Nothing brings people together like an unforgettable meal. In Nova Scotia, fresh and local isn’t a fad – it’s a way of life. We’ve sent one of Canada’s best food and travel writers on a culinary road trip to 5 destinations, stopping to experience seafood just pulled from the ocean, mouth-watering produce from our traditional valley farms, and acclaimed wine from our vintners. Now take yourself there, and dine in modern world-class restaurants, lively pubs, or beachside at an authentic lobster shack. Set out on a delicious culinary adventure as varied as the communities that dot our province.
If you look closely from the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge you can see the harbour reflected in the tall buildings along Upper Water Street in downtown Halifax. It’s just around noon when I catch that view on a sunny afternoon. I’m only in town for 24 hours, but I’ve got a lot of eating to do and since it’s lunch time I’m in a hurry to get to one of Canada’s original, and still best, food trucks.
It may not be fancy, there are no tuxedo wearing waiters or freshly pressed linens – heck, there aren’t even tables – but the Bud the Spud chip truck is a legend around these parts. I knew Bud was somewhere on Halifax’s main drag, Spring Garden Road, but I wasn’t exactly sure where, so I asked the first local I met. “Bud’s easy to find,” he said, “just walk that way toward the library and you’ll smell it before you see it.” Sure enough, a few minutes later the irresistible aroma of fresh cooked french fries let me know I was almost there.
Bud the Spud sells french fries and that’s it: fresh cut, homemade and served in paper bags, they’re perfect. I grab a large bag and follow the crowds who sit on the stone wall beside the nearby public library. Piping hot, snapping crisp and delicious there’s no better way to start a trip to Nova Scotia’s capital city.
Nova Scotia Tourism Agency
A schooner, accompanied by well wishers,
plies the waters of Halifax Harbour.
Of course, no one can live on French fries alone, that’s why my next destination is Sugah!, one of the sweetest shops in Nova Scotia. Figuring that a brisk walk will help work off some of the excess of the fries I make my way down towards the shoreline. When I get to Bishop’s Landing my nose once again alerts me to the presence of something delicious. For anyone with a sweet tooth the bright interior of Sugah! is like a little slice of heaven: colourful bars of chocolate line the shelves, pecan caramel clusters tempt from every surface and bags of brittle just beg to be devoured.
What makes Sugah! special though is its commitment to incorporating Nova Scotia products into its creations. As the company owner, Gordon Stevens is the Willy Wonka of this chocolate factory. “We try to do some unusual or interesting things with chocolate,” he explains “and that’s taken us down a few roads with a few Nova Scotia producers.” Stevens points out that the Brew Bar is made using roasted barley malt from Garrison Brewing Company just down the boardwalk in the Seaport Market. Their Irish Red Ale is incorporated into the beer and pretzel brittle and the popular beer and nut brittle. Nova Scotia cranberries and blueberries are used in various bars, but Stevens tells me: “Our most popular products are the one’s with Nova Scotian sea salt that we make ourselves. We get water from an oyster farmer on the big island and we distill it down to pure sea salt and use it in our fleur de sel bars, our dark chocolate with sea salt bars and our caramel.” Amazingly, the salt enhances the sweetness of the dark chocolate and the caramel, so I end up leaving with more bars than is strictly good for me.
All this chocolate tasting has me ready for a snack and something a little stronger than chocolate, so I make my way to the venerable Press Gang Restaurant and Oyster Bar. The cavernous stone building dates back to the mid 18th century and with its heavy beamed ceilings, marble bar heaving with oysters and candle lit ambiance, it’s the kind of place where you hope you’ll get locked in for a week. I’m only supposed to be here for an aperitif, but the sight of all those luscious oysters on ice proves too hard to resist. Brian the bartender explains that there are three kinds of oysters from Nova Scotia on offer today: Sober Island, Black Point and Pristine Bay. A quick calculation reveals that four of each makes an even dozen and I’m soon washing them down with a glass of Jost L`Acadie Pinot Grigio.
Somehow a few hours pass by and, fortified by the wine and the oysters, it’s time to get on to my last stop for the day. The Old Triangle Irish Ale House is the kind of place where corned beef and cabbage is listed under the “salad” section and gravy is available in three varieties. As the name suggests, the Triangle is comprised of three rooms, the Snug, The Pourhouse, and Tigh an Cheoil, that celebrate three of the most important things in life: good food, good drink and good music. I’m in luck tonight as Dave MacIsaac and Louis Benoit are playing. The duo’s inspired selection of Cape Breton fiddle tunes is the perfect accompaniment to a plate of corned beef and cabbage and a pint of Keith’s. In fact, I’m so taken with the music that by the end of the evening I’m planning to learn the tin whistle and return for open mic night.
The next morning, my enthusiasm only slightly dimmed by a pounding in my head, I’m up early in search of the Smiling Goat Organic Espresso Bar. I’ve heard that this place served the best cappuccino in the city and, judging by the lineup, one of the most popular. A sign of the cafe’s dedication is apparent in the blackboard that lists coffee beans by region, type of roast and best use. It sounds serious, but the Smiling Goat still has a sense of humour. In addition to all of the usual cafe standards: latte, cappuccino, macchiato they also offer something called “Sea of Fire Espresso,” a shot of espresso with tabasco, worcestershire and capers! After last night’s celebration, though, I’ll have to save that one for next time.
Nova Scotia Tourism Agency
Looking up Carmichael Street towards the
Clock Tower at the foot of the historic Halifax Citadel.