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Citizens Rejoice

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

For the last few years Montague has been a bit of a void when it comes to restaurant dining. In fact, I can’t say for sure there’s a restaurant open year round aside from the Pizza Delight and The Dynasty (a Chinese restaurant for those not familiar). So to say there’s little to offer someone looking for a good, chef-prepared meal in February is almost an exaggeration because there’s really nothing…no cafes, no fine dining, no home cooking, no nothing. Kings County’s biggest town has been a vacuum sucking the taste buds off the tongues of its citizens for far too long. But I discovered a new place. One that delivers a great, home cooked meal, at a great price. Citizens of Montague, rejoice!

Sir Isaac’s Restaurant and Mr. Gabe’s Pub occupies a small two-story building on Main Street just across from the Esso on the south side of the bridge. I think it was called Doc Johnston’s some time ago. I was never in to see what it was like, but Sir Isaac’s is nice. It’s tastefully decorated with seating for about 40 downstairs and another 40 at the pub. I’m told they host live music at the pub on the weekends. The menu is home cooking with sandwiches, burgers, and a host of old favourites including turkey dinner, scallops, liver and onions and spaghetti. Prices range from $6 to $15.

We dropped in just after one o’clock following the grand opening of Montague’s new Wellness Centre. It wasn’t too busy, but having a half-full restaurant on a February Monday is most impressive, and encouraging, in a small town. I’d asked three people how the food was at Sir Isaac’s earlier in the day and all reviews were positive. I was starving, so I was pleased when it took only three minutes before the waitress had our orders; fish and chips for George and fish cakes with bacon and beans for me. That’s right. I said fish cakes with bacon. Need I say more?

I will anyway. They were awesome. I’m not usually a fan of deep fried fish cakes. I tend to prefer pan fried. But these were an exception. They were crispy and golden brown on the outside, delicious and creamy on the inside, and there were two pieces of bacon on top. Best. Garnish. Ever. The chow was good and the beans were fantastic. Probably the best I’ve had in a restaurant. I was full at the end but not uncomfortable. All together, it was the best meal I’ve had in Montague in a decade.

But it gets even better. At the start of the meal the waitress brought warm biscuits and coleslaw. As she turned to leave she asked if we’d like molasses with our biscuits. I must have been confused by that question because at first I said no. Moments later my head stopped spinning on its axis and my mind deduced that she had indeed asked if we wanted molasses with our warm biscuits. I hailed her down and the molasses was delivered. Talk about a curve ball. A sweet, brown, delicious curve ball.

When the waitress brought the bills we got to chatting. Turns out she was also the owner, Ann Dewar. She and her daughter Jennifer went in on Sir Isaac’s together and opened the place in June. Ann says business has been good, if a little slim in the winter months. I hope it’s not too slim, because a good meal has been hard to find in Montague. Sir Isaac’s makes it easy.

I Can’t Believe It

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

I was thinking the other day about all the places I’ve written about over the years. Naturally, that led me to think about all the places I haven’t written about, and the reasons why. After much consideration, I’ve come to certain conclusions about both the restaurants and the reasons. So this month I present my first ever “I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Written About This Place Greatest Hits Spectacular.”

First off, Cedars Eatery. I can’t believe I haven’t written about Cedar’s. There are so many reasons why. For one, what could I tell you that you don’t already know? The place is an institution and I’d be shocked if you haven’t eaten there already and at least really liked it. That kind of defeats the purpose of writing a column. Also, I worked there for a time and I’ve always felt a bit bashful about lavishing praise on the place. But this is a special occasion so let the praise begin. Cedar’s Eatery is awesome and so is Baba’s Lounge. It’s close to my heart as is a rather large chunk of cholesterol that my many meals there over the years have produced. The food is good, if not great. My favourites are kafta, falafel and Grace’s cream of tomato soup which might be the best compliment to a club sandwich in the world. The service is almost always prompt and well, I could go on and on but I should stop. All this gushing is making me nauseous.

