Mellow & Magnificent Maritimes: Trip Recap & Gallery

About a week and a half before Canada celebrated 150 years of confederation, I found myself travelling to the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick for the first time. Had I not met my boyfriend, who knows when I would have taken the time to visit the eastern side of the country. After all, it’s usually less expensive to fly half way around the world than it is to make your way from one end of Canada to the other.

But, we had good reason to go. We were off to visit his family in Dalhousie, New Brunswick with plans for stops in Charlottetown, P.E. I. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. With no set itinerary in place, each day ended up being a surprise. I’ll recap everything as best as I can. Should anyone be interested in more details about sights or activities mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the comments below.

P.E.I.

We took a red eye flight from Edmonton to Halifax. Early the next morning, as soon as we deplaned, we picked up our rental car and drove straight to Prince Edward Island. Along the way we grabbed photos with the giant blueberry in Oxford, Nova Scotia and the friendly potato statue in front of Blue Roof Distillers (tours and vodka tastings are available) in Malden, New Brunswick.

The Confederation Bridge

A few hours later, we eventually made it to the New Brunswick side of the Confederation Bridge. We took a quick break there and walked up to a viewpoint to snap a few pictures of the 12.9 km bridge. I wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s the longest bridge in the world to cross over ice-covered water, and the sheer length of it didn’t actually hit me until we were driving the full distance. From a construction standpoint, it truly is a feat of engineering.

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Once we set foot on the other side of the bridge, we decided to pop into the information centre. There, we picked up a pamphlet called “The Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island.” It just seemed like the appropriate way to spend our time in this province. I immediately recognized one of the photos from my research before the trip, so we headed there as soon as we’d gotten a scoop of Cowconut Cream Pie ice cream in a fresh waffle cone from the Cows shop.

As we continued, we paused for pictures of the cheeky signs at the Kool Breeze Ice Cream Barn and we also picked up some much needed sustenance from the Da Mama’s Kitchen shack.

West Point Lighthouse

The drive from the visitor centre to the West Point Lighthouse was about an hour and a half. The 69 foot tall navy and white lighthouse was built in 1875 and manned until 1963. It is one of the most recognizable spots on the island and it has actually been converted into an inn and museum. Those who are keen to stay the night there have the option to do so. From the lighthouse is easy access to the beach and boardwalk.

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When we were done exploring the area around the lighthouse, we made our way back to Charlottetown. We’d booked a room at the new Sydney Boutique Inn & Suites. Recently opened, a portion of the building and grounds were still under construction, but that didn’t take away from the charm of the place. Unique touches from the converted 1857 Notre Dame Convent still remain alongside the updated, luxurious rooms. Shortly after checking in, we washed up and took a quick nap before returning to our adventures.

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Charlottetown is fairly small, so it’s easy to walk to most places. My boyfriend led us to The Gahan House, which is both a brewery and restaurant. On a Thursday night, it was full of people. However, we lucked out and snagged a comfortable window-side table that overlooked the patio and the street. We shared some beer tasters and ordered a much deserved dinner. While I have to say that my Lobster Gnocchi seemed to lack in the lobster (and rock crab) department, it was still pretty delicious. Yet, the definite star of the show was the Big G Burger. Stacked with beef, Cows white cheddar, maple stout pulled pork, Sriracha slaw, bacon and apple chutney, it was phenomenal.

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We ended the evening with a stroll along the waterfront where it looked like the city was gearing up for Canada Day celebrations.

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The next morning, before we left, we checked out Prince Edward Battery in Victoria Park. Then, on the drive out of Charlottetown, we spotted the flagship Cows Creamery that advertised factory tours. The tour itself is self-guided with a video introduction at the beginning and video screens as you move throughout the glass-protected areas of t-shirt production, ice cream making and cheese aging. No visit to a Cows shop is complete without a cone.

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Halifax

Welcome to Nova Scotia

With Charlottetown in our rear view mirror, we were on our way back to Halifax for the start of the weekend. It’s a must to take a photo at the beautiful “Welcome to Nova Scotia” sign with it’s miniature lighthouse and pretty landscaping. We also noticed wind turbines galore as we drove down the highway.

Upon entering Halifax, my boyfriend gave me a quick tour of the city by car; he showed me where he used to live in the city and then he pointed out the Dalhousie campus where my dad went to university for architecture. Afterwards, we quickly checked into the Hampton Inn by Hilton Halifax Downtown, which provided us with a comfortable two-night stay and free breakfast in a revitalized part of the city. Parking along the street was free over the weekend, so we found a spot for our rental and hoofed it the majority of the time.

