Monday, August 03, 2009

Field notes: NB/PEI/QC

cabot beach fig. a: early morning, Cabot Beach

Does the thought of Atlantic beaches, red cliffs, lookout towers, lighthouses, and countless shades of green appeal to you?

cabot beach pp 1 fig. b: late afternoon, Cabot Beach

What about copious amounts of oysters, lobster, scallops, mussels, haddock, and cod?

If the answer to both of these questions is an enthusiastic "Yes!," you're not the only one.

THE picture province fig. c: "free tour map"

I recently had the opportunity to head out to New Brunswick--"THE 'Picture Province'"--on business, and I managed to extend the trip by a couple of days so that I could continue east towards the Northumberland Strait, the Atlantic Ocean, and the bounty of "The Garden Province," Prince Edward Island. This enhanced road trip was inspired in no small measure by a recent feature by our friend Melissa at The Traveler's Lunchbox, who, when she hasn't been busy making cheeseand butter, has apparently been making coast-to-coast trips from Seattle to Prince Edward Island. Melissa's PEI post is quite a bit more extensive than this one, and her photographs are endlessly more pro. Consider the following a series of stray field notes that just might encourage some of you who haven't been to the Atlantic Provinces (or some of you who haven't been in ages, like Michelle) to do so.

Fredericton, NB

Should you find yourself in Fredericton on a Saturday morning, you might very well want to make your way to this handsome building.

ww boyce york county market fig. d: W.W. Boyce York County Market

You see, every Saturday this building plays home to the W.W. Boyce Farmers' Market, a.k.a. the Fredericton Farmers' Market, and it's a dandy.

You'll find bakers, butchers, fish mongers, cheese mongers, and a wide assortment of other vendors (from sausages to samosas), alongside real, honest-to-goodness New Brunswick farmers, but my favorite stand was a stand that was run by a Mennonite family,

farmers' market, fredericton, NB fig. e: "taste the difference!"

where I found my first perfect raspberries of the season, as well as some truly phenomenal maple syrup.

Sackville, NB

Sometime back in the 1990s, Michelle spent a summer in Sackville, home to Mount Allison University, the 2008 Cultural Capital of Canada, and the self-proclaimed Cultural Crossroads of the Maritimes, and it evidently left quite the impression on her. It may have been a short chapter, but it's a chapter from her life that comes up again and again. So when I found myself passing right by Sackville en route to PEI, I decided I had to pay a pilgrimage.

I called Michelle when I got to downtown Sackville and asked her where she used to hang out, and she just said, "The diner! You've gotta go to the diner!"

mel's tearoom fig. f: Mel's

"You mean, Mel's Tea Room?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

So I did.

After all, Mel's is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Plus, with a sign like that, how could I resist?

Prince Edward Island

I liked Prince Edward Island from the moment its coastline came into view as I crossed the massive Confederation Bridge. In addition to the physical beauty of its landscape, there was the physical beauty of its mermaids to behold.

maritime mermaid fig. g: mermaid, sandwich

And everywhere I looked there were signs that fresh seafood was readily at hand.

flex mussels fig. h: Flex Mussels' mussels

By now this is practically a cliché, but when in Charlottetown, the locally raised, locally harvested mussels at Flex Mussels are not to be missed. I'd been wanting to check out Flex Mussels for a while, ever since I heard that John Bil, oysterman extraordinaire and former member of Team Joe Beef, had been enlisted to help get Flex Mussels NYC off the ground (for some reason, not only did this tidbit of information have me wanting to visit the NY operation, it had me wanting to visit the original, too). Flex Mussels Charlottetown was a little more swish than I was expecting (I'd always imagined something more along the lines of Go Fish), but the mussels were plump and fresh and very reasonably priced, and with the sun shining brightly and a steaming bowl of mollusks before me, I couldn't have been happier.

Hours later, I was looking out at the open waters of the Atlantic from Cabot Beach.

cabot beach pp fig. i: early evening, Cabot Beach

Cabot Beach Provincial Park offers an awfully nice stretch of coastline, but it also has the advantage of being directly adjacent to Malpeque, PEI and the Malpeque Bay region. When you buy a Malpeque oyster in the Montreal region, there's a high likelihood that the oyster bed that it came from was nowhere near Malpeque Bay (Malpeque is something of an umbrella term for PEI oysters, just as Caraquet is something of an umbrella term for New Brunswick oysters), but if you go to Malpeque you can be sure that you'll find plenty of oysters.

malpeque fig. j: Malpeque harbour 1

Fishing is Malpeque's bread and butter. Cabot Beach brings in a fair number of tourists, but the focus here is on oysters, lobsters, mussels, and fish.

malpeque fig. k: Malpeque harbour 2

There are a number of fish markets and seafood restaurants in the region, but my favorite was the appropriately named Malpeque Oyster Barn.

malpeque oyster barn fig. l: Malpeque Oyster Barn

Their oysters on the half shell were supremely fresh and expertly shucked, but the show-stealers ended up being their delicate, savoury fried oysters, made with more freshly shucked choice oysters and a light batter with plenty of herbs.

highland storm fig. m: Highland storm

As you drive across PEI, you see potato patches, potato fields, and potato farms pretty much everywhere you go. Occasionally (like on Day 2 of my visit), you see them with big dark storm clouds looming overhead.

new potatoes fig. n: new potatoes

If you pay attention, you'll also see plenty of roadside stands advertising NEW POTATOES, many of them operating on the honor system,

ornamentation fig. o: shells, trap

and some of them decorated with shells.