Next, I really can’t believe I haven’t written about Churchill Arms. I should have by now. It holds sole dominion over British style curries in Charlottetown, and I love their curries, so why haven’t I written about them? I think it’s because I enjoy a pint there fairly often and the staff really make me feel at home. Maybe a column about the place would contain some detail that someone didn’t like or some little error and suddenly my welcome might be a little frigid. Don’t shit where you eat, or even fart, I say. Just enjoy the food and the company. Really though, if you haven’t tried the chicken korma with rice and chips you should tomorrow. There isn’t a meal like it in town. Oh, and if you want a seat on Wednesdays or Fridays get there early. Wednesdays are 2 for 1 curries and Fridays are, well, Fridays.

Not to be outdone, we have Sheltered Harbour Café in Fortune. This place might be the busiest restaurant on PEI per square foot, and with good reason. For one, there are only two other restaurants within jogging distance and only one of them is open year round. Also, it’s a damn good restaurant with something for everyone on the menu, and I mean everyone. Most restaurants suffer when the menu is too large. But somehow, Sheltered Harbour’s huge menu might be its key to success. After all, when you’re the only show in town you better have variety. I can’t even begin to describe it so you’ll just have to find out for yourself. It’s next to the Ultramar but you can’t smell the gas at all once you’re inside.   

If you have other suggestions for places I haven’t written about send a homing pigeon to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll try to get there soon.

Finding Your Feet

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

Restaurants are a tough racket. More than any other business they dance a fine line between success and failure. Often that line can be as simple as a few bad meals, or a few bouts with bad service. People seem to listen closer when you relay a bad experience and word can travel fast especially around here.

That’s why I have tremendous respect for anyone brave enough to invest the time and effort required to make a new restaurant succeed. With that said, my respect for the owners of Alibi in Charlottetown has reached an all-time high.

Chris and Jen Coupland are two of the finest people you could meet. Both worked for years at Meeko’s on Victoria Row; Chris as chef and Jen as front of house manager. They have two kids. In July of this year they opened Alibi with the hope their years of experience as restaurant employees would give them the tools needed for success as restaurant owners. Their vision was contemporary cuisine in a casual atmosphere, with evening entertainment on the side.

At first, I didn’t know what to think of Alibi. The menu was huge, with at least twenty options for main courses alone. The selection ran the gambit too, with pizzas, pastas, cuts of meat, fish, sandwiches…on and on. That was a problem for the kitchen, what with having to keep so many things fresh, but also for the customer, who was overwhelmed with choice. Alibi also suffered from “new restaurant human resource syndrome” or NRHRS, which dictates that new employees will cost you money until such time as they are properly trained or shown the door. The decor had little to be desired. And lastly, Alibi was trying to be a nightclub too, which can water down the focus on quality cuisine and can drive out potential late night food customers. All of these problems made me skeptical of Alibi’s potential to succeed.

Much has changed, though, over the last three months. Hard work and dedication are starting to pay off for the Couplands. The menu has been trimmed, as has the staff, and it shows. The food is much better than at first. I’ve had three fantastic meals there in a row including a beautiful lobster risotto, an amazing pizza with Taylor’s sausage, pineapple, mushroom and roasted garlic, and a reuben for lunch that was too big to eat, and perfectly greasy.

The variety is still there, granted, there are just fewer choices, which is better for everyone. They’re also carrying a simple late night menu for customers enjoying the entertainment. They’ve been getting good crowds at night, too, which helps offset what are still slow lunch and supper hours. I’m hopeful that last part will change soon though, because the food is great, and the service no longer suffers from NRHRS. They’ve also made an effort to improve the ambiance of the restaurant by making subtle changes to the decor.

