Eating Our Way Through... Canada's Atlantic Coast
When you say you spent a week in New Brunswick, most Americans will assume New Jersey, not realizing that there is a much more vacation-worthy spot about 700 miles north of “Hub City.” Often overlooked, this part of Canada’s Atlantic mainland shrinks in the presence of its Maritimes siblings, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island but – surprise – the province has all of the drama of those better-known locales... plus a little extra something.
Envision New Brunswick as Maine on steroids. Stunning rocky beaches? Check. Charming lighthouses? Check. Atmospheric fog? Check. Moose and blueberries? In abundance. Lobster? The town of Shediac is actually the self-proclaimed “Lobster Capital of the World.” So, yes.
Add to that New Brunswick’s legendary hospitality, so warm it’ll melt the frost from your cheeks after a day on the Bay of Fundy. With few major resorts, travelers opt for seaside inns or B&Bs in the highlands, and many of these offer incredible menus filled with locally farmed and freshly caught food that has more variety than the northern climes suggest.
A cozy inn that serves delicious food recalls a different era, when guests would change for dinner and mingle over aperitifs. Nostalgia is alive in New Brunswick, and for a weary traveler, the idea of heading downstairs for a meal of a lifetime and then back upstairs to sleep it off is very appealing.
During a road trip along the Fundy Coast to the Acadian Coast, three inns stood out for their inventive restaurants – Maison Tait in Shediac, Rossmount Inn in St. Andrews, and Tidal Watch Inn in St. Martins. Each offer cuisines accented by the European cultures that influence the Maritimes, like French, English and Irish. But many dishes also show off the province's abundance of seafood and fiercely local delicacies like fiddleheads and dulse, a dried red seaweed.
Setting it apart from Nova Scotia across the bay, New Brunswick’s Fundy Coast claims two of North America’s most stunning sights: Fundy National Park, a lush temperate rainforest, and the Hopewell Rocks. The rocks warrant two visits, one at high tide when the rocks peek out of 40 feet of water, and later when the tide goes out, pulling metric tons of water away from the shore and revealing bizarrely shaped rock towers and caves formed by the huge tides.
Breezy villages provide ballasts against the stark bay coast, among them St. Martins, a gateway to the scenic Fundy Trail and also a perfect starting point for a drive along the southern coast. The Tidal Watch Inn’s main building is a turn-of-the-century Victorian decorated with the chintz and tchotchkes of a proper English B&B. Warm and inviting, the dining room feels like a rich auntie’s parlor. That is, if she harvested herbs from her garden and went to the fishmonger for the black tiger shrimp with fire-roasted peppers we ordered on a chilly, damp night.
The food is homey and prettily presented, but where the Tidal Watch Inn’s dishes comfort, the Rossmount Inn’s edge diners away from their comfort zones. Just outside of St. Andrews-by-the-sea, a charming resort town made popular during the Gilded Age, Rossmount Inn is Great Gatsby elegant. Linens are crisp and white, striped pool towels are plush, the moody bar is wood-paneled, and the dining is the cat’s meow.
Chef Chris Aerni, who runs the place with wife Graziella, designs an innovative, changing menu using produce from the organic kitchen garden as well as locally sourced meat and fish. A sample from this summer’s menu? A cucumber gazpacho with watermelon and nasturtium coulis, organic hemp oil, sour cream, chives and dill followed by a coriander-crusted seared tuna loin with preserved lemon vinaigrette, green-purple potato salad, organic extra virgin olive oil and espelette pepper.
In a face-off with Prince Edward Island across the Northumberland Strait, the Acadian Coast diverges from the Fundy when it comes to cultural influence. While the towns on the Fundy were colonized by the British Isles, the Acadian culture is French Cajun -- the same as Louisiana's.
Northern towns like Shediac are primarily French-speaking but the “laissez le bon temps roulez” attitude we know so well from New Orleans definitely informs the region's Francophile food. The Maison Tait House takes a Victorian house circa 1911 and turns it into a refined village inn close enough to the water to catch salty bay breezes. Four poster beds and working fireplaces promise a plush night, but the Tait House kitchen provides the real excitement.
Executive Chef Chris MacAdam stays true to the local cuisine’s focus on seafood and French flavors but elevates hearty dishes with offbeat ingredients, adding Tahitian lime to a scallop and crab appetizer or serving soba noodles with an Acadian pepper-smoked duck breast.
It’s worth noting that Shediac crowns itself “The Lobster Capital of the World,” celebrating its big export every summer during a lobster festival. We recommend you skip the kids’ festivities and head out on one of the lobster cruises for some of the freshest crustacean on the Atlantic coast.
Whether whale watching on the Fundy, hiking in a rainforest or sitting down to a five-course meal, there are dozens of ways to experience New Brunswick's unique blend of friendliness and seafaring rusticity.
If your idea of bliss is shacking up at a small inn and eating your way through a vacation, we’ve put together some suggestions for 10 places that don’t skimp on the bed or the breakfast.