As we wandered around Halifax, we noted an abundance of new development towards the waterfront and major construction down the usually busy Argyle Street. The latter was a bit of a disappointment as my boyfriend was hoping for me to experience the usual lively atmosphere found at the bars and restaurants along that stretch. No matter though. We made the best of it.

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Late reservations were made for dinner at The Bicycle Thief, which meant we had some time to kill before we ate. Therefore, a good chunk of our evening was spent at the Public Gardens. The grounds are pristine, green and lush. Each space felt inviting. Had the weather not taken a turn, we could have lingered a lot longer. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up and the sky became cloudy and we needed to find an alternative venue. As fast as we tried to book it towards the waterfront, we still got caught in the rain. Thankfully, we were able to take cover under a doorway until the downpour subsided and we remained minimally wet.

With the storm quieted, we sprinted down the street and, in a split second, we opted to pop into what turned out to be Shuck Seafood & Raw Bar. Had we not already made plans for supper, I would have just stayed here instead. But, since we only had about half an hour to fill, we stuck with drinks only. My boyfriend kept it simple by ordering a pint of beer. I, on the other hand, asked what kind of non-alcoholic beverages they had. To my amazement, they were very attentive. The bartender came over to find out more about what flavours I like in my drinks and then he went back to his station to whip something up for me. What arose was a concoction that included mango puree, peppercorn flower, grenadine and pineapple foam. When the bartender dropped it off, he told me that if I wasn’t happy with it, he’d try his hand at creating another mocktail to my liking. That wasn’t necessary though. It was just slightly sweet and finished off with a sour note, and that was good enough. The best part was that my drink only cost $4. Not too shabby for an impromptu drop-in.

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Finally, it was time for dinner. The Bicycle Thief (paying homage to the classic film of the same name) is a happening Italian restaurant situated right along the waterfront. Despite the chilly weather, a few guests braved the cold by sitting out on the patio. We, however, we sat inside. My first impression of the place was that it was incredibly crowded and loud. Then, when we were brought to our seats, I observed how out of place this particular table was. It was angled oddly at a sharp corner in the restaurant and my chair backed into the couple next to us. Yet, the place was full, it was late and we were hungry, so we settled in and perused the menu. I will say that the complimentary focaccia bread and butter provided at the start of the meal was soft and fresh. The pasta dishes were so-so though. We didn’t feel that they were anything special; the Spaghettini ‘Aglio e Olio’ in a fresh herb and lemon gremolata with jumbo shrimp, scallops and mussels fared better with a decent amount of seafood and punchy flavours, but my boyfriend said his Linguini Fra Diavola was bland. Paired with the fact that our table was jostled by passing staff on a couple of occasions (it actually slid away at one point), our experience was severely dampened. We politely mentioned our feelings to the server and she promptly spoke with management about the situation. When she returned, she offered us free dessert, which we accepted (the chocolate cake was wonderful), and we saw that the staff was actually taking our complaint seriously by making arrangements to have the table removed.

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On our second morning in Halifax, we took a drive to Peggy’s Cove. Heavy fog enveloped us almost the entire way there and didn’t dissipate as we arrived at the lighthouse. A biting wind also deterred us from staying longer. The misty air provided some interesting photos, but it’s nothing like what I imagine it would be to see the place on a clear day. Maybe next time.

Not ready to head straight back to the city, we made a detour to Fisherman’s Cove. The fishing village has been in existence for 200 years and has since been restored to house several shops and studios along the boardwalk. The tide was low while we were there, so it was also possible to step off of the walkway and right onto the sandy beach.

A drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co.

When we got back into the city, we made our way to a friend’s home for dinner. Then, before calling it a night, we capped off our evening with a drink at 2 Crows Brewing Co., conveniently located right next door to our hotel. The space is awesome as the brewery is completely open and in view of patrons as they sit and drink. There’s also an expansive outdoor sidewalk patio that would be lovely on a warm day.

A gorgeous day out at Point Pleasant Park.

The following morning was our last in Halifax. Prior to leaving, we trekked through some of the wooded paths and along the water of Point Pleasant Park. On a sunny, blue sky day, it was an excellent way to finish our time in the city.

Shediac, NB

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Shediac is known as the lobster capital of the world. Hence the World’s Largest Lobster that greets visitors. It’s a cute place with pretty beaches. Yet, we simply stopped through for the photo op and some lunch. We took a chance on Kuro Sushi. The online reviews were top notch. Since it was mid-afternoon, the place was empty. My boyfriend ordered the California roll and tempura shrimp roll. The latter was fine, but the California roll left much to be desired. The issue with his and mine was that the avocado was nowhere near ripe enough, but they served it anyway. My combo also included six pieces of sushi (salmon, tuna and white tuna). Those were fine. The fish was thinly sliced on top of the rice, but it tasted good.