Alibi has some growing to do yet. This winter will be challenging and it will likely test the Coupland’s ability to stay the course. But as more and more people try the food, and take in the entertainment, Alibi’s reputation will only improve, because the Coupland’s are finding their feet in the toughest racket in Charlottetown. Give it a try, or another try as the case may be, and you’ll agree.

In a Class of Its Own

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

Chef Gordon Bailey is making quite a name for himself on the Island and across the region. Bailey was the original chef at Dayboat in Oyster Bed Bridge. He was also behind the Urban Eatery at the Confederation Court Mall. His newest, and most involved endeavor is Lot 30 on Kent Street in Charlottetown. It’s earning a reputation as one of the finest restaurants on PEI. And after my meal there, I’d be inclined to agree with that assessment.

Lot 30 has a small menu that changes often. I think that helps the kitchen focus on quality rather than selection. It’s also very useful if all ingredients are fresh and there isn’t a freezer to be found. Now, because this was a special occasion, and because I had the funds in place to make it happen (I’d seen my banker earlier in the day), we decided to spoil ourselves with the five course tasting menu, along with the 2003 Ladoit which was the waiter’s recommendation.

Lot 30’s decor is simple yet tasteful, which helps the customer focus more on the food rather than the surroundings. As we waited for our first course we noticed a TV screen above the bar. There was nothing happening on the screen, just a locked off image of a metal counter. It was a few minutes before we realized the camera attached to the TV was positioned so you could see your next dish getting the final touches before it was delivered to your table. That is very exciting. It’s like an action movie.

Our mouths watered as we watched our first course appear on the screen; pistachio scallops gratin. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the bernaise style sauce was delicious, if a little rich for a first course. Next was one of Chef Bailey’s favorites; grilled mackerel served over eggplant and spinach with oregano butter sauce. I only say it’s one of his favorites because grilled mackerel was one of the first dishes he served me on my first trip to Dayboat and it was the recipe he included in my cookbook. Chef Bailey dropped by the table as we were digging into the mackerel to share a laugh over his recurring theme. It was very good, and the eggplant and spinach combo was an excellent compliment to the dish. All the same, Chef Bailey promised it would not top our next plate, PB and Foie. This dish consisted of foie gras served with a concord grape jelly on a crusty round bread of sorts. I’d never had foie gras before, and I was very, very impressed. It had the same texture as a custard, but it was savoury and delicious, and the jelly added just the right amount of sweetness. The next to last dish was duck served with shiitake mushrooms. It was good, but to be honest, it got a little lost between the foie gras and dessert. Speaking of which, our last course consisted of three selections; a flourless chocolate cake, white chocolate cheesecake, and chocolate mousse. Drool.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the service. It was right on par with the high end price on the menu. We never touched our wine bottle and the glasses never emptied. There was new cutlery for each dish. Each plate was presented and explained very well even though, after much discussion, no one could figure out why Chef Bailey called it PB and Foie. Simply put, the service was top notch, and the Chef should be proud of his front of house.

It was an expensive meal to say the least. It might have been the most expensive meal for two I’ve ever had on the Island but all things told, it was well worth it. It was a great night and a great meal. There are few places on PEI that take dining as seriously, but with such good humour, as Lot 30. It’s in a class of its own on the Island.


The Doctor is In

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

I have this friend. He’s a doctor. Ever since I’ve known this fellow he’s been almost obscenely generous. We joke sometimes that when the Doctor is looking to have a really good time, the gold card comes out, usually to the benefit of everyone within arms length. There’s no pretension in the guy, just a clear dedication to insuring those around him enjoy life as much as he does.

So, the Doctor was in town a couple of weeks ago and he had his sights set on enjoying a good meal and some good company. Always the obliging friend, I volunteered my services as arm candy for the evening. We were to meet at Globe around five o’clock for pints and to discuss the evening's festivities. On my way down Victoria Row I happened upon a friend, who was also in the mood for pints, so she decided to join the Doctor and I. Then in true Victoria Row fashion, another friend stumbled upon the three of us and we became a foursome. None of us had had supper yet so all were invited to join the Doctor and I for a meal. There was some reluctance among the other two, what with money being tight and meals being expensive, but the Doctor was having none of it. All four of us would dine and money would be no object.

