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FOOD & WINE

Prince Edward Island: A Small Canadian Province with Big Cuisine

October 2, 2018
best Lobster Roll. From The Lobster Barn in Victoria by the Sea.

Even visiting chefs now call Prince Edward Island (PEI) “Canada’s Food Island”. That is the term that was also used by Montreal celebrity chef and “Chopped Canada” judge Antonio Park at one of PEI’s exciting events at the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival.

About Fall Flavours

Now in its 11th year, Fall Flavours has evolved into one of the world’s premier, month-long culinary festivals. Surrounded by the sea, PEI and its cuisine naturally emphasize seafood – lobsters, scallops, oysters, mussels, crabs and halibut. But PEI potatoes are among the best on the planet and, in recent years, Island beef and pork have developed an enviable reputation. With a population of just over 150,000, Prince Edward Island punches well above its weight for tourist attractions (think Anne of Green Gables) and now for world-class cuisine.

We were among those seafood enthusiasts who spent several adventure-filled days in central and eastern PEI sampling and savouring.

Getting to Canada’s Food Island

Getting to the island is also an adventure. Many arrive and leave by the eight-mile-long toll bridge from New Brunswick (you only pay when leaving). We chose a more leisurely route by taking the car ferry from Nova Scotia and leaving by the bridge.

Arriving by ferry towards the eastern end of PEI is a visual delight. The red soil, rolling hills, luscious green fields and well-kept homes are a gentle reminder that this is a different place with a more tranquil way of life. The sandstone cliffs and well-preserved lighthouses just add to the relaxing atmosphere.

Let the seafood feast begin!

It was close to the nearby Point Prim Lighthouse that our seafood feast began. The Point Prim Chowder House is an old-fashioned eatery with signs made from license plate letters. The seaside restaurant offers both hot and cold lobster rolls. Their Steamer Pot–featuring clams, mussels, fresh fish and snow crab legs–is a popular choice. Everything was delicious, an excellent beginning to four days of seafood indulgence.

Food Island - Point Prim License Plate Sign

Point Prim License Plate Sign

Like most visitors, we stayed in Charlottetown, the laid-back capital city with a population less than 45,000. In recent years, it has evolved into a sophisticated culinary scene with many ethnic restaurants, a wonderful twice-a-week farmers’ market and even a great downtown coffee house (Receiver Coffee).

We stayed at the convenient, modern Hotel on Pownal, recently completely renovated. It’s owned by the Murphy clan, a PEI family that’s had a major impact on regional cuisine and accommodation. We particularly enjoyed the evening happy hour with complimentary snacks, wine and excellent Gahan craft beer, made on PEI (the Blueberry Ale was especially tasty).

Our dinner choice that evening was the nearby Sim’s Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar (another Murphy property). We enjoyed a succulent New York striploin (with roasted baby red potatoes and chanterelles) and the freshest, tastiest halibut we’ve ever had. Very impressive.

Food Island - Sim's Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar

Sim’s Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar

The following morning, after a fine complimentary breakfast at the Hotel on Pownal, we felt energetic and headed back to the eastern end of the island and a long walk in Greenwich PEI National Park. A serpentine trail takes visitors over a pond with its extensive floating boardwalk and on to spectacular sand dunes by the beach.

Food Island - The floating boardwalk in Greenwich PEI National Park

The floating boardwalk in Greenwich PEI National Park

For lunch, we chose Rick’s Fish ‘n Chips in the village of St. Peter’s Bay. This compact main street eatery features an unusual curried seafood chowder and exquisite fish, with thin, tempura type batter and hand cut chips, some of best we’ve ever enjoyed.

Food Island - Rick's Fish 'n Chips in St. Peter's Bay

Rick’s Fish ‘n Chips in St. Peter’s Bay

We were very full but wanted to check out a new, ethnic restaurant in Souris, the town with daily ferry service to Quebec’s Magdalen Islands. Poké Shack has Hawaiian/Japanese cuisine, mainly seafood (local raw tuna is a feature) or chicken, served in a bowl with rice and greens.

Food Island - Owner of Poke Shack displays one of her Hawaiian/Japanese lunches

Owner of Poke Shack displays one of her Hawaiian/Japanese lunches

Fall Flavours: A Prince Edward Island food event

That evening was the time for celebrity chef Antonio Park to shine. The new Fall Flavours event was called “An Exclusive Evening at Red Shores”. Red Shores is Charlottetown’s harness racing track overlooking the harbour, which has a fine, three-tiered “Top of the Park” restaurant where Chef Park and Red Shores’ Executive Chef Andrew Smith produced a five-course, gourmet feast with wine pairings.

Food Island - Preparing appetizers for the Evening at Red Shores

Preparing appetizers for the Evening at Red Shores

Chef Park likes to use abundant but little-known PEI kelp in his dishes and it did add a wonderful flavour component to the mushroom soup, the spicy braised pork belly in a steamed bun, the tuna carpaccio and the steamed fresh halibut. For dessert, the chefs offered an excellent Grand Marnier cheesecake with sorbet.

