November 16th, 2017/ BY Lisa Hoekstra

food city – St John’s, Newfoundland: an island for all foodies

Merely saying “Newfoundland” evokes — for me, anyway — salty sea spray on a rocky shore, distant seagull cries and plates filled with seafood. Once that sensory overload fades, I then think of small towns, heavily accented people welcoming visitors with a wave and offers of food or indecipherable directions. My mental stereotypes are off, though, I can assure you.

Newfoundland, and St. John’s in particular, does indeed have that small-town hospitality. The surrounding natural landscape is also heavily influenced by the North Atlantic Ocean, and they do have sea gulls. (But who doesn’t? They’re everywhere.) But what I got wrong, and what Canadians across the country are starting to realize, is that Newfoundland’s culinary scene has grown up. And, in the process, the agricultural industry is expanding to meet demands for local ingredients from professional culinary geniuses and home chefs alike.

Newfoundland residents love to entertain and food is a large part of everything they do. They still do seafood — and they rock it — but chefs across the province have put a modern twist on classic dishes to give you a true taste of Newfoundlander pride.

dinner & drinks

Chinched Bistro

5 Bates Hill

Chef Michelle LeBlanc and her husband, Chef Shaun Hussey, have made their mark on the St. John’s culinary scene. They opened Chinched Bistro in 2010 to showcase their passion for Newfoundland culture, food and preservation. Their goal is to break assumptions and show the world that Newfoundland has more to offer foodies.

“I guess the biggest thing that people have assumed in the past, from my experience, would have been that everybody just thought it was just fish and chips and Jiggs Dinner sort of things. Those are two totally Newfoundland dishes,” LeBlanc explains. “But in the last five or 10 years, there’s been a huge change in the culinary scene here and the education of the cooks .… There’s been a tremendous amount of farms that have opened and started doing stuff. Just knowledge about product and the overall education of the culinary scene in general has started to slowly eliminate the myth or stigma, if you will.”

Chinched Bistro doesn’t have either of those dishes on its menu. Rather, it’s packed with nose-to-tail charcuterie and meats that are finger-licking good. Fish is on the menu; the steamed, pan-fried cod with potato hash is the restaurant’s take on fish and chips. “We do a potato-wrapped cod — a play on fish and chips, if you will,” says LeBlanc. “It’s still deep fried, but instead of doing a straight-up battered fish with French fries, we try to take it to another level.” While the cod is a popular dish, it’s the restaurant’s charcuterie that’s drawing crowds.

LeBlanc and Hussey focus on local ingredients and products. “There’s so much; it’s so bountiful,” says LeBlanc. “From sea urchins to berries, to seaweed and plants that are growing, sort of, on the ocean floor and on beaches — it seems silly to have that stuff coming from somewhere else.” They take these local ingredients and apply older cooking methods and traditional techniques. “We do a lot of our dry curing and preserving,” LeBlanc mentions. “The charcuterie program is a huge part of what we do and who we are. So, that’s bottling, pickling — that sort of thing. Just bringing back those traditional methods.” So, when you’re there, order up the charcuterie with a cilantro-jalapeño Margarita to get the full Chinched experience.

Saltwater Restaurant

284 Duckworth Street

Chef and owner Serge Stojic transforms local ingredients and products into seafood dishes that look as good as they taste — even if they are a bit on the pricier side. “Our philosophy at Saltwater Restaurant,” explains Stojic, “is that we want every guest to feel like they traded their hard-earned money for an equal value and get the best quality and quantity possible. No one leaves hungry.”

Start off your meal with an amuse-bouche to get your taste buds watering, then enjoy one of the appetizers, like the organic steamed Newfoundland Mussels, served up in a Caesar-style sauce. If you’re more of a scallop person, Saltwater’s look, smell and taste scrumptious (and they change the sauce occasionally, so it’ll always be a new treat whenever you go). Main dishes look simple — simply listed by the main protein (Cod, Salmon, Tuna) — but they display a depth of flavour that may surprise you. The Steak, for example, is savoury and distinguished by a brandy and roasted-mushroom jus, accompanied by a mushroom and green pea ragout.

Stojic and his team ensure that their ingredients shine on the plate. “What I love the most about cooking in Newfoundland is all beautiful ingredients that are available to us from the ocean and land,” explains Stojic. “And working with local fishermen, farmers, hunters and foragers to bring the best to every plate.”

