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Sep 4, 2010 01:15 PM

Newfoundland Food Part I

I was somewhat apprehensive as a self-confessed foodie to leave Ontario, especially Toronto, where good food and wine abound (no snickers please), and approach the Atlantic provinces where even is amazingly reticent on restaurant suggestions.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find good food wherever we've been, drinkable wine and some great new discoveries. Clearly things are changing.

In St John's we had:
- great halibut two different ways at Magnum & Stein, a house South African sauvignon blanc that completely met the match, and a decadent dessert with chocolate and peanut butter
- lovely pilaf, scallops and Caesar salad, a salad I had almost given up on, at Portobello with a nice Chablis from Fevres, decent creme brulee and berry towers for dessert; the only real disappointment being the cods' tongues - a little too breaded
- Gypsy Tea Room Kobe beef sliders, sweet potato fries with a nice Spanish crianza preceded by a nice Caesar salad or beet, goat cheese salad and portobello and chanterelle soup. No dessert that time after all that food... but we'll go back - good cellar.
- Auntie Crae's has very nice baked goods - beer bread, a decent baguette, partridge berry cake; and lots of local specialties like bakeapple (aka cloudberry) jam, partridge berry (aka lingon berry) jam, Newfoundland Chocolate Co chocolates, etc. and a little cafe we didn't get into because it was Tuesday and full of music fans listening to local traditional musicians
- Belbin's Grocery really good store with with Auntie Crae products plus local meats and vegetables and lots of imported essentials not locally available in NL. Local finds - pre-sale agneau (pre-salted lamb because it feeds on saltwater vegetation) as well as a range of prepared frozen foods which we didn't sample but were well spoken of.

In Holyrood, a small village about 45 minutes away from St John's we discovered:
- Mary Brown's - an east coast KFC-type restaurant chain with better quality, lighter battered, juicier chicken
- The Pantry bakery and cafe with a decent basic eggs and bacon breakfast during the week with good bread and very good baking. The peanut butter cookies and blueberry squares are very popular at our house and the partridge berry scones were a trip discovery - though not consistently available this close to the next harvest
- a good basic fresh food grocer Dawes with fresh fish, frozen meat, a very passable black pudding and the basic fresh veg every kitchen needs
- Tea Garden We went for lunch Sunday. What a great place. Built as a retirement home for a Norwegian sea captain, it's a lovely gracious building taking in every facet of the most beautiful scenery in Holyrood. The scenery made up for any lack of excitement in the food - it was very good quality simple home cooking with lovely china and table linens. The only things I'd complain of was the small wine list with lots of items unavailable but you couldn't argue with the prices and I suppose it is the end of the main season here. We had Caesar salads and fish cakes or pan fried cod with scunchions*. The fish cakes were made with freshly mashed potatoes and delicately spiced. The cod was very good; the scunchions were, too. The salads were good. The bread pudding was good; I think we could do better but it was 'home' made.

Dildo (yes, it really is called that) another 30 minutes northwest
- Dildo Dory Grill We had a over-dressed Caesar salad but with real bacon and good quality greens and a seafood appetizer platter which was two-thirds locally sourced and prepared (no calamari available locally - they use it for bait.) Not a lot of wine to choose from but Pelee Island Gewurztraminer is not a bad match for seafood. We weren't sure how they would do on the cods' tongues after the Portobello experience so we didn't order them, even though they were, but aren't always, available. We were sorry after we saw how well they did the other items. Next time. Enjoyed the Figgy Duff though I'm sure we can find (or make) better.

Cavendish - a little past Dildo
- Browns restaurant, recommended in Where to Eat in Canada, had great bacon, eggs and partridge berry pancakes. Lunch looked good enough to come back for, so we did and had very nice cod bits and chips (fish and chips style) and partridge berry pie.- pastry not a big hit but those berries! Also a great view of Shag Rock.

*Scrunchions are delicious bits of fried salt pork fat reminiscent of French lardons

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  1. I just have to say that I love the fact that you found some food love in Newfoundland. I am from NL and feel it is a bit under-rated in many aspects.

    Having been home for a visit recently and tried the Dildo Dory Grill... I think you missed out on the cod tongues. Even as a native, I've never really liked them, but tasting them from others plates the evening I visited, I was hooked. They were silken...the only word I can find to describe. We did have calamari there....but it was not the best i'd had. I did love the figgy is a dessert I love anyway.