Another day of culinary adventures

The next day we continued our culinary tour with a stop at Glasgow Glen Farm, a major producer of Gouda cheese. They have several tasty varieties for sampling and we had a chance to view their cool aging room filled with rounds of cheese.

Food Island - Aging Gouda at Glasgow Glen Farms

Aging Gouda at Glasgow Glen Farms

For lunch, we headed towards the Blue Mussel Café, right on the harbourfront in North Rustico. No deep fried seafood here, just excellent mussels steamed in Gahan Blueberry Ale, a tasty lobster bubbly bake and lobster rolls crammed with meat.

Food Island - Dining at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico

Dining at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico

On the way back to Charlottetown we stopped for an overview of French River, one of the most picturesque fishing villages on the island.

Food Island - French River Panorama

French River Panorama

Feast and Frolic: The Big Kahuna

In the capital city that evening, the highlight of our PEI culinary visit was the annual Feast and Frolic, a major event of Fall Flavours and the International Shellfish Festival. Hosted this year by “Restaurant Makeover” and “Chopped” celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, it attracts several hundred Islanders and visitors for a lively evening of entertainment (bagpipes, fiddles and highland dancing) and limitless amounts of fresh seafood.

PEI Lobsters at Feast and Frolic

PEI Lobsters at Feast and Frolic

Most dramatic is the World’s Largest Oyster Bar, where twenty Island producers form a circle to shuck and display thousands of the succulent mollusks. One guest boasted that he devoured eighty of them! There were also three competing seafood chowder chefs, each offering thick, savory chowder bursting with lobster, whitefish and scallops.

Food Island - World's Largest Oyster Bar with 20 PEI Producers

World’s Largest Oyster Bar with 20 PEI Producers

Happy Oyster Shuckers

Happy Oyster Shuckers

The sit-down portion of the dinner was almost anticlimactic as the efficient wait staff gave everyone a bowl of mussels, a plate with a slice of tender Island beef and a whole, cracked lobster with clarified Island butter. A truly amazing banquet!

It was hard to leave Prince Edward Island the next day but before we headed towards the billion dollar bridge to New Brunswick, we stopped at the famous Cows Creamery factory just to the west of Charlottetown. Cows was rated as the best ice cream in North America by Tauck Tours and, with its rich formula, it’s easy to see why. We enjoyed a cone and had a self-guided tour of the factory where, on this day, mango sherbet was being made.

We couldn’t depart PEI without a final lobster roll and we found the best ones yet at the Lobster Barn Pub & Eatery on the wharf in the artist’s haven of Victoria by the Sea. Full claw and tail chunks atop a homemade sweet mayonnaise on a fresh roll. The Lobster Barn also served an extraordinary scallop roll with bacon. Filled with scallops for just $16. A great value and a perfect ending to our short but very satisfying visit to Canada’s Food Island.

Amazing Scallop Roll at the Lobster Barn

Amazing Scallop Roll at the Lobster Barn


IF YOU GO


John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax. Nova Scotia.

All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan.


Disclosure: The Nowlan’s visit was hosted by PEI Tourism but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.


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  • Reply
    Irene Rawlings
    October 4, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    So beautifully written and photographed. On my list for next fall (alas, this fall is getting too full).

  • Reply
    John and Sandra Nowlan
    October 4, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you very much. Fall Flavours will be in full swing again next year. Delighted you’ll be attending.

  • Reply
    Peter Lech
    October 5, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    No mention was made about the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown which is definitely worth a visit.

    The entire Island is such a bucolic and scenic place, we really enjoyed our time there.

    • Reply
      John and Sandra Nowlan
      October 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

      You’re right. The Culinary Institute is an excellent addition to PEI. But that’s a different story.

  • Reply
    Debbra Dunning Brouillette
    October 6, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Oh, my! This was certainly a mouth-watering post! My husband and I enjoyed a stop on PEI as part of a Holland America Canada/New England cruise a few years ago, where we took a lighthouse tour and did an oyster tasting at a restaurant in the downtown area. I would love to go back and sample more of the fresh seafood here!

  • Reply
    John and Sandra Nowlan
    October 7, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Hope you are able to return soon.

  • Reply
    William R. Parks
    October 11, 2018 at 4:27 am

    The area seems to be such a wonderful combination of great sights and good food.

  • Reply
    Leo Kevin
    October 12, 2018 at 5:01 am

    We love seafood and consider ourselves rampant foodies. We have tried some amazing seafood dishes in our time, my personal favourite being cracked conch, a local delicacy in the Cayman Islands, but having read your post I am now keen to visit Prince Edward Island. The steamer pot and curried seafood chowder sounds lovely, and I definitely won’t say no to local craft beer. Looks like this island is on our to-visit list when we fly to Canada next year.

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