The culinary scene in St. John’s, and throughout Newfoundland, helps Stojic elevate his traditional Newfoundland dishes. “Newfoundland’s culinary scene has changed dramatically in very short period of time,” Stojic says. “World-class chefs and restaurants are all working together; it is very tight community, and the unique thing is that we still cook traditional Newfoundland dishes but with sophisticated flavours and presentations.” A stop at this bright, white and airy restaurant, replete with all the traditional St. John’s seafood you could want, is a must.

 

 
Fogo Island Inn Restaurant

210 Main Road, Joe Batt’s Arm, Fogo Island

Located at the eastern edge of Newfoundland, about six hours away from St. John’s — so a bit of a hike — is Fogo Island. This solid-granite mass of land has a population of about 2,700 and one of the most interesting scenic landscapes in Canada. Zita Cobb built Fogo Island Inn and its restaurant to revive her island home and its folklore. Given the critical acclaim received — you only have to scroll down to the bottom of the website to see the list of awards and credits received — she’s done her job well.

The building is white, angular and perched on stilts. Just outside the windows, guests can watch the churning waters of the North Atlantic as they enjoy their meal, prepared by Chef Timothy Charles. “We focus on the idea of place and its importance both in the cooking we do and our guest experience,” states Charles. “We continue to employ the power of sense place and all of its textures as guiding principles in the direction we choose to take. We hope that the guests leave with a feeling of having actually been somewhere.”

“Place” is reflected in the fare served at the restaurant. The menu is seasonally driven and ingredients are sourced as locally as possible. “Deciding what is ‘local’ is challenging as I could say that something is local because it is from Newfoundland but the distance between Fogo Island and St. John’s is almost that of Paris and London,” Charles says. “We buy from Fogo Island first, Newfoundland second, Atlantic Canada third, Eastern Canada and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard fourth and onward. This keeps our spending focused close to home, which hopefully nurtures growth while giving our guests the best products we can find.”

Dinner starts off with an amuse-bouche and bread, followed by a starter, main and dessert. The menu changes almost daily, incorporating traditional Newfoundland dishes that tourists and visitors can try, knowing that they will have a burst of delicious flavours. Salted cod, rabbit omelettes and moose meat all make an appearance on the menu when the seasons align.

“The seasonality is inspiring,” Charles states. “Berry season brings everyone out onto the hills with their buckets; during the food fishery, you will see boats zipping out of the harbour and back in with cod; in moose season, you will see carcasses hanging in sheds or being hauled in the pans of pickup trucks; and in turr season, you will find the fine down flying about in the wind after the boats land and the birds are picked.” A visit to Fogo Island Inn and its restaurant will always be a breath of fresh (salt-tinged) air, worth revisiting time and time again.

Bakeries

Fixed Coffee and Baking

183 Duckworth Street

Fixed Coffee’s direct-trade, single-origin coffee is the perfect pick-me-up before you head out for a day of sightseeing or perhaps a brief sit down in the midst of your adventures. Wholesome breads, bagels and pastries are made every morning so you can enjoy them fresh from the oven.

Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food

272 Water Street

A bustling, cozy community hub serving up French-influenced baked goods in a beautiful vintage building. Buy some supplies to keep you fed throughout the day, or sit down to enjoy a coffee and croissant. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, plan ahead and order one of the signature cakes.

The Reluctant Chef

290 Duckworth Street

Owner Anthony Butt, the original Reluctant Chef, works with Chef Jeremiah Stafford and Sommelier Scott Cowan to provide locals and tourists alike with an extensive tasting menu paired with great Canadian wines. The five-course tasting menu changes every month to reflect local, seasonal ingredients available from land and sea. If you’re looking for bistro fare, The Brasserie (marketed as “Old-world Parisian charm meets approachable luxury”) has an à-la-carte menu filled with French bistro classics — including a daily vegetarian option. When you’re done your meal, whichever you choose, head over to The Vinyl Room, a speakeasy-style lounge with small plates (if you’re still hungry), hand-made artisan cocktails, wines and craft beer.

Raymonds Restaurant

95 Water Street

Two Jeremys came together to start Raymonds Restaurant: Head Chef Jeremy Charles and Manager and Sommelier Jeremy Bonia. The building is classic Newfoundland and Labrador architecture; it was built in 1915 to overlook St. John’s harbour and features high ceilings, regal lines and austere, 18th-century decor. Sitting down to a meal here is an experience like no other.