We decided on the Claddagh Oyster House for supper. The Doctor is always in the mood for seafood when he’s in town, and the Claddagh does it very well. So after a few pints we sauntered down to the restaurant. After much discussion and several drinks we decided to order three appetizers and three main courses and split them all between us. We chose a half dozen oysters, an order of mussels in pesto cream sauce and a broiled peach salad with walnuts and greens to start. All were delicious. As we dug in we cheered to the Doctor’s good health, or something like that.

For the main course we chose the rack of lamb, the seafood platter with haddock, scallops, salmon and halibut, and one of the finest pasta dishes I’ve ever had, the lobster spaghetti. It consisted of a full lobster in the shell cut into pieces served on top of the pasta with an absolutely delicious cream sauce. It was fantastic. The whole affair was fantastic. We laughed, we drank, we dined, and we cheered to the Doctor’s gold card, or something like that. We were feeling no pain by this point.

Now, according to the Doctor, nothing’s worth doing unless it’s done well. I don't think he’s actually ever said that, but that’s how he lives his life, so when I mentioned a new dessert place had recently opened on Victoria Row, he was intrigued. Why have a pretty good dessert at the Oyster House when we could go around the corner to a place that made only desserts? Within moments the cheque was printed and the Doctor was accepting no offers for help, save one; my offer to cover the tip.

Chocolate Elements makes nothing but desserts, chocolate desserts, and man are they good [they are now offering lunch and dinner—Ed]. We arrived around ten and the place was hopping. I ordered a cream filled chocolate pyramid of sorts and an espresso. The chocolate pyramid thingy was absolutely awesome. I savoured every bite. The waitress confused espresso with cappuccino, then confused espresso with a very strong cup of coffee but no matter, the dessert was all I could really pay attention to. I can’t even remember what everyone else had, nor can I remember when it was the Doctor snuck away to pay the bill. Regardless, there’s a reason the owner has a money back guarantee on his cookies, try one and you’ll see.

The night ended as the four of us were entering wine and food induced comas. We said our goodbyes and in my mind I offered one final cheer to the Doctor and all his wonderous philanthropy. Not everyone is so lucky as to know a good Doctor, I thought to myself.

Brave New World

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

For a good part of this summer you couldn’t get anything but Gahan House draught beer on Victoria Row. And, for the better part of the last decade, you really couldn’t find a dedicated dance club in downtown Charlottetown.

Overcoming both challenges at the same time would require quite a bit of money and a whole lot of imagination. But it’s been done. You can now get a pint of ice cold Heineken, and shake your booty until you drop on Victoria Row thanks to the owners of Charlottetown’s newest, and only, international cuisine dance club, Globe World Flavours.

Very little of Brennan’s remains where Globe now stands, perhaps only parts of the skeleton. The art and trinket covered walls and shelves have been replaced with cosmic purple track lighting on a silver and navy background. The bar has been completely dismantled and replaced with a new set up along the left side of the back wall. A riser with several semi-circle booths and tables has been built on the right hand side, all in the color of Superman’s cape. The kitchen is still in the same location, as are the restrooms, but both have been gutted, and the john no longer smells like pee, sweat and smoke. The biggest and most striking change, however, is the new balcony. It’s fronted by a steel rail and glass, new booths have been built, comfy couches and stools have been added, and a new DJ booth now overlooks the dance floor from the balcony above the bar. It’s all a huge, colourful, change that must have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The owners of Globe World Flavours are Steve Barber and Jacob Hiemstra, the current owners of Hunter’s Ale House. Barber and Hiemstra have made a clear effort to keep their newest bar classy. I heard on CBC the other day that ball caps are not allowed and collared shirts are encouraged. I don’t imagine there's a harshly enforced dress code, but I have seen at least one person asked to remove his cap. The staff is sharply dressed in blacks and the overall feel of the place would likely repel the angry redneck boozehound type.

