I just attended a conference in Halifax. I only had a few days so I wanted to make sure I hit the laundry list of things I wanted to do in the Maritimes in the middle of February:
- Drink local beer
- Eat a donair
- Visit pizza corner
- Have a lobster roll
- Hit at least one restaurant from “You gotta eat here”.
The first interesting thing about Halifax is the fact that the airport is 45 km away from the city. Between these points is an abundance of land which could easily accommodate a hundred airports. One explanation from a cab driver (who had a strong resemblance to Burton Cummings) for keeping the airport well away from the coast is the tendency for sea birds to fly into windshields or engines of incoming planes. Regardless, any cabbie probably won’t complain given it’s a sixty dollar cab ride for a one way trip downtown.
I arrived at the Westin which looked like a cross between an apartment building and an old hospital but was reasonably nice on the inside. After checking in, I grabbed my toque and scarf and headed out to brave what Halifax had to offer. I was looking to watch the second half of a soccer game, so a quick search of urbanspoon identified Maxwell’s Plum as a pub with a large number of local beer and football on the tube. On the way, I looked like Q-Bert as I tried to navigate around the poorly maintained sidewalks in between snowbanks that were higher than my waist while a mix of ice and snow pelted my face. After walking about a kilometer, I trekked up the last hill which had to be at least a 60 degree angle and arrived at my destination. I sat at a small table near the bar with a good view of the game and an equally good view of the clientele which looked like the same as what you would see at a Tim Horton’s in Ontario. The crowd was young and old but all glowed with that down home aura. Discussions included hockey, knitting and the weather. The Thursday frosty glass special was Hell Bay English Ale from Liverpool, NS, so I ordered it thinking it was a fitting start given I was watching a team with the same name on the tele. The glass was certainly frosty and contained a beer with a nice balance of bitter and carmel flavours.
I went with the burger special for $6.99 and added an egg for $2 which I later realized was kind of ridiculous. The platter arrived, which brings me to my second interesting observation about Halifax; the restaurants seem to like using dishes with their names chiseled or painted on them. The burger and fry platter (on the aforementioned plate which looked that something from Maximilian II and not Maxwell’s Plum) was decent, falling somewhere in the middle of the best and worst I have ever had.
I also ordered a sampler of Spruce beer, an organic brewery from Cape Breton which included Bitter Get’er India Black IPA, Kitchen Party Pale Ale, Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout and Ready Yer Knot Regatta Red Ale. In addition to the ingenious names, they carried some ingenious flavour. In particular, I enjoyed the Bitter Get’er and the Kitchen Party for their complex and crisp, fresh flavours respectively (far and middle right).
Afterwards, I donned the water garb again and headed down the road a block to the famous pizza corner. I mean, there’s a big difference between this late night party zone at 3 am on a Saturday night in July versus a frigid afternoon in February but I needed to see what the hype was about. Not surprisingly, the intersection was barren of all activity except for blowing snow. There was a big red DO AIR sign (the N was burnt out) on the storefront across from my next destination, the Sicilian. Known for it’s big slice, which surely appeals to the post-bar Halifax drunkards, they also offer a donair. A donair is a Canadain twist on a Doner, a turkish dish made of a combination of meat cooked by rotisserie. The Canadian version is slathered with a sweet sauce and served in a warm pita. Being a bit of a traditionalist, I would have liked to go to the site of the first Canadian donair, but the King of Donair left the pizza corner a few years back and my already frozen face wouldn’t have been able to handle the walk to their new location. I carried them back to the hotel and on the way noticed a couple of things. First, like other local food destinations whose their foundations lay in mom and pop establishments,the pizza corner is starting to be infiltrated by the tentacles of half-ass cookie cutter chain restaurants. I mean, there are still the small, locally owned joints like a Filipino restaurant with a sign on the door saying we are getting out of dodge until the end of February, but the familiar logos of Smoke’s poutinerie and Subway are creeping closer. Second, I appreciated getting the heads up about the possibility of falling ice outside a burrito restaurant just down the road. I normally tend to pay little attention to my surroundings but was grateful for the warning when I looked up and saw this:
After another tumultuous walk, this time back to my hotel, I tore into my pizza corner treasures. The Sicilian’s version of the Halifax doniar ( I got mine minus tomato but with onion) was delicious and as sinful as Lucky Luciano himself. There was enough sweet in the sauce and spice in the meat to please all “corners” of my mouth. The BBQ chicken pizza wasn’t bad either. Mission accomplished for day one.
Although hardly under ideal circumstances, I began my quick trip to Halifax by knocking three of the five musts off my list. I weathered an east coast storm, drank some delicious local brews, hit pizza corner, avoided an icicle avalanche and dripped a sloppy donair all over my hotel desk. I love the east coast philosophy of screwing roll up the rim after 5 pm and communicating over a beer instead of coffee whether you are a wannabe hipster named Evan, a hockey fan named Peter or a gramma named Mabel. I also love their ability to recognize that you are a tourist and then kindly tell you to “come back when the weather’s better now”. Before I went to bed I took one last look over the pier from my hotel window and thought “ya…I bitter get’er done”.