Should you find yourself in PEI during the height of summer, my advice to you is to pick up a bag (or two, or three...)

pei potatoes 1 fig. p: PEI potatoes 1

and bring it home.

pei potatoes 2 fig. q: PEI potatoes 2

These little jewels are easily the best potatoes either of us have had in a long while: lovely flavor, perfect texture.

landmark café fig. r: Landmark Café

Should you find yourself in Victoria-by-the-Sea, I, like Melissa before me, highly recommend the Landmark Café. Not only does its dining room bear a striking resemblance to ours here at AEB HQ, but they have a great little menu that's seasonal and PEI-proud, and they serve an awfully satisfying lobster roll.

Islet-sur-Mer, QC

casse-croûte fig. s: sign of the times

On the western edge of Islet-sur-Mer, QC, on the scenic Hwy 132, sits the Casse-Croûte Islet, a.k.a. the Casse-Croûte des Érables, a.k.a. Casse-Croûte INSERT NUMBER OF YEARS IN OPERATION HERE. When I first started going, the sign out front read "37." Now it reads "46." More importantly, it's a real, old-time roadside casse-croûte (outdoor seating only), it's been owned and operated by the same woman for 46 years (!), and their toastés, hamburgers, and fries rank a 5/5 on my personal roadfood scale.

They're so good, in fact, that whenever I head out east, I make a point of stopping on the way out and on the way back.

Be Prepared

Oh, yeah. And if you drive to New Brunswick, PEI, and/or Eastern Quebec, bring a cooler. I returned with several pounds of mussels and oysters, some smoked cod, and a bag of potatoes, and a couple of hours later Michelle and I were sitting down to yet another seafood feast.

W.W. Boyce Farmers' Market, 665 George St., Fredericton, NB--Note: Saturdays only, 6:00 am - 1:00 pm

Mel's Tea Room, 17 Bridge St., Sackville, NB, (506) 536-1251

Flex Mussels, 2 Lower Water St., Charlottetown, PEI, (902) 569-0200

Malpeque Oyster Barn, Malpeque, PEI, (902) 836-4322--Note: only open July 1 to September 1

Landmark Café, 12 Main St., Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, (902) 658-2286

Casse-Croûte Islet, Hwy 132, Islet-sur-Mer, QC--Note: only open from May through September



Leigh said...

Those mussells look awesome, and that Cafe looks like the perfect place. Nice report.

Pinot said...

If anyone else is planning to go in the Maritimes here my extra suggestions.

At Kamouraska there is an amazing bakery that worth the extra 5 km you have to drive if you're on the highway.

On the road 185 between Rivière du Loup and New Brunswick there is La Fromagerie le Detour. The soft goat cheese are probably their bests. Sentinelle and Marquis du Temiscouata are my foavorites. If you're lucky enough to find a bottle de crème fraiche don't hesitate and buy it. You will not regret.

In PEI I had a great meal at blue mussel café. It's in Cavendish region but it's not a tourist trap. Everything on the menu comes from the Island. Nothing fancy, but the food is fresh and tasty.

aj kinik said...

Hi, Leigh
Hi, Pinot

thanks for the comments/tips

I always wondered about that Fromagerie le Detour...

If anyone else has hot tips, by all means, send them along...

Anonymous said...

Lovely postcard of my old stomping grounds.
I well remember Boyce's with the indomitable Goofy Ruthie who served thousands of breakfasts at the market and then introduced us all to edible flowers at 88 Ferry in the '80s.
We were in PEI in June where fresh lobster in North Rustico was selling for $6 and pound. Poor fishers. Lucky us.

If you're passing through Moncton and want a better than average dinner, you can do no better than Little Louis.

And congrats to Michelle on the Chesterman review.


aj kinik said...

Hi, Asta
Thanks for the lovely comment. I'll give Little Louis a shot next time I'm in Moncton.

Pinot said...

Little Louis definetly sounds interesting. I'll have to go there next time I'm in the South-East.

Best beer in NB is made by the Pump House which owns two fait restaurants in Moncton.
I've been to the Barnyard BBQ and the Brewpub. Personally I prefer the Barnyard. The food is good, nothing more but the beer is quite something. There not many microbweries in Quebec that can be compared to the Pump House. If you go there while they serve the Maple Ale you must order it.