Somewhat recently I was touring around Cape Breton with my family, who had asked for my expertise in planning the trip. Instead, I totally sabotaged the itinerary, turning our vacation into a food tour.
My mother always says, “Now, I don’t want this whole trip to revolve around food!” (she knows me well). But my father is not the type to say no to deliciousness, and my brother – well, he tends to make appearances when food abounds. Remember, the best way to foil your comrades into embarking on a culinary adventure is to make them think it was their idea. Trip Advisor is your friend. So are locals. If your travel counterparts are wary of your zany food quests, ask the nearest local, “Hey, Cape Bretoners totally love pizza burgers, right?” and their startling enthusiasm will be convincingly effective.
The first stop on our Cape Breton food tour was Big Spruce Brewery.
Big Spruce Brewery is Cape Breton’s first microbrewery, and Atlantic Canada’s first organic farm-based brewery. That’s right! They grow their own hops! The brewery is near Baddeck (on the way, and just a tad off the main road). Since it was Beer Fest weekend, the brewery told us that they may close early. We stayed positive and showed up anyway, and sure enough, beer was to be had! We bought a growler of Kitchen Party Pale Ale to enjoy in our hotel room in Baddeck.
My success in convincing my family to eat pizza in Baddeck was uncanny.
We I already had plans to eat pizza in Sydney, strictly for pizza research. However, Tom’s Pizza ranked highly on Trip Advisor, and there is just something relaxing about bringing a pizza to your hotel room to enjoy with your local craft beer, after a long day of driving.
The next morning we stopped for coffee and oatcakes at the Herring Choker. This place is so great we actually stopped in here again on our way home. It is really just a simple cafe & deli, but with delicious home-made bread, scores of cheese, Just Us! coffee, and what I had been told are the “best oatcakes in Nova Scotia”. On my first visit I had a kid’s sandwich (i.e. normal sized) with provolone and local Horyl’s salami on home-made oatmeal bread (yum!).
On our return trip I picked up a veggie sandwich with generous slices of blue cheese on the same lovely oatmeal bread. As for the oatcakes, they were thin, crisp, and made from butter (not shortening). I’m not sure how something so simple can be so awesome, but other reviewers tend to agree: The Herring Choker is a great place to grab a bite.
You can probably guess that we planned to drive around the Cabot Trail that day, and indeed we did. Instead of going to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, my curiosity landed us at the Margaree Salmon Museum. This tiny museum is $2 to enter, and lacks the fancy placards of a government-run museum. I assume the friendly and informative woman there was a volunteer, and I sure did learn a lot about fly fishing (for which the Margaree River is famous).
One of my requests was to eat Acadian food in Cheticamp, so the Restaurant Acadien seemed to fit the bill.
Clockwise we have the meat pie, the potato chiard with fried bologna, the fish cakes and the Acadian sampler. We were particularly impressed with the starter of home-made bread with molasses. This was a nice little Acadian lunch experience. If you go, get the fishcakes (better than my mom’s – sorry mom!) and some butterscotch pie!
Of course, the Cabot Trail has some beautiful views, which is why National Geographic featured it in its “Drives of a Life Time Series”.
The day did clear up eventually, and we had a beautiful patio dinner that evening at Chanterelle Inn. I was hard pressed to pick a “nice” restaurant for the family. Every city and town boasts of its fancy restaurants, but really, they are all sort of the same. Not so at Chanterelle Inn. We almost drove right past this quaint little inn, named after the wild mushrooms that grow around the property. It was so quiet and peaceful on the enclosed patio that overlooks the scenic landscape. Quiet, that is, until our poor server dropped our bottle of Tidal Bay, smashing it along with a couple of wine glasses. The owner came out to assure us, something about his poor grandson, who we think was discreetly ushered back into the dish pit.
We definitely enjoyed our meals. I was thrilled that my roasted haddock came with a freshly picked chanterelle crumble! The best executed dishes, however, were the desserts. My brother had a cheesecake tart, and my parents split the bread pudding. Not being a dessert fanatic, I settled for a coffee, and a few stolen spoonfuls of this and that.
We checked into our hotel in Sydney that evening, and a waterfront walk turned into a pint of Big Spruce Regatta Red. When in Sydney, Governor’s Pub is definitely the place to be.
The next day we spent at Fortress Louisburg, which satisfies a cheesy desire to eat rustic 18th century period cuisine. I was 11 years old the last time I visited Louisburg, and I still remember the pea soup at the “lower class” restaurant. This time we went all high class, and dined on trout, root vegetables, rice and warm rum! Interestingly, the French were unfamiliar with potatoes in the 18th century but rice was imported along with sugar, tea, and rum.
That night I completed the first leg of my Cape Breton Pizza Quest, and fell in love with local favourite, Napoli Pizza.
The next morning we ventured to the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay, which involves exploring a real mine! Well, not a real real mine. It was constructed for the museum, but constructed nonetheless just like a mine from the 1920s. Word of warning to you: unless you are really short, your body will be at a right angle for the duration of the tour.
After all that bending and head-to-ceiling contact, I was thrilled to check out a restaurant I saw on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here”. Check out Collette’s Place, home of the “Festive Poutine”. The problem, of course, with these as-seen-on-TV restaurants, is that television has a way of heightening one’s expectations. Was Collette’s Place anything special? No. It was just a diner. I mean, the turkey was real turkey and that’s a good thing, right? Unfortunately, the BBQ sausages featured on the program are a daily special, and today was not my day. Sorry folks, today was meatloaf day. So I had a turkey & bacon sandwich made with French toast. It was good. You know…. good.
The place was packed, so obviously the locals love it. But it was really just a diner. My mother was unimpressed with her fish ‘n’ chips, but my dad had no complaints about his hot turkey sandwich and coconut cream pie. As I said, it was good.
We had one more stop on our way home (okay, 2 – but I already recounted our return trip to the Herring Choker). I was told that the Cedar House Bakery in Boularderie has some top notch butterscotch pie. This is a bakery & cafe, such institutions being quite common in Cape Breton. We sat down for pie and coffee, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked good enough to make us wish we had eaten here instead of Collette’s. I had been informed that Cedar House makes a nifty pineapple curry chicken stuffed crust pizza. Yes Cedar House serves pizza as well as baked goods and diner food. You gotta multi-task in rural Cape Breton! The pie itself was nice, but we preferred the version we had in Cheticamp.
Cape Breton is known for its Acadian & Celtic heritage, its highlands and great salt water lakes, its world class golf and fly fishing, its history of coal mining, its fiddle music, and its crazy Capers! But there is no better way to know a place than by its food, and now I can say that I know Cape Breton a little better. ‘Til next time.