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CHEF ILONA DANIEL: Atlantic Canada offers an abundance of creative meals in the summer

Chef Ilona Daniel will be tasting some of the Atlantic provinces' best food this summer. - Heather Ogg/Special to SaltWire Network
Chef Ilona Daniel will be tasting some of the Atlantic provinces' best food this summer. - Heather Ogg/Special to SaltWire Network - Contributed

Follow along in the coming weeks as chef Ilona takes a summer round trip to restaurants in P.E.I., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador

Our winters in Atlantic Canada are infamously snowy, blustery and frigid.

This however, is something all of us accept as part of the deal because, our summers are unparalleled. With the sunshine comes a refreshed sense of adventure and a rumbling belly. During the winter there are many local haunts which shutter their doors for the snowy season and so we wait, longingly, patiently. We wait until once again we can travel a good distance with the windows down, music turned up with a carload of your favourite people to experience all of the seasonal eateries.

I reached out to some fellow chefs and food writers who I would gladly go on a foodie road trip across Atlantic Canada to ask them to share their top pick for summer eats.

Chef Jesse Vergen, a beloved chef and Top Chef Canada alumni from New Brunswick, has been creating approachable, big on local flavours as executive chef at the St. John Ale House for years. For Chef Jesse and his family, Ossie’s Lunch is their go to.

“Ossie’s is found along the scenic drive from Saint John to St. Andrews and is a traditional pit stop for my family to get our clam fix.”

Established in 1957, Ossie’s has been serving up crave-worthy dishes for 62 years strong. Owner/operator, Victoria (Shawn) Saulnier has an all-female staff who “enjoy seeing the same loyal customers year after year.  They are just as excited to see us after a long winter off as we are to see them!  We love to see the look of excitement on the face of a new customer when they get their order and start picking the clams off the plate before they take it away to enjoy at our picnic tables or back to their vehicle.”

Ossie’s is in the heart of clam country and have quite the cult following including Chef Vergen.

“The best fried clams right in the heart of clam digging country. It’s all about big ol’ platters of crispy goodness, thick milk shakes, lobster rolls and outdoor dining!”

Similarly, if you are a foodie in Nova Scotia, you have very likely been to an event where the Kilted Chef, Alain Bosse, is the consummate host. Chef Alain is a vibrant personality in the Canadian food culture who shares his adventures with his Saltscapes Magazine readers as well as in his cookbooks. When it comes to a favourite joint to grab a bite, the Kilted Chef swears by Sharon’s Place in Pictou.

Sharon’s is a family run eatery that is unassuming but serving up East Coast hospitality in large portions. Chef Alain says the carrot cake here is a must after you wolf down one of their popular Big Boah burgers. Sharon Stewart, owner/operator of the eponymous restaurant, describes it as, “a place locals love to gather for coffee every morning to share the news and have a visit. We have our faithful regulars every day. Sharon's Place has a very down-home feel to it. Our motto is enter as strangers leave as friends.”

Sharon’s Place in Pictou, N.S., is one of the hot spots for a summer meal, according to the Kilted Chef, Alain Bosse. - Contributed
Sharon’s Place in Pictou, N.S., is one of the hot spots for a summer meal, according to the Kilted Chef, Alain Bosse. - Contributed

As we continue our road trip, it’s easy to see a pattern developing. While a fancy meal with all of the frills are fantastic, summertime eating needs to be accessible, shareable and straightforward.

When in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are so many singular food experiences to be discovered; it can be hard to narrow it down to a few. Dawn Coombs, a Newfoundland recipe developer, food lover and creative mind behind Girl Heart Food, recommends going for a picnic when visiting the Rock.

This picnic experience is a departure from any picnic in the park you’ve ever experienced. About an hour away from St. John’s, Lighthouse Picnics in Ferryland serves up packed lunches complete with blankets so you can pick your iconic view while you nibble the homemade oatmeal molasses bread, salads (orzo is the local favourite) and desserts like their three berry tart (bakeapple, blueberry and partridgeberry) which contains berries picked by the ladies who do the cooking in the kitchen.

In operation for 17 years, Lighthouse Picnics owner Jill Curran has one hope for her guests.

“I hope that people will be able to have a really relaxing afternoon at the Lighthouse. We all lead such busy lives, so to see people come out, lie back on a picnic blanket, take in the view, enjoy one of our picnics and truly unwind, it’s a great feeling. I’ve seen more than one person take a nap after their lunch!”

In operation for 17 years, Lighthouse Picnics has quite a following with locals and visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador. The owner is Jill Curran and the business is about an hour away from St. John’s. - Contributed
In operation for 17 years, Lighthouse Picnics has quite a following with locals and visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador. The owner is Jill Curran and the business is about an hour away from St. John’s. - Contributed

Food blogger Dawn Coombs has valuable wisdom to share when you are looking to plan your picnic: “We reserve the date and time when we want to visit (July or August is typically the best months, weather-wise), and pre-order our picnic. They have yummy sandwiches on homemade bread, salads, treats and the best homemade lemonade (the ham and brie sandwich and orzo salad are always a favourite). My husband and I love to order different things so we can share. The picnic is picked up at the lighthouse on the premises, complete with a basket and blanket so you can find a cozy place outside and enjoy your meal while taking in the breathtaking scenery. You can literally spend hours there and not even realize it. For locals and tourists alike, it’s a wonderful place to visit. Just don’t forget your camera!”

In Prince Edward Island, for locals, one of the markers that the Island is back in the swing of summer fun is the re-opening of Richard’s Fresh Seafood in Covehead Wharf.

I was there at the season opener and I saw so many familiar faces who were equally excited to get a taste of their piled high lobster rolls, crispy fish and chips and obsession-worthy tartar sauce.

My tartar sauce addiction is well-known to owner Ryan Doucet and team; at this point I don’t even need to mention my request for the additional portion of sauce. There is almost always a lineup leading up to the ordering window, but trust me, it’s well worth the wait.

In Prince Edward Island, at Covehead Wharf, Richard’s Fresh Seafood is a popular spot in the summer. Ilona Daniels enjoys the tasty food presented to her by owner Ryan Doucet. - Sally Cole/SaltWire Network
In Prince Edward Island, at Covehead Wharf, Richard’s Fresh Seafood is a popular spot in the summer. Ilona Daniels enjoys the tasty food presented to her by owner Ryan Doucet. - Sally Cole/SaltWire Network

Having been in operation since the 1970s, owner Ryan Doucet shares his reasoning on the longevity of this simple seaside eatery, “I think it has a lot to do with location. Being on a working wharf, next to the boats and the beach. It's has become as much a destination for many visitors and a meeting place for the locals.”

It seems no matter where you find yourself adventuring across Atlantic Canada there are so many treasured food spots that we keep coming back to summer after summer. The season is short and making hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes, are wise words we can all resonate with. Road tripping, feeling the warmth against our skin and enjoying meals outdoors is a way we can all nourish our mind, body and spirit.

Get out there!

Chef Ilona Daniel's food column appears monthly across SaltWire Network. She welcomes comments from readers by email at chef.ilona.daniel@gmail.com or on twitter: Twitter.com/chef_ilona.


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