Summertime is a terrific time to visit Prince Edward Island, Canada. “The birthplace of Canada” was where the nation became a confederation in 1864. Next year, they will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of that historic event, the Charlottetown Conference.
Prince Edward Island is also Canada’s smallest province. It has a laid-back island atmosphere with beaches and the finest, most desirable seafood in the world. Charlottetown, the provincial seat, has Victorian-era architecture, museums and theaters, along with views of water leading into the Northumberland Strait. Other parts of the province are seafaring towns or quiet, country villages with their own charm. The world knows “PEI” as the place where the book Anne of Green Gables is set.
What to eat: Lot 30’s food is so seasonal and fresh, they do not even own a freezer. That is certainly saying something in a part of the world that sees harsh winters! Do not go looking for cocktail sauce for your raw oysters. “Islanders,” as the PEI folks call themselves, find the sweet, ketchupy flavor overwhelming to their prized delicate seafood. Instead, vinegar based mignonettes, as the French serve, are the norm.
Lot 30 is a fine dining restaurant that still maintains a casual, come-as-you-are vibe right in the heart of downtown Charlottetown. Recent studies in Israel have theorized that berries grown near salt water have more sugar content as a survival mechanism. Maybe that explains why Lot 30’s fresh berry desserts are extra sweet.
You know you are at a farm-fresh restaurant when the menu lists the names of the owners of farms supplying the produce, edible flowers, locally produced sparkling wines for the champagne cocktails, and meats. Plus, they are neighbors!
The Pearl is in the country, a funky but still-polished oasis with art on the walls and fresh flavors on the plates. Dress is dressy-casual. Several farm-table restaurants on PEI, including The Pearl, serve their lettuce for salads untorn into pieces, to highlight that they are getting lettuce straight from the garden and not from a bag.
COWS is a memorably delicious “super-premium” ice cream maker, which is actually an industry term of art, not just a superlative. One of their handful of stores in PEI is open year-round, the rest are open May through October. Their strawberry ice cream is made with local PEI berries.
Beanz, located in Charlottetown’s city square, serves coffee drinks and wholesome food. A “Coffee Canadiana” is a cup of brewed coffee with a shot or more of espresso.
What to do: If you are a foodie, PEI is a learning paradise, with activities that go far beyond eating at traditional restaurants. Experience PEI is a great contact to help arrange “authentic PEI” experiences with a real inside track.
Future Seafoods will take you out for oyster tonging, where you will be able to eat an oyster straight out of the salty water.
Mike at Top Notch Charters will show you what it is really like to be a lobster fisherman. You will be able to empty out a lobster trap and band its claws right out of the water.
You will also learn the business and conservation efforts involved. If you go on an afternoon or evening trip, you will get a fresh-cooked lobster dinner, too! There is a whole universe of difference between fresh and frozen lobster.
Toss everything you know about cooking classes out the window, whether that is from a culinary academy or a restaurant. Annie’s Table is a completely rehabbed church set up as a cooking studio. Proprietor Annie and Chef Norm preside over an atmosphere of serenity with the freshest ingredients on the planet at their disposal.
There is a sweet little vegetable and herb garden outside and the purveyor of the island’s and, therefore, the world’s best oysters and mussels drops off some of his catch of the day before getting the rest to Toronto’s fanciest restaurants.
Locally produced moonshines, wines and honey drops also make their way into recipes. The class is hands on and cooks of all levels will pick up skills, as well as flavor ideas.
Sure, Mt. Stewart’s Trailside Café serves local cheeses, produce and has a full bar. What they are really known for is their live acoustic concerts and sense of community in this restored rural, vintage building. The owner has other music venues in the more populated parts of the island, so is able to book locally famous acts that pack the place.