with house made sauces. Or enjoy a night at a boutique hotel in Halifax at Haliburton House where you can dine in the intimate Stories restaurant to the urban fusion stylings of Chef Scott Vail. Savour his pan-seared rice paper wrapped sea scallops on a private oasis patio in the back garden.
Of course you can’t properly go to Nova Scotia without having a sociable beverage. While most Nova Scotians start their day with tea (try the Nova Scotia wild blueberry tea at The Tea Brewery in Mahone Bay) the teacups make way for heartier beverages as the day rolls into night. We certainly expected, and enjoyed, Keith’s in Halifax, where you can take a historical re-enactment guided tour of the brewery at the harbour that thankfully includes a few cold pints! And then there’s the whisky and rum: both made in the province and enjoyed in everything from moist and delicious cake at the Rum Runners Cake Factory on the wharf in Halifax, to artisan crafted spirits at unique distilleries such as Ironworks in Lunenburg. Here, Lynne MacKay and Pierre Guevremont run a craft distillery in an old blacksmith’s shop. You can later have their booze in an upscale cocktail at Fleur de Sel. We took home a bottle of single batch Bluenose dark rum. Cake will not be made from that!
What surprised us the most on this journey is the emerging wine industry in the Gaspereau Valley and Annapolis Valley. It’s like a tiny Sonoma. Visitors follow windy two-lane roads to independently owned gems such as Blomindon Winery in Canning, which has some of the oldest vines in Nova Scotia. With tidal breezes coming in off Minus Basin, Bay of Fundy, the winemakers think they are onto something special and have developed unique hybrids. Here they grow the L’Acadie grape and blend it under the label Tidal Bay, which is judged and regulated by a set of standards established by the Winery Association of Nova Scotia. To obtain the Tidal Bay designation, all wines must be made from specific grape varieties, include 100% Nova Scotia grown grapes, and be approved every year by an independent blind tasting panel. This refreshing white wine is great with seafood or on the patio.
The Grand Pré region outside of Wolfville is home to a growing wine route which includes some big players like Domaine de Grand Pré with its world class restaurant, Le Caveau. However, as long-time CBC fans we were really excited to head to Pete Luckett’s vineyard and hopefully meet the guy who started Pete’s Frootique in Wolfville. Perhaps you remember him, as we did, from his many years on CBC Midday with Valerie Pringle explaining the nuances of then-exotic fruits and vegetables. He later took his show to CTV and the Food Network. Pete’s Frootiques are now very popular at markets in Halifax where students shell out $10 for a smoothie. So my daughter Julia, a Dalhousie student, was also quite curious to meet the man behind the famous stores. Luckily for us Pete was at the vineyard, greeting visitors and offering tastings while we all enjoyed the beautiful vistas. His Phone Box label is very popular and delicious. Plus, he offers all visitors a free call to anywhere in the world from his British red phone box in the vineyard! “It’s a labour of love,” he enthuses happily as he views the estate and sips a crisp blueberry wine. “It was an old field and an old barn. It’s come a long way in a short time. To be part of that excitement, to get people to try and accept Nova Scotian wines, is really making me happy,” he says.
Nova Scotians are experts at making others feel happy too. A warm welcome awaits — just bring a hearty appetite and a thirst for fun, scenery and good times.
JANE ANTONIAK is a culinary travel writer for eatdrink magazine. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College, Western in London.
BRUCE FYFE is regular contributing photographer for eatdrink. He is also a Librarian at Western University, London.