St. John's Newfoundland a city on the move: great food and cafes
ST. JOHN’S - A visitor last here five years ago or so is struck by how much this city has changed. There were signs of good times on Water St. and Duckworth on my last visit. But things have taken a major turn. There are (gasp) condos going up down near the Battery and in other parts of downtown. They’re not large, but still…
There also are new, fun shops and restaurants; Basho, a Japanese fusion spot on Duckworth is one, although I didn’t get a chance to try. There’s also Chinched on Queen St., which offers traditional seafood and bistro style cuisine as well as house-made charcuterie.
Chinched is right across from the west end of George St. (see Canadian Geographic photo t left), which hasn’t changed all that much; still lined with gentlemen’s clubs and fun and funky bars and restaurants. I had some great music at Kelly’s on Saturday night, which has zero atmosphere but often seems to have good musicians. Saturday night was a guy alternating between traditional stuff like The Wild Rover and Sweet Caroline, with John Denver and The Eagles mixed in for good effect. Down at Bridie Molloy’s was an older guy with long, stringy grey hair and a very cool-looking guitar playing more traditional Irish music, although I only caught two songs in his set.
The bar seemed caught up in the St. John’s Ice Caps game, as the team was home for game seven in their set with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. St. John’s took the game 3-2 to advance to the Eastern finals of the Atlantic Hockey League playoffs.
Earlier, I’d had an absolutely tremendous dinner at Bacalao , which isn’t new but has become a staple for fine cuisine in St. John’s. The restaurant is in an old house very close to downtown, and they strike a perfect balance; a homey atmosphere with great food but zero pretense.
(Somehow, I think Newfoundlanders would beat the crap - figuratively, not literally – out of anyone that rolled into town and got too big for their britches anyway.
If you come to town, be sure to try their Jiggs Dinner appetizer; a small take on the traditional Newfoundland Jigg’s Dinner with boiled potatoes and veggies. You even get to taste the pot liquor; the water that the meal is boiled in. Down the hatch quickly and it’s not bad.
It was my encounter with a Jiggs Dinner, albeit not the kind they serve at church gatherings, and it was great. I think I liked it more than the seal flipper pie, which they serve as an appetizer with red wine sauce (lots), plus cinnamon and other spices that made it taste like a slightly fishy version of a mince tart. Kind of. This one came with a thick slice of puff pastry on top, a feature my Newfoundland dinner mate insisted on calling a “roof.”
You gotta love it.
Sunday morning I had breakfast at the wonderful Murray Premises on the waterfront; a former warehouse that’s been turned into a boutique hotel; a great spot with rooms featuring exposed brick walls and wooden beam supports and ceilings. But I’d heard tell of a great spot on Water St. called Rocket, so I wandered over. And promptly fell in love.
It’s a bright and sunny spot that features a dizzying array of baked goods, including a croissant with lemon curd as well as pain au chocolat and a bread loaf with cranberry, chocolate and almonds. I opted for the lemon croissant and wondered why I’ve never seen it anywhere else as it’s an absolutely tremendous treat.
They also serve great-looking sandwiches and sell all sorts of interesting stuff: milk and honey from Prince Edward Island and Bottle Green ginger and lemon grass cordials. And they make a great latte.
The main room for sitting features tables and chairs in deep pastel colours that mimic the so-called “jelly houses” you’ll find in and around downtown St. John’s. They also had fresh flowers out on all the tables.
A real find that I’d liken to an old-time country store crossed with an Ossington Ave. coffee house.
Later I had dinner at Piatto, which bills itself a s a true Naples-style pizza joint. It’s good, and the pizza is large with huge helpings of meat, but too thick. The salami platter had nice, roasted red peppers and a couple slices of parmesan, but it wasn't very good parmesan. I'm not sure, but it tasted pretty much like something you'd get at a grocery store and was sliced into squares, versus the slightly crumbly variety you might expect.
There was good prosciuotto and, I think, speck or some kind of ham, plus some sliced salami that wasn't bad. But it wasn't terribly Italian, and they also provided two slices of brie cheese on the plate.
Brie??? At an Italian restaurant?
Still, it was a good pizza and the place has plenty of charm. As do a whole lot of places in this up and coming town.
More tomorrow, including visits to some beautiful outlying areas....