Dalhousie, NB

Inch Arran Beach

Our main stop on the Maritimes tour was Dalhousie, New Brunswick. This is where my boyfriend’s parents live. The town has lost a couple of its largest employers over the years, so the majority of residents are often retired or live there part-time during the summer. It’s small and charming with many properties that overlook the water and provide views of Quebec across the way. There’s a great gift shop in town that offers visitors a chance to purchase handcrafted items made by local artisans. My favourite thing? The Bon Ami ice cream shop where I went three times during our week there.

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The day after we arrived, we ventured to the Inch Arran Lighthouse and followed the shoreline as far as we could go before turning back towards town. There are an abundance of mussel shells scattered along the beach by birds. But, if you look closely enough, you may find tiny crabs and seashells as well as coveted sea glass.

One of the things I looked forward to most while there was lobster dinner. The family had ordered 20 pounds of fresh fished lobster for a mid-week supper. They boiled the lobster and then let it cool for about 15 minutes in salted water. When they were served, the meat was still warm and juicy. The lobster was succulent and flavourful with absolutely no need for anything like garlic or butter. My only qualm is that it makes for a messy meal. Yet, the divine and filling meat is worth it.

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I also loved our day canoeing. The weather cooperated and plenty of sunscreen had to be slathered on in preparation for time out on the Restigouche River. This was considered a beginner-level run on the water and it was very easy going. All of our boating equipment (canoes, kayaks, paddles and life jackets) were rented from Nature Adventure out of the village of Matapédia in Gaspésie, Quebec. For the day it worked out to $50 per person.

That same evening, we waited until dark to set off fireworks, which were also purchased from the reserve in Quebec. They sell huge packages of fireworks at a more reasonable cost (although smaller boxes could be found at Walmart or even at the local Bon Ami). Although the fireworks didn’t go as high as the ones set up by professionals, they were still impressive and just as sparkly. These also served as our own early Canada Day celebration.

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If anyone is interested, we also took a couple of drives out of Dalhousie to neighbouring villages and cities, including: Charlo, Campbellton and Bathurst. Charlo was passed by a few times during our visit, but the best stop we made while there was for a freshly baked pie from Le Moulin a Café. They’ve won numerous accolades for their food and baking. In Campbellton, one will find Sugarloaf Provincial Park. While there, my boyfriend and his brothers climbed Sugarloaf Mountain. Admittedly, I did not join them at the top. I let them do their thing. I was not equipped with the proper footwear and it’s my understanding that it gets a little perilous towards the peak. I did see the photos of the view from the apex though, and it looked spectacular. Bathurst was more of an excuse to take a scenic drive, but we found ourselves at Nectar for lunch. It’s situated right next to the Bay of Chaleur, so there is a pretty vista while dining. Our one complaint was with the portion of meat in the sandwich my boyfriend ordered (four ounces of chicken barely made a dent in the pretzel bun). Otherwise, the food tasted decent and the prices were fair.

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When our vacation was all over, we had to drive back from Dalhousie, New Brunswick to Halifax. There was break for food at Joey’s Pizza & Pasta in Sackville, the town of my boyfriend’s alma mater, Mount Allison University. They make some great pizzas and garlic fingers with a super fluffy donair sauce.

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If I could sum up our holiday in five words, they’d be: quaint, relaxed, picturesque, welcoming and lobster. This type of trip is essentially the complete opposite of what I typically do when I’m away from home. Most days in the Maritimes were extremely laid-back. We spent them ambling to the ice cream shop, hanging out along the waterfronts, driving about town or down the highway just for the sake of exploring and sitting by the fire pit at night. While it may not be the ideal trip for someone as antsy as me, it’s certainly perfect for those who really want to get away from the hustle and bustle and just unwind without a care in the world.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: The Cavern

On April 9, The Cavern celebrated its official one year anniversary and I happened to visit for the very first time that evening. There wasn’t much hoopla. Well, none at all. I was completely unaware that congratulations were in order, but I think that fits with the cafe/bar atmosphere that they are going for. Unassuming and inviting, but not pretentious, I had passed by the place last summer as I perused the City Market along 104 Street. I had heard of it before, and the people sitting outside at small tables along the sidewalk seemed to be enjoying themselves, likely basking in the sunshine, soaking up vitamin D while they had the chance.

