The best part of the “eat local” trend is discovering a city with incredible regional ingredients. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, diners enjoy an embarrassment of riches, thanks to the region’s especially fertile and productive growing season, and the bold restaurateurs who take full advantage of Atlantic Canada’s best.
In this island province, seafood is of course the star attraction. It’s often so fresh that your fish, lobster, oyster, or other marine delicacy may have been pulled from the bay just hours before. Local chefs complement their prized seafood with well-suited herbs, vegetables, grains, as well as wines and craft brews unique to Nova Scotia. They also excel at making old-favorite dishes their own. Who knew there could be so many delicious versions of poutine or chowder?
Gay-friendly Halifax enthusiastically celebrates its Pride every July, but the rest of the year this midsize city is awash in its pride of food sourced from farms, fisheries, foragers, and small-batch producers. While you’re here, you’ll happily devour some of the tastiest food and creatively prepared dishes that we had the pleasure of experiencing during a recent visit.
To boldly take the name of the world’s coolest borough gives a restaurant a lot to live up to. One would be correct to expect industrial-chic décor, but it’s hard to anticipate what makes a great menu in Halifax—especially one that embodies the Brooklyn moniker. Clearly this place is happening, having soared in popularity since its 2007 opening. Chef Mark Gray has raked in awards for his mashup of local flavors, which have kept Brooklyn Warehouse on top of many “best of” lists across Canada.
But what does all that acclaim amount to when it comes time to touch fork to tongue? The daily-changing menu hints at what’s ahead with its advice: “Eat local. Shop local. Visit a farm.” Between that slogan and the restaurant’s backyard garden, it’s clear this place prizes freshness, seasonal ingredients, and responsible harvesting.
Father and son owners Leo and George Christakos are Halifax natives and were born into a proud lineage of local Greek diner owners. Here, their standard-fare know-how gets infused with Nova Scotian farm-fresh meats and produce, with tasty spins on more familiar dishes for lunch and uncommon flavors for an unbeatable dinner.
Though the menu changes frequently, a ceviche of North Atlantic seafood is likely on it; for example, thin-cut scallops brined in tangy clementine and sea-buckthorn (a flavorful, less-sweet berry) juice with fennel and tarragon ($12). On any given evening, you may find octopus risotto with goat cheese ($12) or an entrée of Arctic char filet with borscht, crème fraîche, and warm dill potato salad ($26).
This being Nova Scotia, chowder is every-where; though here it comes in various delectable forms. On my first visit, it was a pork belly and mushroom chowder ($12) that was flavorful and surprisingly light, leaving room for a grass-fed, ground-brisket burger and oversized onion ring ($20). Seductive Asian-inspired dishes suit those with lighter hankerings, like the sesame-and-soy beef satay with tahini ($12) or ginger-glazed mahi-mahi with coconut-scallion risotto and
cucumber chili slaw ($25).
Dessert is equally impressive—especially the rum and apple “poor man’s pudding” ($6). Cocktails honor the classics (Pimm’s Cup, $8) and incorporate newfangled options (Stormy Cove, with dark rum and ginger-lime purée, $8), along with almost exclusively eastern-Canadian wine and beer.
The Christakos clan settled on “Brooklyn Warehouse” while visiting New York, wanting their restaurant to invite a sense of “not being here,” and opened it in Halifax’s once-forgotten, now-hip North End. They created an eatery that tops off Brooklyn’s coolness with the warm, hearty character of Atlantic Canada. 2795 Windsor St. Tel: 902-446- 8181. www.brooklynwarehouse.ca
In most cities, locals avoid dining in hotel restaurants. Between the eager tourists and predictable menus, even the best hotel eats won’t hold a candle to a dedi- cated restaurant. But that’s not true of Stories, housed within “Halifax’s boutique hotel,” the Halliburton. Though it may not be the only small-scale lodging in town, the waterfront-adjacent hotel is laced with charm owing to the former townhouse’s 19th-century architecture. Stories is the elegant restaurant just off the hotel lobby, with warm-weather dining available in the lush garden courtyard. Chef Scott Vail, at the helm since 1998, is considered one of the original champions of authentic Nova Scotian fine dining. He’s earned awards and celebrity along the way, including a top ranking from the acclaimed Where to Eat in Canada guide.
Dinner at Stories rounds up the best of Atlantic Canadian surf and turf on its sea- sonal menu. Vail prizes game, so expect to find his house charcuterie loaded with specialties like bison bresaola, five-spice boar coppa, duck-breast prosciutto, or even elk or venison cuts ($16). For something lighter, turn to the crab cake with avocado and smoked-jalapeno lime crema ($16), or rice-paper-wrapped sea scallops with ginger-sesame vinaigrette ($15).
Main courses of seafood may include Faroe Island salmon with tomato caper chive butter ($28) or grilled harpoon swordfish ($31). Guinea hen with mushroom jus ($29) and roast breast of barbarie duck with bourbon-mashed sweet potato ($32) give carnivores something to salivate over. Nova Scotian wines are included among a long list of vintages that enrich the earthy flavors Vail is partial to.
Considering the breadth of ingredients and culinary experience invested in each meal, one might expect a certain level of formality at Stories. In reality, Halifax’s prevailing casual attitude lends to an altogether welcoming experience. Prices amount to a bit of a splurge, though they’re suitable to a special occasion—which in this case might simply be the chance to relax by the fire and savor the best of Stories. 5184 Morris St. Tel: 902-444-4400. www.storiesdining.com