In search of the best Prince Edward Island restaurants, Halifax-based contributors *John and Sandra Nowlan discover two gems.
It’s called Canada’s Food Island. And with an abundance of excellent Prince Edward Island restaurants to choose from, many critics consider these two outstanding culinary experiences among the best in Canada: The Fireworks Feast and The Table Culinary Studio.
Each dinner lasts three hours, includes seven creative courses, and features the very best that this small, agriculturally-focused province can offer from land and sea. We were fortunate to be able to sample both dining destinations on two successive, delicious evenings.
The Fireworks Feast: An amazing culinary experience at The Inn at Bay Fortune
The Fireworks Feast at The Inn at Bay Fortune is the creation of Food Network celebrity chef, TV host and multi-cookbook author Michael Smith. He and his wife Chastity run the five-star inn and the even more upscale The Inn at Fortune Bridge (Guests at Fortune Bridge get transported to the nearby Feast in a vintage 1957 Bentley).
Every night, guests at the Inns have priority seating at long, communal tables that seat 86 patrons, with food that Chef Michael told us he wanted to be “real”. That reality comes from the adjacent ten-acre farm, 50 raised herb beds and an abundance of fresh seafood, much of it coming from the Bay in full view of the lush resort.
The Feast, priced at 195 Canadian dollars (approximately 150 U.S. dollars), starts at 6 pm daily. But we joined other patrons at 4 pm for an entertaining one-hour guided tour of the grounds, herb gardens, greenhouses and vegetable beds led by head farmer Kevin Petrie.
At 5 pm, the Fire Garden sizzles as guests meander among the Fire Alter, Smokehouse and charcoal grill for fresh fire-roasted oysters, smoked salmon, Yakitori chicken livers and tacos. The heat and flavour that these sustainable hardwoods impart far surpass gas or electricity.
During this pre-Feast hour, Chef Michael is in his element as he parks himself at the all-you-can-eat Bay Fortune Oyster Bar shucking fresh ice-cold oysters and chatting with guests.
Smiling guests (especially those who love oysters) file into the Inn’s main dining room, where the Fire Brigade prepares the Feast in front of a roaring hearth. The menu is generally the same each evening but can vary, of course, depending on availability.
The feast starts with wood oven-baked sourdough bread made from heritage grains grown on Prince Edward Island (PEI). It’s accompanied by maple brown butter, smokehouse paté and house-made fresh cheese. The bread is an outstanding accompaniment for the east coast chowder. Thick and delicious, it includes mussels, bar clams, scallops, salt cod, lobster and bacon.
The salad course, Chef Michael’s “Harvest Bowl,” looked wonderful and tasted even better. It included fresh herbs, shoots, stems, leaves, edible flowers and vegetables. Eating such a salad made us feel even healthier.
We were in awe of the great organizational skills as we watched the large efficient staff assemble and prepare so much great food. This was especially evident for the complex main courses – a choice of lobster stuffed with savory, lovage and crab; smoked Island beef brisket with wood-grilled flatiron beef; or chia lentil vegan cake with Japanese knotweed relish. Side dishes of potatoes, kale, radish, parsnip, turnip, milkweed and beets were so fresh and tasty, they would convert any vegetable skeptic.
Rhubarb was the star of the desserts with a sorrel and rhubarb cake with lavender ice cream.
Chef Michael wasn’t quite done with us as all guests were given long sticks and homemade marshmallows and invited to roast them at an outdoor fire pit prepared by staff. A creative end to an amazing culinary experience.
The Table Culinary Studio: A one-of-a-kind PEI meal
Michael Smith, clearly the “star” chef on Prince Edward Island, now has competition from a relative rookie that Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, called “one of the country’s next star chefs”.
A native of Ontario, Hunter Guindon is just 25 and fell in love with PEI and its potential for great cuisine while attending culinary school on the island. He actually began his career working for Michael Smith at the Inn at Bay Fortune but now serves as Executive Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in rural New London, PEI.
The Table, located in a decommissioned church, also features an exquisite and creative seven-course menu (priced at 125 Canadian dollars per person plus $40 for a flight of five excellent Canadian wines). The menu differs from that of Chef Smith in several ways.
Chef Hunter told us his goal is never to cook the same dish twice. “Every week, I change the menu from top to bottom.” He added that he plans his menus backwards. “Instead of deciding on a menu and seeking ingredients, we scour this part of the island for the best we can find, lay them out and write the menu.”
He and The Table owner, Derrick Hoar, take great pride in using only Canadian ingredients, with most coming from within 15 minutes of the seventy-year-old former church. The only exception is black pepper. “Instead of lemon and limes, we add flavour with rhubarb juice,” they told us.
Unlike the large crowd at the Fireworks Feast, a table at The Table seats just 27 guests. Before each course, Chef Hunter tells his guests about the dish and how it was created. And what outstanding dishes they are!
Our menu started with Kentucky fried oysters with seaweed ranch sauce, followed by a salad of thinly sliced cucumber with herb dressing and smoked yoghurt.
The next dish had the most creative presentation we’ve seen in some time: The chef called it Scallop Raviolo, his version of a bacon-wrapped scallop. Pasta surrounds a large, perfectly cooked scallop and ground smoked pork, drizzled with lobster roe cream.
More unusual treats followed with popcorn polenta (popcorn cooked in cream, then put in a blender and strained) and garnished with peas, spring onion, herbs and asparagus.
The main course was a very tender eight-hour braised Island beef shoulder with ox tail jus and fresh vegetables. The exotic (and very tasty) dessert was a black garlic and beet cake with buckwheat honey icing. Reader’s Digest called The Table the most unique restaurant on PEI.
Raising the bar on Prince Edward Island restaurants
We lived on the island in the 1980s when Prince Edward Island restaurants were good, but not spectacular. With outstanding chefs like Michael Smith and Hunter Guindon leading the way, Canada’s smallest province can now rightly takes its place as a culinary hot spot.
*Sandra and John Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan (except for lead photo, Adobe Stock)
IF YOU GO
- Official Prince Edward Island Tourism website
- The Fireworks Feast at The Inn at Bay Fortune is about a 1-1/2 hour drive from The Table Culinary Studio
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