Cheese and charcuterie board #1 - Le Noble and Comte cheeses with genoa salami and Proscuitto di Parma

Cheese and charcuterie board #1 – Le Noble and Comte cheeses with Genoa salami and prosciutto di parma

It took me another 8 months before I stepped foot into the underground space. A combination of things pushed me to finally go there. The first was that after almost a full year of business, they had just made their way onto the second annual list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton as named by readers of The Tomato, coming in at No. 12 as of March 2014. The next reason I decided to go there was because the friend I was meeting was hoping for something lighter than a full dinner and was opting for drinks. Plus, I love cheese. Thirdly, I wanted to go somewhere that was new to me and somewhere that was within walking distance after work. And, voila!  The Cavern fit all the necessary caveats for that night.

When I opened the door to the cavern, housed in the basement of the Phillips Building, which was built in 1912 and sits alongside other landmarks in the historical warehouse district, I was taken aback by the relatively small size of the cafe. To the left of the doors are a few bar stools, but the bar holds various free magazines (including copies of The Tomato’s latest issue). Venturing down the steps, there are about four tables along the wall that seat three to four people each and to the right are some additional counter stools. There is also a spot for one right by the till. A big portion of the space is take up by the kitchen, cheese case and shop that presented a pleasant surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting to see that this was basically half a store and half a restaurant. In my mind, the name of the cafe evoked an atmosphere that was dimly lit with dark corners and nooks. Instead, it is rather brightly lit with clean lines, but a somewhat rustic feel.

My glass of Riesling next to the wine list

My glass of Riesling next to the wine list

I was greeted quickly and seated at an empty table. As I waited for my friend to join me, I perused the menus and ordered myself a 3-ounce glass of Riesling to help me pass the time. I noticed that the bottles of wine were stored in a state-of-the-art Enomatic wine system that dispenses wine directly from the bottle and preserves the flavours and characteristics of the wine for more than three weeks. When my glass arrived at the table, it was cold, crisp, fruity and light. I actually wish I had ordered a 6-ounce glass, but the prices were a little steeper than I had expected. Regardless, I was thoroughly satisfied.

My friend showed up shortly after, requesting sparkling water, which was dispensed from a Vivreau water system. For $1.50 per person and as many refills as we wanted, it was worth getting that over something like a single bottle of Perrier. Having gone through the list of options for food, we decided to go with a cheese and charcuterie board for two. Ringing in at just under $30, we got to select two cheeses and two meats. While the menu was very clear in differentiating the types of cheese and included detailed descriptions of the flavours and textures, I still asked our server for her recommendations, and she was more than happy to suggest some of her favourites.

The Cavern's cheese and charcuterie menu

The Cavern’s cheese and charcuterie menu

In the end, we opted for Le Noble, a bloomy rind cheese from Quebec that is similar to brie with a mushroom aroma and a buttery and creamy texture, and Comte, an eastern French semi-hard cheese that is aged for 8 to 12 months and has a strong yet slightly sweet taste. To pair, we went with the prosciutto and salami. The board was topped off with a fresh loaf of crusty bread, both a sweet and a spicy compote, sliced apples and a mixture of walnuts and dried fruits including figs, apricots and cranberries. The two cheeses that we opted for were amazing – incredibly fresh and exactly as advertised. Combined with the other accompaniments on the board, this visit turned out to be a home run. Actually, my friend enjoyed our selections so much that she ended up buying some to go as well.

For a quiet evening, they had about four staff on hand, which maybe seemed a bit much, but every person we came in contact with was extremely friendly and willing to impart their knowledge on us. The Cavern is definitely a nice little addition to our city’s core and I will be sure to stop by more often from now on.

In fact, I visited again this past Monday. This time, I had a chance to try a wonderfully dense and smooth goat cheese along with slices of bresaola (a cured meat similar to beef jerky, but much more tender and lean). I also indulged in a cheese cake parfait dessert that layered almond cookies, JACEK white chocolate liquid cheese cake and raspberries. Every time I get home after I have been to Cavern, I’m astonished that I am not hungry for more food. It does not seem like you are eating that much when you are there. However, looks are deceiving and you are getting more than you expect.

I think it’s still a place that is not known to very many people in Edmonton, but word is getting out and I’m glad. I hope they’ll be around for a long time to come. The fact that you can pop in and pick up some key ingredients for your own homemade cheese board (more than 75 different international cheeses to choose from on any given day) is also a great reason to hope that they become a fixture.

If you plan to go, they are open early until 9pm or 11pm Monday to Saturday, depending on the day. Aside from the boards, they also serve coffee, breakfast and lunch, so there’s something for everyone.

For a quick check of their hours and their latest news, see what they have to say on Twitter: @CavernYEG. The pictures they post are sure to make any cheese and charcuterie lovers drool, especially me.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Cavern.