The Swiss visitors were a graphic designer, Laszlo Horvath, and his wife Arianne, a blood analyst. They were from Bern, and guests of Diana Nelson, Canada's senior trade commissioner in Bern, and her husband Randall. Every time someone mentioned a decent restaurant in Nova Scotia, Laszlo wrote it down: He also took copious notes for his wine club, a very serious group back in Bern.
Sitting outdoors under a pergola, we ate line-caught halibut as white as a newly laundered shirt, tiny sliced red potatoes, chanterelle mushroom soup, an apple strudel and a raspberry cheesecake. We talked about the Pope and typography and the many ways Switzerland and Canada are alike. Both perch on the shoulder of economic giants. Both are modest.
No one mentioned lobster.
Maritime High Tea
Because I wasn't eating lobster for a day, I drove into the green arms of the ultra-fertile Annapolis Valley and stopped at the Tin Pan Bakery in Port William. The Tin Pan was a tiny place made tinier by a full house of regular customers - six souls in total, none of whom weighed less than 250 pounds. In a bakery, this is good advertising. I passed on the fat-free cheese and bacon buttermilk biscuits, cited by The New York Times as one of the 10 best foods in local maritime captivity, and ordered an extra-large iced tea instead.
Owner Dee Cook (yes!) sold a 12-ounce Bodacious Burger on a homemade white bun the size of my face. As for the iced tea, she said, "this is a family recipe because I had to make it for my daughter. My daughter was a hyperactive child, and she needed something with extra caffeine to calm her down, because that was how her hyperactivity worked."
Good to know! Maybe that's why for the rest of the afternoon I felt like I was on cocaine. I know I went to the Fox Hill cheese house in Port William and sampled the gelatos of the owner, Jeanita Rand (vanilla, licorice, mint). I know I bought a block of fenugreek havarti and a pot of 3-per-cent-butterfat yogurt, which may be the best I've ever tasted. (I ate it mixed with brown cane sugar for dessert the following night in my hotel room, watching professional women's tennis. I also ate the entire freaking block of havarti over the course of the same day, in cubic-inch chunks. I figure my intestinal tract now resembles the old rally trail from Darfur to Cairo.) I know I stopped to sample some house-brewed beer at The Port, a gastro pub beside the Cornwallis River, where I listened to the waitresses convince one of their number to spend $250 on her daughter's baby shower, rather than $100. "There are some things you just have to spend a little more for," one of the women said.
When the ice-tea buzz finally wore off, I was almost back in Halifax. I noticed two guys, two Haligonians in their late thirties, sitting side by side on a picnic table next to a roadside ice-cream stand called Pinky Scoopmore's.
Nice name. I stopped my rental car. It's not often you see grown men eating ice cream on their own, is it? "Do you guys normally go for ice cream on your own?" I asked.
"No," one of them said. "But our wives had to do some chores with the kids. So we thought we'd take a break here and wait until the kids were in bed."
I thought about breaking my lobster fast that night at dinner. But by then I was too far along. I ate at the Midtown Tavern on Grafton Street, a 61-year-old Halifax restaurant famous with locals for speedy service and steady fare. Doug Grant, the original proprietor, still owns it with his sons Eric and Rob and their new partner, bartender Scott Rozee, who recently persuaded them to add a startling innovation to the menu: desserts.
I ordered a sirloin steak, medium rare, with sautéed onions and mushrooms, for $13, tax included. You know the kind of steak I mean. It was delicious, and also Nova Scotian.