I joke a lot about what it’s like to eat at a “restaurant” in many rural Newfoundland towns. You know the place: a take-out joint where servers wear nursing scrubs (legit) and order up fries soggy with gravy and chicken pumped so full of steroids you can taste it. Where garden salad comes with three varieties of meat, and grease is mandatory.
There’s nothing entirely wrong with that. I mean, I love me a good greasy feed after a night out at the pub.
BUT! All that is changing. And it’s changing so damned good.
Over the past year or two, I’ve spent a lot of time Eastern Newfoundland – particularly on the Avalon Peninsula. (Well dur, I do live here.) And I gotta tell ya, the food scene is pretty epic. It’s inspiring how Newfoundlanders are realizing how much we really CAN produce locally here, and it’s paying off. People are creative.
For clarity’s sake: this list doesn’t include St. John’s.
AND a disclaimer: If you’re dining out in rural Newfoundland, you should know that the pace is SLOW. Your meal won’t be ready in five minutes. Hell, the server may not even arrive at your table in five minutes. It’s just how things work here. Sometimes convenience is sacrificed for quality. It’s not a bad thing. Slow down and enjoy your surroundings.
Bonavista – Neil’s Yard
UPDATE: NEIL’S YARD IS NO MORE! :(
This was one of the most memorable food experiences of the summer for me. Neil’s Yard is a café/creperie at the Mockbeggar Plantation in Bonavista. Their menu mostly consists of (you guessed it) crepes, soups, fine teas and coffees, and some awesome desserts. It’s a tiny little building, and cozy as heck. Tarlatan tablecloths have that effect on a place.
I had the Classe: goat’s cheese topped with sundried tomatoes, black and green olives, and spinach (see feature image). I guess I was still feeling those Mediterranean vibes. A side of salad came with it, and here’s where it gets interesting: IT WAS THE BEST DAMNED DRESSING I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED. Some kinda poppy seed toasty vinaigrette, if memory serves me right. I could have drunk a TUB OF IT.
When I went to pay for my order, I asked Neil to tell me what the dressing was made from.
“It’s a secret,” he said. BLAST!
Bonavista – The Bonavista Social Club
This place is making waves across the foodie scene over the past few years. Dressed like a log cabin overlooking the Atlantic (icebergs!), young chefs Katie and Shayne Hayes are THE people to prove that Newfoundland does in fact grow things other than potatoes. We’re not Ireland.
Most ingredients come from their gardens, but the REAL draw is the exotic wood-fired bread oven. It’s the only commercial one in Newfoundland. Their pizzas are to die for, as is their rhubarb lemonade. You can grab a table outside on the patio, and take it in. You may even have goats and chickens join you for dinner, unwittingly knowing that they themselves are dinner.
Elliston – Nanny’s Root Cellar Kitchen
Our hosts at Bird Island Inn B&B recommended this place to us (you get a discount if you stay there) and since I miss my Nanny’s cooking I thought it was a great idea. It’s located in the Orange Hall, and you can dine on the altar. Really. When the 1914 Newfoundland sealing disasters happened, many bodies were brought here. You might say there’s a lot of history inside these walls.There are also several framed images of Joey Smallwood. Some of it is creepy.
Nanny’s Root Cellar Kitchen is an excellent spot if you want traditional island food with a gourmet twist. The Jigg’s Dinner, fish cakes, fish and chips, and pulled moose are ridiculously good. My fish cakes were served with homemade tartar sauce and rhubarb chutney. It was DIVINE.
Port Rexton – Two Whales Cafe
Oddly, I don’t have much recollection of this experience other than that it was damned good. Probably because Mike and I ate here after spending all morning hiking the epic Skerwink Trial, and so we were famished beyond all words. Two Whales is a perfect little coffee shop and dining room, with their menu mostly consisting of paninis.
They do a really good job catering to dietary restrictions as well. I know this because the vacationer at the table next to me droned on and on to the waitress about her gluten sensitivity and how so few people in Newfoundland cater to this tragic illness.
Trinity – The Twine Loft Artisan Inn
I love Trinity. If you haven’t been to Trinity, you should go to Trinity. It’s like a fairytale.
I was invited to a dinner at the Twine Loft Artisan Inn, once used by Captain Stanley Barbour as a place to store his fishing gear. Now it’s a 4-star restaurant and hotel. For reals.
While waiting for the dining room to open, I sat on the patio overlooking the ocean with a patridgeberry martini in hand. Wrapped in a fleece blanket. Watching the sunset.
Everything else was wonderful, including the food. But that. That’s the kind of thing I live for. Booze and sunsets and blankets.
Green’s Harbour – The Doctor’s House
I didn’t get to eat here other than at breakfast, BUT I did get to experience the chef’s cooking at the Roots, Rants, and Roars celebration a few weeks later. Chris Chafe participated in the Cod Wars event, and despite being the youngest chef there (rivalling some BIG names in the food scene), he won first place. He took that salty ‘ol cod and turned it into a masterpiece: fried with sweet corn and bacon, organic chili peppers, a fritter, and black bean and tomato jam.
Safe to say The Doctor’s House’s menu follows suit.
Dildo – The Dildo Dory Inn
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t overly thrilled by the food here. I desperately wanted veggies, so I ordered a stir-fry and I might as well have ordered soya sauce with a side of veggies. It was SWIMMING in soya.
But Cailin and Mike ordered pub grub, and it turned out quite delicious. I enjoyed the service, and I especially enjoyed this sign.
You’ll also see the famous “Dildo Pleasure” boat from here as well. So maybe just don’t order the stir-fry.
Grates Cove – Grates Cove Studios
This was the experience I was looking forward to the most, and it didn’t disappoint.
Grate’s Cove Studios is housed into an old school house with a café attached. It’s run by artist/designer Terrence Howell and Courtney Howell, a Newfoundlander and a South Louisian, respectively. They met in South Korea and travelled and ate their way around the country. You know they have to be pretty eclectic to run this kind of business in one of the most exposed settlements I’ve ever seen. Grates Cove is stunning, and it kinda just hangs out there in the Atlantic like it doesn’t give a damn about storms or hurricanes or tsunamis.
Anyway, someone had told me there was sushi on the menu. Handmade sushi, in rural Newfoundland. WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF NEXT?!!!!
It wasn’t on the menu when I got there. I was devastated, until I put in a special request and the chef started whipping up his special creation. Mike had the moose burger with touton buns (fried bread dough – a Newfoundland delicacy).
The sushi, though? Scallop with scrunchions (fried pork back fat – another Newfoundland delicacy). And pretty well the best damned sushi I’ve ever had.
IN RURAL NEWFOUNDLAND.
Well! That turned into quite the post. I didn’t expect it to go on for so long, honestly, but there you have it. Newfoundland’s foodie scene is getting better and better.