In Nova Scotia, fresh and local is a way of life. The nation's eastern cluster provides a quarter of all of Canada's seafood. With fresh lobster available 365 days a year, you can expect only the best. Here's GT's guide to experiencing the best of Nova Scotia's food and wine scene.
The Bite House, Cape Breton
At the end of a twisting dirt road in rural Big Baddeck, Cape Breton sits an unassuming two-storey country cottage owned by chef Bryan Picard and his girlfriend Marie Isabelle. Come May to December, the property's downstairs and surrounding gardens are transformed into a kitchen and dining space to accommodate an intimate 12-person fine-dining experience.
It's hard to reconcile The Bite House with 'fine dining' — rarely does the genre feel this personal — but that's the magic of this neck of the woods; everything's a family affair. Bryan prepares the dishes — using only locally-sourced ingredients — helped by his father Moe, while service is done by Marie Isabelle and their affable server Barbara.
Cape Breton maps and local artefacts pepper the space and it's clear to see, in every detail, a pure love and appreciation for the countryside and what it affords them. Bryan spent a number of years cooking and travelling through Montreal, Denmark, Sweden and Australia, but there's no doubt that Big Baddeck has his heart.
The $80 nine-course set menu changes monthly, with seafood a promised mainstay. Enjoy arctic char croquette and basil, followed bypoppy seed dumplings, shrimps, smoked chicken broth and fenugreek.
Note: Wrangling a reservation to the popular farmhouse is no easy feat. The Bite House's 2019 season is already sold out, but bookings for 2020 will commence 5 January. Set a reminder.
1471 Westside Baddeck Road, Forks Baddeck, thebitehouse.com
Bar Kismet, Halifax
A not-so-hidden neighbourhood gem, Halifax's Bar Kismet continues to hit the mark with its seafood-focused small plates and inspired cocktail list. Adding to Agricola Street's booming food and drink scene, the atmosphere at Bar Kismet is airy and relaxed — yet always buzzing. Minimalist, white-walled interiors are paired with light timber accents that add warmth and character, while fresh hits of greenery decorate each corner.
Cool without being trendy, Bar Kismet is a Halifax must-do. Co-owners Annie Brace-Lavoie and Jenner Cormier were keen to make the restaurant approachable and not an "occasion restaurant".
Halifax has its share of trend-driven eateries, but these two are in it for the long haul. "We want to stick around for the next 15 years, not just be cool and trendy. We want to be old school, and grow old in the building," Brace-Lavoie told The Coast back when they first opened.
They've injected character into every aspect of their offering, from the bar's antique mismatched plates (sourced from Brace-Lavoie's own collection) to its '80s-inspired bathrooms — 'Bar Kismet bathroom selfies' are now a thing.
Starters offer a taste of some of the region's more unique seafood specialities, such as fresh whelks and fried smelts. The menu is ever-changing but don't forgo the pasta (order the scallop cappelletti) or arctic char, which comes grilled and with cucumbers and whey. Round out the evening with a night cap of Kismet's expertly balanced cocktails: 'Famous Last Words' is a winner.
2733 Agricola Street, Halifax, barkismet.com
Beneath the sleek, subway-tiled surface of one of North Halifax's most progressive dining options, EDNA, lies the true beat of Nova Scotia. Owner Jenna Mooers has crafted a chic neighbourhood local that's inspired by its community and bringing people together. Having lived in Montreal for several years, Mooers cites locality (be it a restaurant or a local friendly face) that has inspired EDNA's welcoming vibe.
The menu is hyper-local, minimalist and changes daily. Regular highlights include fresh oysters and charcuterie from Ratinaud, the artisanal producers just across the street.
Visit EDNA for a creative take on local seafood and stay for its seriously impressive wine list that spotlights the Nova Scotia region. Mains are big on flavour, colour and character: fresh grilled swordfish and pan-seared halibut sing alongside spicy red pepper rouille and roasted local beets, while a generous serving of puttanesca comes spliced with fresh Malagash clams.
It also makes a great brunch spot. Sweet and salty ricotta pancakes and blueberry scones and freshly-squeezed mimosas will set you up for the day.
2053 Gottingen St, Halifax, ednarestaurant.com
The Canteen, Dartmouth
Owned and run by Doug Townsend and his wife Renée Lavallée, Canteen encapsulates much that's great about Nova Scotia today. It's a celebration of local culture and nature situated in the heart of downtown Dartmouth, only steps away from the Alderney Ferry Terminal. Plan ahead and book a seat or expect a wait; lineups run out the door, with locals returning weekly to trial Lavallée's latest.
At The Canteen, Lavallée serves up elevated comfort classics for brunch, lunch and dinner. Dishes are honest, unpretentious and seasonally driven. Catch the ferry over from Halifax and perch yourself at the bar for a toasted Crobster Roll (a mix of Nova Scotia snow crab and lobster, topped with grainy mustard, truffle aioli and dill). Or settle in a timber table for a hearty Canteen chowder with mussels, bacon, smoked haddock and lobster, served with a buttery homemade biscuit.
There's a brilliant wine list, featuring Nova Scotian winemakers Benjamin Bridge and Blomidon Estate Winery, and local brews on tap.
22 Portland St, Dartmouth, thecanteen.ca
The Half Shell, Lunenburg
Oysters by the sea. It doesn't get anymore Nova Scotian than at The Half Shell, downtown Lunenburg's semi-open-air, raw bar and restaurant.
Here, Martin and Sylvie Ruiz-Salvador — the husband-and-wife team behind Half Shell — and fellow local jewels Salt Shaker Deli and The Beach Pea Kitchen & Bar, know the value of keeping things simple. Nova Scotia staples — oysters, lobster, mussels, snow crab, littleneck clams, sustainable tiger prawns — are allowed to shine, best enjoyed when accompanied by a glass of local Riesling or Half Shell Bloody Mary.
For those after something more elaborate: try seared Cape D'Or salmon soba noodles with shiitake mushroom broth or spicy sautéed prawn tacos. It's a lively, buzzy restaurant with a small but sharp globetrotting wine list. Pull up a bar stool, take in the views and get to know the regulars.
108 Montague St, Lunenburg, halfshelloysterbar.com
Le Caveau at Domaine de Grand Pré Winery
Visit Annapolis Valley wine country and unearth the region's thriving craft cider and wine scene. Take a trip to Nova Scotia's oldest winery and spend the day walking its impressive grapevines and grounds, before sampling the product on the patio while overlooking the Grand Pré UNESCO site and Minas Basin.
Releasing its first wine in 1999 (a vintage red), the winery has worked hard to develop unique wines that are true to the province and unlike any others in the region. Created with specially grown grapes, Domaine de Grand Pré produce mainly hybrid varieties, its Vidal ice wine is an excellent example of its type.
No visit to the winery is complete without a meal at Le Caveau, Domaine de Grand Pré's elegant dining room. Headed by chef Jason Lynch and wife Beatrice (daughter to Domaine de Grand Pré owner, Hanspeter Stutz), La Caveau has built its reputation on forging relationships with local purveyors. Its locally focused, seasonally inspired menu has made it a beloved haunt for locals. Book a table for lunch and order the panko-crusted halibut and Atlantic shrimp cakes or the Reuben sandwich served on house Acadia bread.
Leave room for dessert. La Caveau's sweets harness the bold, fruity flavours of the region, much like its wines. Pair the sea salt caramel apple pie cake truffles with the crisp Vidal Icewine for a long, lingering, sweet finish.
11611 Highway 1, Grand Pré, grandprewines.com
Presented by Gourmet Traveller and Destination Canada.