8 Favo(u)rite Places to Eat in Halifax

As I’ve mentioned before, Halifax is indeed one of my favorite cities in all of North America.  I don’t know if it’s the idyllic weather, the excellent waterfront, or the fact that despite continuously growing it still retains a small-town walkability, but I always love going there.  And one of the thing that keeps me going back is the food—of which Halifax has plenty.  The scene there is always growing, and it will keep you satisfied from early morning to, well, early morning, if you want to stay up that late. So whatever time of day you’re out and get a craving for some food, here is a list of my favorite places to give in to that craving.

Stillwell

I’ve mentioned Stillwell before in our beer roundup, but—surprise!—it also has great food.  You should start, without question, with the Okonomiyaki fries: a pile of fries with kewpie mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, sriracha, nori, katsuobushi, and sesame seeds.  The southern-fried chicken sandwich and General Tso’s squash, if on the menu, are also worth trying out.  As is anything they list, because I’ve never had a bad dish there. 1672 Barrington Street

Studio East

I’m a sucker for Asian-inspired anything, and Studio East is no different.  The quirky space has some great good and a solid drinks list, which makes it the perfect spot for a nice dinner out.  Start with the fried cauliflower and brussels sprouts topped with parmesan, and then move on to the Ultimate Pork Ramen Bowl. The bowl includes braised pork belly, char siu BBQ pork, crisp pork cheeks, marinated egg, cabbage, sprouts, cilantro, and Chinese fried donut swimming in house broth.  It could have used about twice as much broth as it came with, but it was still worth buying. 6021 Cunard Street

EDNA

Breakfast steak sandwich

EDNA is a top spot for brunch and should not be missed on a sunny weekend morning.  They have a nice mix of standards and more inventive items, whether you’re talking about their cocktails or their food.  We tried one of their specials—a steak sandwich with breakfast potatoes, but also peeped their hummus and eggs, Scotch egg, and breakfast burger, which looks incredibly good despite Canada’s ridiculous laws about cooking burgers.  While we only stopped in for brunch, on the strength of that meal I would go back for dinner without question. 2053 Gottingen Street

Stubborn Goat

Chicken & waffle tacos

Stubborn Goat is another great brunch spot, and in the heart of downtown.  What would make it an even better brunch spot would be if their chicken and waffles had a full-time spot on the menu; the waffles were thing and served as taco shells for the chicken, corn salsa, bacon, and chipotle cream.  One of my favorite dishes put into taco form? Why would you serve anything else?  But they do serve other food—and quite a bit of it.  This spot should not be missed as a hangover cure, or hangover jumpstarter. 1579 Grafton Street

Pizza Corner

No food rundown of Halifax would be complete without a mention of the junction of Blowers and Grafton, known as the infamous Pizza Corner.  Often crowded in the wee hours of the morning on weekends, the spot is home to—you guessed it—some cheap pizza, as well as other great drunk food like donairs at Johnny K’s and the best newfie fries in Halifax at Willy’s.  Regardless of what else I do while I’m in Halifax, Willy’s is a must-stop for me: their poutine portions are robust and their gravy is perfect.  Add on some turkey stuffing and you’ve got the perfect late-night (or early morning, or any time) snack.  Supplement it with a donair (and, of course, donair sauce) across the street. Blowers and Grafton Streets

Bicycle Thief

Bicycle Thief is your stop for a nicer meal, as well as a meal closer to the beautiful waterfront. It will probably require a bit more forethought than the other spots on the list and you should get a reservation, but a nice night out in Halifax should include this restaurant. They’ve got quite an extensive menu, full of everything you would hope for from your general Italian playbook.  Their fall-of-the-bone short rib was a standout, as were the tuna tartare, mussels, and varieties of seafood pasta. 1475 Lower Water Street

2 Doors Down

Smokehouse burger

With 2 Doors Down and, right across the hall, 2 Door Down Bar + Bites, you can’t go wrong stopping in either one, since one or the other has the propensity to be crowded on a weekend night. Their starters and small plates are tops (I couldn’t resist their chili cheese fries, and the haddock tacos are knock-outs), and even their burgers are good—especially the smokehouse with gouda, bacon, bbq sauce, onion jam, and chipotle aioli. And if you ask nicely, they may even take the burger off the grill a few second before it becomes completely well done. 1533 Barrington Street

John’s Lunch

Best fish and chips (and gravy) in Halifax

Okay, so John’s Lunch isn’t necessarily in Halifax but across the harbor in Dartmouth. However, it is well worth renting a car or taking whatever transportation is available in order to get there.  I’m a sucker for fish and chips, and this is the best I’ve ever had.  I mean, it’s a lunch counter that’s been specializing in fish and chips for the last 50 years, so they know what they’re doing.  You can get a few other items on the menu, but the fish and chips is where it’s at.  You should also order a side of gravy for the fries, because trust me.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing the gravy comes in a little cup, because you’re going to want to drink every last drop. 352 Pleasant Street, Dartmouth, NS

An Ode to Cape Breton Island

This was originally written for EatYourPHL.com in October, 2015.

Cape Breton Island is a simple place.  If you don’t live on the island, or near it, chances are you’ve probably never even heard of it, even though National Geographic named it as one of their 20 Best Trips of 2013. Admittedly, had my ex-wife not grown up on Cape Breton Island, I never would have heard of it either.  And if I did—probably in passing—I certainly would never have visited.  It’s a hard place to get to—you either fly into Sydney, which has no direct flights from the US and can sometimes take all day, or you can fly into Halifax and drive for a few hours.  Regardless of which option you choose, renting a car would be a requirement.

