A visit to #5 Café in Murray Harbour
by Ann Thurlow
You walk into #5 Cafe in Murray Harbour and the first thing you feel is wonderful. Maybe it’s that aroma—what is it? Something warm and sweet is brewing somewhere. Maybe it’s the beautifully repurposed Presbyterian church, full of stained wood and whimsy. Maybe it’s the way all the other diners seem so relaxed, as if they are lingering over a wonderful meal. Whatever—you just suddenly feel like you’re very good hands.
Adrian Ballinger gets us started with coffees. Up in the kitchen, which is open to the restaurant and used to be the altar, chef Wade Little is busily turning out plates. The two came originally from New Zealand, worked in kitchens in the US. They came to PEI largely because they had the sense something interesting was happening with food here. And Murray Harbour?
“Every time we got in the car, we just seemed to head east,” says Little.
They bought the old church and spent a year renovating it—using or recycling as many of its beautiful elements as possible. And then, in a small town at the end of the Island, they opened a café.
It’s not as improbable as it sounds. #5 is most definitely a café, not a fine dining establishment. Little had two aims when he opened: to serve food that is affordable and to serve food that is clean—by which he means as free of additives as possible. Yes, you’ll see French fries on the menu; you may also, as I did, see a man deliver the potatoes the restaurant uses to make them.
There are lots of familiar things on the menu: chili and panini and salads. And there are some new delights, like a fruit sandwich or a soup made with bok choy and chardonnay. The point, Little feels, is to coax maximal flavor out of simple ingredients, something at which he shines. Hence the potentially prosaic mushrooms on toast that becomes dreamy with balsamic, pepper and cream. Or the lemon and ginger cake that will stop conversation dead.
#5 has had a good first summer and has attracted diners from across PEI. Here’s the challenge: they plan to stay open almost all winter, too.
They have two rationales. One, a catchment area of about 11,000 people who might wish for a bit of novelty or a little treat in the long winter months. Second, and most exciting, they have just launched a line of chutneys and jams under the label Little and Ballinger. These are not your grandma’s jams. There’s pear and chili, carrot and brandy, wildberry and cracked pepper. They are meant to be used in cooking or as an accompaniment for a savoury like cheese. Think chicken breast pan seared in pear and chili jam, wildberry and cracked pepper with pork.
Little says they plan to be making the jams all winter (hence, I suspect, that wonderful aroma when I first walked in). So, he figures, if they’re there anyway, the might as well be open to diners.
A brave and welcome choice, as winter looms. It’s a nice boost for a small, quiet town. And from those of us who often crave a shortbread and butter cream yo-yo cookie— thanks.