    4 Replies
    1. re: im_nomad

      Yum. Hope we get to try them before we leave. Thanks!

      1. re: im_nomad

        I had them this year - they were wonderful!

        1. re: A Pointe

          I sometimes really wish more Newfoundlanders bothered with review sites and the internet etc. We really don't.

          There are a LOT of hidden gems in Newfoundland, and in St. John's in particular that get overlooked constantly. There are several places in St. John's that serve excellent food that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere. The only places that seem to get mentioned are places that are new, recent openings. Those types of places are hit and miss anywhere in the world.

          If depends on what you consider good food as well. Since you liked the scrunchions and bread pudding, there are definitely a LOT more places that you haven't been that have great food.

          Now I'll be the first to admit that Newfoundland isn't exactly the picture of fine dining, but people coming in that do these sorts of reviews seem to expect that, I have no idea why. Do I expect to find a load of pan fried cod and scrunchions waiting for me in Montreal? No.

          Newfoundlander's who would be the restaurants main customers, tend to prefer their food to be salty, and somewhat heavy. Most everything is fried(pan or deep) or boiled in Newfoundland. The oven is for bread and pies.

          Roasts/Chickens in a roaster would be the main exception to that, but most Newfoundlanders I know prefer stew anyways. Which is best done in a cast iron pot on the stove top, but often done in a roaster in the oven.

          Most of what I'll call regular folks, come to Newfoundland and leave 10lbs heavier. There is a very good reason for that, and it has nothing to do with the light salads and vinaigrette sauces etc that a lot of reviewers seem to think are necessary for side dishes and appetizers. There are a few restaurants in Newfoundland that attempt to cater to those types of folks, but they're not my cup of tea.

          That said, I have a few St. John's area locales for you.

          By the Beach in St. Phillips/Portugal cove if you haven't been there is absolutely fantastic. I highly recommend the pea soup and toutans personally.

          If you're in the mood for fried fish, Scampers Fish and Chips on O'Leary Avenue near Avalon Software is great for a quick bite. I recommend the deep fried scallops. Sometimes the food isn't so great there but for the most part its leagues ahead of Ches's fish and chips. If the decor is a bit worn.

          We have a running joke back home that Ches's stays in business by advertising and tourists, and no one wanting to admit they got duped so badly. In regards to usual Newfoundland food they over-bread their fish and 90% of the time the cooks seem to have forgotten where the salt shaker is.

          Admittedly it may taste better to an outsider, as we tend to prefer things saltier on the Island, however I've heard some outsiders complain that Ches's is too greasy and extra salt like you get in most other Newfoundland restaurants would actually help to cut the grease a lot.

          Other than that there are some great Chinese food restaurants around town. The China House in the Torbay Rd. strip mall is a bit of a hidden style hole in the wall establishment that generally has really good food. Fresh veggies, fresh meat, and a cook that really knows what he's doing in the kitchen. Its also quite nice once you get inside.

          I also enjoy the Red Pepper's stir fry "create your own" all you can eat style restaurant as well, however this might not be for everyone. Most people I know either love it or hate it.

          Then if you head up into Gros Morne National Park theres Jackie's out in Rocky harbour. Their food is usually fantastic.

          The Deer Lake Hotel has recently acquired a new Manager(my cousin, actually) and let me tell you, this man knows his food. The place is already developing a good reputation.

          Then also in Deer Lake and out in Goobies,and well pretty much wherever you can find one, are the Irving Big Stop Restaurants. They're usually staffed by good local Newfoundland cooks and are always a good stop for a nice hearty good tasting meal. I pretty much stop at every one I pass.

          There is also a red sided Chinese food places who's name I can't remember for the life of me along the highway in Badger, pretty good food. It's a good place to stop if you happen to be driving across the island and come across it around mealtime.

          Hope some of that helps :)

          1. re: Homeward_Bound

            Don't forget about The Canton Restaurant. I LOVE China house. And Canton are on par with and (some dishes exceed) china house.

            The Mongolian Beef is full of flavour and by far my favourite dish at both places.

      2. It has been a very long time but one of the best Mexican Resto's I have ever been to was in a strip mall handy to MUN years and years back. First time I ever had Jicama.

        1. India Gate in St. John's is very good by any standard.