If you do take the trip, though, you will be rewarded for your hard work.  Cape Bretoners are a hardy bunch of people—they’ve suffered the loss of their coal mining, steel, and fishing industries (and without much other industry to fall back on) and have to weather some intense winters—but they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  Everyone is willing to help, and everyone is up for a chat, no matter who you are or where you’re from.

skyline

If you don’t have family on the island, chances are you’re going for the Cabot Trail, a 185-mile scenic highway around the northern tip of the island that just might include some of the most beautiful coastlines and scenic vistas in the world.  The trail can be driven in as little as a day, but with multiple campgrounds, as well as hiking trails of all lengths and difficulties, a long weekend or even an entire week would be more appropriate.

Another thing Cape Breton has going for it is food.  Since it’s in the middle of the ocean, seafood is a necessity, and with all the regular items you’d expect: massive lobsters, cheap mussels (they’re regularly about $.99 a pound at the store), and fish and chips (but only get it with haddock, the way god intended).  There are also plenty of Canadian delicacies to indulge in as well: poutine—with curds (the right way) or with shredded cheese (the passable but wrong way), Tim Horton’s coffee, and All Dressed potato chips.

glenora

The island also has some items that are distinctly its own.  Be sure, for instance, to make time for a pizza night while you’re there.  Order a “Combination”—that being pepperoni, mushroom, and green pepper.  The ingredients aren’t anything special (well, they are, because it’s a perfect pizza), but just the fact that they’ve got their own name is excellent.  Come on, America. You can also get a side of donair sauce for your crust, which is basically condensed milk, garlic, and sugar.  It’s sweet, garlicky, and thick and rivals only Ranch dressing as the best thing to dip pizza crust in.  You can even get an entire donair pizza, which is basically a doner kebab in pizza form.

Where to Eat

Mussels and frites with aioli at Lobster Pound
Mussels and frites with aioli at Lobster Pound

Lobster Pound and Moore (North Sydney) – A bright touch of finesse in the middle of the down home working class, Chef Rich Moore cut his teeth in British Columbia before coming back to Cape Breton to set up shop. The small place specializes in seafood, but you can also get some good-looking meat and potatoes as well.  If you’re in for the lobster dinner, be sure to call ahead, and be sure to bring a friend, as the lobsters average 2+ pounds.

Collette’s Place (Glace Bay) – Collette’s is my favorite place for breakfast in the area, but their poutine and their desserts are top-notch.  The place is small and sometimes there’s a wait, but if you want a great breakfast or a solid lunch, this is the place to stop.  There’s a reason they were featured on Food Network Canada’s “You Gotta Eat Here!”

Big Spruce Brewing (Nyanza) – If you’re heading onto the trail and need some liquid sustenance, swinging by the brewery and filling a growler or two is your best bet.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s some of the best craft beer in Nova Scotia, and the first to jumpstart the craft beer boom in the area.  Before you leave grab a quick pint, or a four-beer sampler, and sit in the tasting room to enjoy the view.

The Dancing Goat Café & Bakery (Margaree) – This sandwich and soup shop and bakery is the perfect spot to stop before heading on to the trail.  The soups, which are changed daily, are delicious (their corn chowder is raved about and the curry sweet potato was excellent). The sandwiches, which seem somewhat normal—a BLT with avocado, egg salad, ham—are filling as well as comforting.  Be sure to get a blueberry scone with lemon icing if they have it, or just grab a maple shortbread for the road.

The Rusty Anchor (Pleasant Bay) – My favorite place on the island.  There are few places to eat this far into the trail, and the Rusty Anchor is the best of them.  You won’t get anything fancy, but what you will get are goodly portions (which you’ve earned with your hiking, no doubt) of delicious food.  The lobster roll (mentioned in National Geographic) is made the way they should be—a drizzle of butter and that’s it—and the fish cakes brought back childhood memories for my wife.  If you want a good starter, grab their Ziggies (nuggets of haddock and cod)—basically leftover fish pieces deep-fried and served with cocktail sauce.  Delicious.

Lobster roll with fries at Rusty Anchor
Lobster roll with fries at Rusty Anchor

The Seagull (Ingonish) – The first place I ever ate on the trail, and I still yearn for it.  Their fish and chips haunt my dreams, and their poutine was second-to-none.  It’s just a building facing the water, with plastic table cloths and folding chairs inside, but don’t let the décor fool you.  Eat here.

Coastal Restaurant (Ingonish) – Another alumni of “You Gotta Eat Here!”, the Coastal speaks more to the gastropub vibe Philadelphians will know and love.  They’re known for their burger, but with Canadian rules requiring ground beef be cooked well, I can never bring myself to order a burger in Canada.  Instead, go for the fish and chips, or their massive bucket of mussels.  The onion rings with their special sauce—another thing their known for—are also a must-order.

coast

There are plenty of places to eat on Cape Breton Island, and these are just a few of our favorites.  If you’re going to visit, the weather will be more enjoyable during the summer, but the scenery at the end of September/beginning of October when the leaves begin to change is incredible.  This also coincides with the Island’s Celtic Colours Festival, a week-long celebration of their Celtic heritage.  Or you can go in the summer and get on a team for the Cabot Trail relay, which runs the entirety of the trail in 24 hours.

It may be out of the way.  It may be hard to get to.  But Cape Breton is well worth the visit.  Even if you spend your time on strenuous hikes along the Cabot Trail or running around it, it will be one of the most relaxing vacations you’ll have.  And one of the most delicious.