Day 2 and 3 in Halifax: Stealing Bikes, Nauseous Bus Rides and Bonehead Lumbersexuals

I woke up the next morning with two items left on my list:  to have a lobster roll and hit a “You gotta eat here”.   The weather had changed from an east coast storm to a cold, still day.  Some of my colleagues who got in earlier in the week had gone to dinner at the Bicycle Thief (which promises offers North American food with an Italian soul) and raved about the experience.  I checked out the website and was pleased to see a lobster roll featured prominently on their high gear menu. I also recalled a friend of mine fondly reminding me that the best calamari she ever had was on a Halifax pier and since this restaurant overlooked the water and featured flash fried squid as an appetizer, all was good.  I’m not sure of the origin of the name of the restaurant but I suspect it may be a reference to a 1949 Italian movie of the same name which scores a impressive 98% on rotten tomatoes.  Or maybe people just like stealing bikes along the pier.

I skipped out at lunch and took the 5 minute walk to Bishop’s landing and was seated near the window overlooking the harbour.  I gave the menu a quick glance already knowing what I was going to order.  Shortly after, a slightly awkward waiter arrived and took my order.  The two-minute flash fried calamari ($9) arrived a lot longer than two minutes later.  It’s appearance was a bit anemic and it’s taste was the same. Even with the aioli, it lacked punch and the promised garlic was a little underwhelming.  The squid itself was surprisingly chewy given the short fry time but this was likely due to the thinness of the cut.

Calamari $9
Calamari $9

The lobster roll ($19) was delivered shortly after on a plate which had the name the of the restaurant proudly displayed on the rim (which as I mentioned in a previous blog seemed to be a Halifax thing).  The roll itself had that  pleasant and nasty wonder bread taste which was generously stuffed with the sweet, sour and crunchy lobster mix.  The fries and salad were sleepy sides which did very little to enhance the plate as a whole.

Lobster Roll $19
Lobster Roll $19

Later that night I attended a group dinner that was part of the conference.  On the map, the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club seemed like a short jaunt but the need to navigate the Halifax peninsula turned it into somewhat of an adventure.  The driver got lost and it took nearly 30 minutes to get there.  The God awful temperature in the bus when combined with the winding roads lead a bunch of nurses I was on the bus with  refer to the vehicle as the “menopause bus”.  As a result of the travel induced hot flashes, most of us were ready to vomit by the time the doors opened and I had a new appreciation for the trails of tribulations of a 50 plus year old woman.

Those with no familiarity with the Maritimes would picture the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club as a posh hamlet with a snooty clientele donning ascots and smoking jackets.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, it was more like a rustic clubhouse that smelled a little like gramma’s house. This was one of those dinners where you pick your entree in advance and  have the choice between  fish, beef or chicken.  Although haddock is a bit of a poor man’s fish which is often used a as cheaper alternative to cod or halibut in fish and chips, I was told to always order fish on the coast since cows and chickens tend to avoid the ocean.  The fish arrived hugging 3 or 4 ounces of fresh lobster including a claw.  I can’t imagine anywhere else on the planet where this would simply be called “haddock”.  In the eyes of a Maritimer, lobster is simply “the other white meat”.

After a double hit of lobster and a good night’s sleep, my only objective on day three was to hit a “You Gotta Eat Here”. A quick look at the map indicated that Bonehead’s BBQ was only a few blocks away.  I walked over, knowing  I was getting close when I could smell the air filled with the sultry scent of smoked swine.  It was a small place with a few tables and a takeout counter which overlooks a small kitchen.  The staff appeared to be lumbersexuals; a term to describe those with a  rural, rugged look yet (usually sporting a beard) but at the same time adhere to a urban lifestyle. I ordered the white trash fries ($6.99) which were fresh cut fries topped with thick sausage gravy. Lumbersexual number two threw down a pan and made the gravy to order which I found most impressive.  They were nasty and I mean that in the sense of feeling like you’re doing something wrong but it seems so right.  I would have preferred a crumbled sausage instead of the kielbasa style pieces used in the gravy but it had all the elements of a good, greasy and naughty experience.

I also ordered a brisket sandwich ($6.99) and a side of mac and cheese ($3.50).  The brisket itself was not mind blowing but still had was reminiscent of  some of the good, southern smokehouses.  Mac and cheese is like a banana; it has the ideal consumption window of a few minutes. As much as I like a good pot of Kraft Dinner, I fail to be impressed when it falls below a tongue burning temperature. Like the white trash fries, the mac and cheese was made to order so it arrived and stayed hot, keeping its flavour which I would probably put in the top third of mac and cheese that I’ve had.

For dessert I grabbed a banana pudding ($4.25) that was nicely packaged in a plastic take out container and complimented with nilla wafers. Honestly, it tasted like something made from a hand mixer and an endorsement from Bill Cosby (before he went from Cliff Huxtable to America’s not so friendly sweater wearing dad and possible dirty old man).

Mac and Cheese ($3.50), Brisket Sandwich $6.99), Banana Pudding ($4.25) and White Trah Fries ($6.25)
Bonehead’s Mac and Cheese ($3.50), Brisket Sandwich $6.99), Banana Pudding ($4.25) and White Trash Fries ($6.99)

 My Take

I was successful in my attempt to complete my bucket list during my short visit to Halifax.  Day two involved a lobster roll with awkward service at a place named after a 16 year old bully and a sickening bus ride to gramma’s house to eat unadvertised lobster hidden under a slab of haddock.  Day three involved eating southern food in the east prepared made to order by friendly lumbersexuals who know less about wood than Bill Cosby.

Halifax is a quintessential Canadian city with amazing people, a small town mentality, branded plates and an attitude which shines despite bombardment by east coast weather, economic woes and bad curling teams.  Although it’s food will not likely top the national ranks, it has great local pints, pays respect to the almighty lobster, owns the Canadian donair and makes eating pizza on a street corner a drunkard’s after hours tradition . Does it git any better?

The Bicycle Thief on Urbanspoon

Boneheads BBQ on Urbanspoon

 

 

Day 1 in Halifax: Hitting 60% of my Maritime Wish List at the Famous Pizza Corner in February

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.

$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg
$6.99 Burger Platter with a $2 egg

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).

Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95
Spruce Brewery Sampler $12.95

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:

Beware of Falling Ice
Beware of Falling Ice

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.

Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair
Sicilian Pizza and a Halifax Donair

My Take

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”.

Maxwell's Plum on Urbanspoon

Sicilian Pizza Donairs & Subs on Urbanspoon