The menu is as the name of the bar describes, world flavour. There are Moroccan, Indian, Italian, Japanese and many other styles on the menu as well as an ample selection of pub food, called “lounge cuisine.” The prices are reasonable, but can get steep on the high end. The wine list is a bit thin, but there is a good selection served by the glass. I was in for lunch, supper and snacks over the past few weeks and I enjoyed the food. The kitchen needs to be a little more consistent (as is the case with every new restaurant in the history of the world), but they have a very eclectic menu to work with. Try the calamari—it’s awesome.

Night time, though, is where Globe really stands out. My first trip there was on a Thursday night, which is retro 90s night, also known as “the music of my Myron’s youth” night. I arrived around the same time as the Jagermeister Girls, who were decked out in orange bustiers, tight black short shorts and fishnet stockings. A couple of them were handing out Jagermeister shooters, while a couple of others were on the patio getting belt spanked by random smokers. No, really. I can’t imagine they’re going to be there every night, or any other night in the future for that matter, but they did alter the mood of the bar on that Thursday.

I expect Globe World Flavours will do well. They’ve filled yet another gap in Charlottetown’s night club and restaurant scene. Here’s hoping it sets another precedent on Victoria Row and stays open over winter.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

I’ve discovered a new beach. I thought I’d seen them all by now, but not this one. This one’s special. It’s got red cliffs and white sand dunes, hoodoos and small caves. I’d heard about it for years and I was always told it might be the most beautiful beach on Prince Edward Island. I highly recommend a trip to Thunder Cove beach this summer. But you’ll have to find it on your own, just as I did.

Just a few hills from Thunder Cove is an establishment that offers one of the finest dining experiences on Prince Edward Island. I’d heard about this place too, for many years, but I’d never found an opportunity to visit. It’s renowned for its desserts but after my trip there I’ll remember it for much more.

This week I finally made it to Shipwright’s Cafe. Shipwright’s Cafe is in an older house, on a beautiful property, atop a high hill just outside Kensington. The grounds are covered by gardens, potted plants and free range chickens (behind a fence of course, for those of you with a fowl-phobia). The decor inside feels like a mix of country living charm with a heavy coating of Island art. It’s a very pretty space made even more tempting to the senses by the open kitchen concept. The dining area is divided into rooms, one of which is next to the open kitchen, but the aromas fill all other spaces in the building. There were fresh pies cooling the evening of my visit.

The menu is a touch on the pricey side, but I learned over the course of my meal that the expense is worth it. The appetizers are quite contemporary with salads, chowders, mussels, bruschetta, oysters and fish cakes. The main selections are quite diverse, and run the gambit from Island beef tenderloin, to paella, to upside-down coquilles St. Jacques.

We started with the Thai curry mussels. They were the most tastefully presented mussels I’ve ever had in a restaurant. They came served in a small Paderno stock pot, covered in leafy fresh herbs and vegetables. It was a beautiful looking dish that did not disappoint the pallette. The curry was not too spicy but it was enough to induce a refreshing sweat. They were so good that they caused me to lose track of time, and by the time the main course arrived an hour and fifteen minutes had passed, not because of slow service, but because we were savouring each and every mussel.

My main was the Tournedos of Beef “Shipwright’s.” The dish included two cuts of peppercorn crusted Island beef tenderloin, served in a Rossingnol red wine demi glaze, with potato and veg. I have three letters to describe this dish…Y-U-M. It was fantastic and it left me stuffed silly. I also tried a taste of Chef Calvin Burt’s famous seafood chowder, and a special daily salad served with marinated portobello mushrooms. Both were top-notch. The only bad part of the whole meal was the fact that so much time had passed we had to leave before dessert. The smell of those pies continues to lure me back.

