“You can go to Charlottetown, see Anne of Green Gables, and then have a lobster supper, or, you can have a lobster supper and then go see Anne of Green Gables,” quipped The Royal Canadian Air Farce’s Roger Abbott many years ago in a CBC radio show roasting PEI.
I am recently back from what’s been dubbed Canada’s Food Island and I must confess that I did eat lobster every day and I also took in a performance of “Anne” at the Confederation Centre. But times have changed. When it comes to fabulous food and unique experiences, Canada’s tiniest province is, (pardon the pun), no small potato.
For the most part the PEI landscape defines the word bucolic: contented cows graze in rolling emerald pastures, fishing boats bob in rustic harbours, iconic lighthouses dot the coastline and the red mineral-rich earth imparts flavor to everything that grows here, including the famous spuds. Whether you’ve got a craving for some freshly harvested Malpeque oysters, locally made moonshine or Canada’s best ice cream — you will never be far from a culinary treat on this 224-kilometre-long slice of bliss.
Want to roll up your sleeves and learn to cook some island specialties? Chef Derrick Hoare and his partner Christine Morgan have transformed a United Church in New London into The Table Culinary Studio. Where the choir used to sing, folks now gather at individual workstations to prepare lunch. Our session, called Bounty of the Sea, involved preparing several seafood dishes, and we learned how to shuck oysters, de-beard mussels and sear scallops.
After all the slicing and dicing, we sat down to a lunch of seafood chowder, lobster tails broiled with lime/chili butter, scallops with bacon jam and black garlic cream, lobster and blue potato salad and lemon mousse. At the end of the meal Christine handed out “fortune cookies” in the shape of clams, each holding a typical PEI expression. For example: “If I was any happier there’d be two of me.”
On summer evenings, guests book for a family-style three-course dinners around the refectory table. The experience ends with some local story telling or entertainment either inside or around the fire pit.
Feast at Fireworks
Every evening chef Michael Smith and his “fire brigade” create the hottest meal ticket on the island, Feast at FireWorks, using ingredients from their organic farm as well as from a roster of PEI farmers, fisher folk, foragers and culinary artisans. Chef Smith and his wife Chastity recently purchased The Inn at Bay Fortune where he had manned the stoves back in the 1990s.
Before dinner, guests mingle and slurp freshly shucked oysters, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails served in the historic kitchen, location of chef Smith’s first cooking show The Inn Chef. There are also food and drink stations located in the vast gardens.
The Feast begins at 7 p.m. as chefs use every form of live-fire cooking known to man, including a smokehouse, open hearth, grill, rotisserie, plancha and oven. No dials, no switches, just old-school cooking. Dinner is served family-style at long butcher-block tables overlooking Bay Fortune. Expect fresh baked bread, smoked fish, house-made charcuterie, seafood chowder, foraged salad greens, wood-roasted meats, fish, vegetables and desserts.
Chef Smith has Prince Edward Island’s food ambassador. His team intends to make the Inn at Bay Fortune a culinary destination where they envision raising their own cows and pigs, churning their own butter and selling produce and baked goods.
After your grand feast, roast some homemade marshmallows in the fire pit and retire to one of the inn’s renovated rooms or suites, each decorated with works from local artists.
Bill and Mary Kendrick have created a number of authentic PEI Experiences so you can meet islanders and learn a thing or two. Highlights of their Charlottetown Taste the Town walking tour include hot and crispy fries at the Chip Shack where spud queen Caron Prins proclaims she is vying to have her chips named Best in the World. Some of her secrets include double cooking what Prins claims are the planet’s best potatoes. By the time you finish the tour you will have sampled oysters, mussels, craft beer, Scottish oatcakes and lobster rolls. So come hungry and be prepared to meet some characters.
One Pound or Two?
New Glasgow Lobster Suppers has been a no-frills, family-run institution in PEI since 1958. All-you-can-eat hot bread, brimming bowls of chowder, mounds of mussels and crisp salads precede the queen of the crustaceans — you choose the size. Finish off with a mile high wedge of lemon meringue pie.
PEI is full of foodie entrepreneurs. At Glasgow Glen Farm, chef Jeff McCourt produces intriguing cheeses, including Blouda, a winning combo of Gouda and blue. www.glasgowglenfarm.ca
Islanders have been making moonshine since prohibition, but now the hooch is being legally produced at Myriad View Artisan Distillery Inc. in Rollo Bay. Pop in for a dram of Strait Shine.
Keep on Truckin’
Savour some of PEI’s best bites from food trucks. Try the po’boy sandwich crafted by chef Norman at The Galley in Summerside, or Terry Nabuur’s Lobster Melt at Terries Berries. You’ll discover more temptations at Fun on a Bun in Montague, Furious Franks in Belfast and The Waffle Company in Charlottetown.
From Sept. 1 to 30, The Fall Flavours Festival includes more than 100 culinary and cultural events with celebrity chef cook-offs around the island.
Who ladles out the island’s best chowder? Or spices up the best Bloody Caesar? Find out at PEI’s annual Shellfish Festival, (Sept. 13 to 16) dubbed the “Biggest Kitchen Party in Atlantic Canada.”
Where to Stay
At Charlottes Rose Inn, hosts Dee and Chris offer all sorts of perks that have earned them 4.5 stars by the Canada Select rating system. Four cooked breakfast options, home baking, bicycles and golf umbrellas are all part of the bargain.
Dalvay-by-the-Sea, built as a summer cottage in 1896 by the president of Standard Oil, is now designated a National Historic Site of Canada by Parks Canada. Their warm, sticky date pudding with toffee sauce deserves raves.
Where to Shop
At the Dunes Gallery & Café in Brackley Beach, browse the galleries for pottery, furniture, jewelry and crafts. Try chef Norman Day’s banana bread crumb-crusted halibut.
Cows, based in Charlottetown, was named “Canada’s best ice cream” in a survey of readers of Reader’s Digest. Folks also flock to Cows to buy “udderly” fun clothing and accessories, all with a bovine theme.
By Anita Draycott