And the menu only adds to that unique experience. Each dish is beautifully plated and made with locally caught, farmed and foraged ingredients. You can choose from three-, five- or seven-course meals. The season plays a huge role in what’s served up each night. In the summer, you’ll find lighter options like pasta, carrot salad or carpaccio to start with cod, pork or lobster as your main and strawberries and rhubarb on the dessert menu. In the winter, the restaurant provides heftier, heartier fare, like red surf clams with lardo, a crisped cracker and Canadian caviar, followed by pasta with moose ragout and blood sausage.

Mallard Cottage

8 Barrows Road

Cozy up for a night of authentic Newfoundland hospitality at the The Inn by Mallard Cottage and its restaurant, led by Chef and Innkeeper Todd Perrin.

Bernard Stanley Gastropub

223 Duckworth Street

Brunch, daily specials, happy hour and late-night weekends are all accentuated by seasonal cocktails, good food and Quidi Vidi beer on tap. This venture by Chef Chris Herritt is a must-visit for casual pub fare.

Adelaide Oyster House

334 Water Street

What’s a stop in St. John’s without visiting an oyster house? The Adelaide Oyster House is popular with visitors and locals like, offering up small plates packed with flavour.

 

 

must visit microbreweries & distilleries

YellowBelly Brewery & Public House

288 Water Street

This is Newfoundland’s only gastropub. But if that isn’t a reason to put it on your must-see list, then maybe the fact that the pub is called “The Underbelly” will help convince you. The beer list is filled with craft brews while the menu features seafood creations alongside wood-fired oven dishes.

Quidi Vidi Brewing Company

35 Barrows Road

One of the few breweries in St. John’s, Quidi Vidi Brewing makes craft beers with Canadian ingredients and Newfoundland charm. “Unfortunately, Newfoundland doesn’t grow many of the ingredients that go into making beer,” states Marketing Manager Justin Fong. “But most of our ingredients come from Canada, so we’re still trying to keep it as close to home as possible!”

Since the brewery was established in 1996, it’s worked to promote the local craft drink industry. “Our main focus to make great beer and continue to lead the Newfoundland craft scene as it grows,” says Fong. They began focusing on draft beers over the last few years, and as a result, have seen an increase in Newfoundland draft beer sales (by approximately 25 percent).

The beer lineup includes eight brands, each suited to a different taste profile within the beer industry. For example, Iceberg Beer is made with water “harvested” from Newfoundland’s icebergs; it’s a light lager for those who prefer a refreshing brew with very little aftertaste. 1892 Traditional Ale, made to commemorate the year of the great fire in St. John’s, is a full-bodied, reddish ale for “those who prefer European-style beers with substantial flavour.”

You can try these beers, or the other options, at the brewery in Quidi Vidi Village (referred to as “The Gut” by locals). It’s a rustic, historic fishing village perfect for escaping the busy-ness of the city.  “Newfoundland is a great place if you love the outdoors,” Fong states. “It’s technically a city but there’s so much nature less than five minutes’ drive away from downtown!” And the open-door policy at Quidi Vidi means you’ll always be welcome to drop by for a tasting.

Port Rexton Brewing

6 Ship Cove Rd, Port Rexton

This brewery can be found three hours away from St. John’s in the quaint town of Port Rexton, which sits at the start of Ship Cove. Sip and sample the beers — which range from an American-style West Coast IPA (Horse Chops) to a robust porter (T-Rex) — while you enjoy the scenery; or visit for one of their game nights, like Trivia Thursdays.

Newfoundland Distillery Co.

97 Conception Bay Highway, Clarke’s Beach

This small craft distillery is dedicated to using local ingredients and making the finest spirits. The brand is growing and expanding throughout the country. The distillery recently released an Aquavit (Scandinavian-style whisky) that has hints of charred juniper, local peat and a surprising smoothness.

more to see

The Rooms

9 Bonaventure Avenue

Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest public cultural space showcases artifacts, art, historical records and more. To top it off, the building itself represents Newfoundland’s cultural history — the design mirrors the fishing rooms families used to prepare their catches.

Fish, Fun & Folk Festival

Every July since 1980, Twillingate

Local artists display their crafts as festivalgoers enjoy everything Twillingate has to offer. The week-long event features an old-fashioned kitchen party, music, fireworks, scavenger hunts, concerts, parades and so much more.

Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival

August 2018, St. John’s

The province’s premiere annual folk-related cultural event is not to be missed. Each year their lineup includes local, national and international artists — Sharon & Bram (of Sharon, Lois & Bram fame) were headliners at the 2017 festival this past August.