I highly recommend you take a trip to Shipwright’s Cafe this summer. I’m going to have to go back this summer if for no other reason than to try the pie. But like a lot of good things, I also recommend you find it on your own, just as I did with Thunder Cove beach. Sometimes the best things in life come to those willing to look for them. If you find Shipwright’s Cafe, you will no doubt agree.

Chefs Back Home

I’m Dining Out Here
by Andrew Sprague

John Pritchard at Dayboat.

Prince Edward Island is the best place in the world to come home to, and thousands do it every summer.

For two Island chefs, this summer marks a return to the flavours upon which they honed their craft. For one, the Island will provide a place to raise a family, and to re-explore the flavours he’s raved about for the last decade in other places. For the other the Island has already provided a place to heal, and it will soon make for a fine retirement.

In 1996 John Pritchard was head chef at The Island Rock Café in Charlottetown, but he was looking for something more. He wanted to work with chefs from other backgrounds, with different cooking styles.

“I decided to leave the Island and I headed to Bermuda,” says Pritchard, the new Executive Chef at Dayboat. “I worked at a number of restaurants, over a number of years, in a variety of styles, and it really gave me a taste of what I was looking for, which at the time was new experiences and new flavours.”

Through good luck and good timing Pritchard received what many chefs would consider a once in a lifetime opportunity, his own cooking show.

“I knew some people with a production company, and they got a call looking for a chef who would be fitting for a show aimed at a young demographic,” Pritchard tells me. “They thought I’d be a good fit and before I knew it, we’d done 130 episodes of Red Hot and Ready for Global in Toronto.”

In 2002 Pritchard returned to the Carribean for a few more years. He worked at a number of restaurants and did some consulting as well. He won several awards for his work. This year he decided to return to PEI to raise his family, but the chef in him is looking forward to something more.

“Dayboat has always been focussed on delivering the freshest, locally-sourced food possible, and that's something I can relate to,” says Pritchard. “I'm looking forward to re-imagining the dishes that make this place famous, and at  the same time trying to incorporate new flavours that have found a home here.”

Larry Wilson in the new patio at Fitz Café.

For Larry Wilson, chef at Charlottetown’s The Fitz Café on University Avenue, the return to the Island was a way to heal after two surgeries last year. But it has since provided an opportunity to retire doing what he loves.

Wilson says he’s worked at so many restaurants on PEI it’s hard to remember them all. He remebers the Queen Street Café best, probably because he owned it, but he also worked at the Stanhope Beach Lodge, the Island Rock, and the Prince County Hospital, among others over the years.

“In 1998 I moved to Vancouver and started work at a dude ranch,” laughs Wilson. “We used to slaughter our own buffalo and cook it over a fire on a spit. You just don’t get the chance to do that on PEI.”

Over the last ten years Wilson has also manned the line at Rodney’s Oyster House in Vancouver, as well as a trendy organic café, which is quite a switch from fire cooked Buffalo.

“When I had my surgeries I decided to come to the Island to get better,” says Wilson. “I ended up being introduced to the owner of the restaurant in the Holiday Island Motor Inn and we hit it off. So now I’m the chef.”

Wilson is keeping the menu at the Fitz simple, but he’s moving the focus toward organic and locally-sourced food. “Nothing fancy,” he says. “But delicious all the same.”

Wilson has plans to open a seafood patio this summer. He and the owners of the restaurant also plan to open a bed and breakfast in the near future in Charlottetown, and Wilson hopes it will provide his retirement. “I can’t imagine it turning out better than it has. I’ll even get chance to re-connect with my artistic side and do some painting, sculpting and mosaics.”

John Pritchard and Larry Wilson have come back to the Island. Their reasons for returning are quite different, but one reason they share; PEI has some of the best tasting and freshest local food available anywhere. And for a chef, it makes makes Prince Edward Island a damn good reason to come home.

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