A tickle-your-taste-buds-tour of New Brunswick

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A Madawaskan ploye - I managed two!

A Madawaskan ploye – I managed two!

Lunchtime had been and gone and I was quite frankly starving – the long drive from the shores of Chaleur Bay, in the northernmost part of New Brunswick, to Edmundston on the Québec/Maine border had only included a quick stop at Tim Hortons, a Canadian café institution. These cafés crop up with regular intervals and although both blueberry muffin and hot chocolate had been mighty fine, many hours had passed since my pit stop.

I was spending a few days in early spring travelling around the Atlantic Canadian province of New Brunswick to find out more about the area’s culinary delights. Welcome though his cafés tended to be after long drives through quiet forests and gentle countryside, I suspected the joys of Mr Hortons might not quite be doing the province’s cuisine justice and I was determined to branch out. First stop for the night was above-mentioned Edmundston, where I had it on good authority that I should try the ploye, and not just any old ploy to attract visitors either. This Madawaskan treat (Edmundston is the capital of Madawaska County) is a buckwheat pancake, interestingly only cooked on the one side until ready and then served piping hot. It’s eaten with either sweet or savoury toppings, including butter, maple syrup or, in my case, a very tasty, local meat pâté. Their size was bordering on the dainty though, so I needed two ployes before I had the energy to head out and check out Edmundston town.

a Bloody Caesar

a Bloody Caesar

It might be the biggest town in Madawaska County, but Edmundston, with less than 20,000 inhabitants, is still a sleepy little place. Some 95% of the population is French-speaking and the location on the Saint John River makes it a scenic spot. Crossing the river on a picturesque, turquoise pedestrian bridge, I reached Station 127 that evening. Not an abandoned railway station by any means, Station 127 is instead one of the town’s nicest eating and drinking establishments and the perfect place to sample the Canadian equivalent of a Bloody Mary, the Bloody Caesar. Apparently invented in Calgary in the late 1960s, it’s since spread all over Canada and is often the drink of choice here. The key ingredient, distinguishing it from “its sister Mary” is clamato, a mix of tomato juice and clam broth with spices. This cocktail proved a lovely way to round off day one of my foodie explorations.

The provinces of Atlantic Canada are famous for their seafood and rightly so, but what is perhaps less well-known is their relationship to the humble spud. I’d wager most of you have tried McCain’s potato chips, wedges, fries or hash browns at least once, if not once a week. Heading south along the highway from Edmundston, along the Saint John River, I suddenly started seeing signs saying “Potato World” and “Welcome to potato country”. Turns out the small town of Florenceville-Bristol is the home of McCain’s headquarter and believe you me, potatoes rule in this part of Canada. There’s a museum dedicated to potatoes,  Potato World a café and even potato tours. Much as I love munching what my grandfather fondly referred to as “earth apples” in all different shapes and sizes, I hardly felt the need to watch the entire chip-making process and instead stopped for lunch, tucking into potato skins with various toppings, one of the many potato dishes to choose from on the menu. Intriguingly the menu also contained fiddleheads, the tasty tips of young ferns, another New Brunswick speciality, particularly good in springtime.

Hailing from a small town myself, I was forced to keep adjusting my preconceived ideas, as this part of Canada had the loveliest, most innovative restaurants in the smallest of places – a pleasant surprise. That evening, I dined at Fresh Fine Dining, housed inside a disused Canadian Pacific railway carriage – beautiful location, excellent food. My scallops and bacon with Dijon maple cream, followed by the pork with caraway and turmeric in a mango curry sauce with coconut rice and roasted peppers, had me waxing absolutely lyrical and really, you can’t go wrong with maple dessert wine. Had they only been a moving carriage I would happily have stayed onboard and travelled across Canada, but alas, this fine dining experience remained stationary.

 a railway meal - not really; this was much better

a railway meal – not really; this was much better

The following morning, having had a sneak preview of seafood the day before, I finally reached the seaside and St Andrews by-the-sea. Not even the constant downpour could dampen my spirits, St Andrews is that pretty. Still, to wait out the rain, an indoor spot of lunch seemed in order. I settled in at the Algonquin resort, one of Canada’s prettiest, which also happens to have a great restaurant, Braxton’s, named after one of the resort’s first chefs. This close to the sea – St Andrews sits on the Passamaquoddy Bay, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy – fish and seafood were the order of the day. I opted for fish with an international twist, swiftly devouring the exceedingly tasty halibut tacos with apple-ginger slaw and wasabi aioli. For some reason unknown to man (and woman) this lunchtime treat went very well combined with a strawberry balsamic martini.

St Andrews is perfect for whiling away a few days by the sea, maybe doing some whale-watching if in season (July-Sept is the best time) or checking out the local art galleries and unusual shops. It’s a great place to enjoy the local seafood as well and after my yummy, fishy lunch, I was ready to explore further at dinner. Rossmount Inn, in nearby Chamcook, was my home for the night and managed to pull off looking cosy, homely and stately at the same time, as I took my seat to dine in the elegant bar area, slightly smaller than the main restaurant.

Dinner at the Rossmount

Dinner at the Rossmount

My starter of a dozen plump, fresh-from-the-sea oysters, did not disappoint and the huge sea scallops, accompanied by quinoa, made for an excellent main course. Coffee and dessert, in my case a white chocolate martini, was enjoyed outside on the porch, wrapped up in a fluffy blanket, while the sea mist gently enveloped my surroundings.

Only one day remained to explore more of New Brunswick and I felt I couldn’t possibly leave without having seafood chowder (and possibly another Bloody Caesar). Travelling northeast towards Nova Scotia, through Fundy national park, one of two in the province, I reached Alma, a quiet settlement of just over 200 people (despite its diminutive size, it still manages to have a website www.villageofalma.ca). It’s home to a particularly fine waterfront restaurant with the freshest of seafood, overlooking the formidable tides of the Bay of Fundy, the highest in the world. The aptly named Tides restaurant supplied me with one of the best bowls of seafood chowder I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying, crammed full of white fish, prawns, scallops, clams, mussels, you name it.

A delicious end to a tour that had well and truly tickled my taste buds.

For more information about New Brunswick, click here.

 

Getting there:

There are direct flights from the UK to nearby provinces Nova Scotia and Québec with connecting flights to one of New Brunswick’s four regional airports. It’s also possible to arrive by coach or rail from either neighbouring province.

 

First UK Rights and images © Anna Maria Espsäter

 

 

 

 

 

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