I should probably be posting something Christmasy or holiday-y, because ’tis the season and all that, and lord knows we just haven’t got enough holiday bullshit I mean cheer to stuff our stockings with quite yet. But I just had to tell you about a trip I took to somewhere far, far, not-that-far-but-it-sure-feels-far-if-you’re-flying-coach: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I’m a pretty darn proud Canadian, as I’ve gone off about in more than one tangent (i.e. tangent), but not even I with poutine flowing in my veins have made it to every glorious province in our beautiful, safe, free health care-abounding country. Us Westcoasters hear tale of the Maritimes region, specifically Halifax with its more bars per capita than anywhere else in Canada, its bountiful selection of seafood, fun-loving and friendly people who talk funny, and really great live boot-stompin’ music. To us, the whole place sounds like that scene in Titanic where Rose and Jack get down and dirty on the dance floor for the poor. It just seems like it would be a helluva time.
And it IS.
Because my life is awesome, I got invited to Hal-Con, a yearly pop culture expo featuring sci-fi super duper huge mega stars like me. (My parents think I’m famous, ok?) If you’re into conventions full of weird and wonderful people, and you haven’t made it to Hal-Con, you are severely missing out, and for that I am sorry. I’ve done enough of these things to be able to steer you in the right direction of the truly great ones, and this one is most definitely not to be missed. The best part of Hal-Con is its location, situated right in the middle of downtown Halifax in walking distance to fabulous bars and restaurants, so you will never go hungry or, more importantly, thirsty. Halifax feels like a city that’s a small town, and I love that about it; it’s the kind of place where you run into someone you know who’s happy to sit and share a beer with you and catch up in the middle of an afternoon (these people like to DRINK). It’s also got a lot of Canadian history to it, including one whammy of an historical explosion that ended up basically levelling half the city and killing 2,000 people way back in 1917 when a cargo ship carrying munitions crashed into another vessel near the harbour. The clock above city hall froze at the time the explosion hit, and still sits that way. Spooky, right? Let’s drink.
I know I hardly scratched the surface in terms of all Halifax’s bar and restaurant bounty since we were only there a couple of nights, but we sure tried our darndest. Luckily the boyfriend can eat as much as this here lady, and he ain’t afraid of a three ounce cocktail, although I am now, but more on that later. Our highlights below:
Now I’m sure if you’re a local this isn’t exactly a spot you hit up on the regular, since it’s a wee bit fance. But it was literally right across from the convention centre and was highly recommended by some of the local Hal-Con guests. We were all about eating as much seafood as it would take to possibly get mercury poisoning while we were there, so we started with the sesame crusted tuna sashimi with wasabi mayo and a carrot-cilantro slaw. We eat a lot of tuna in Vancouver, so I’d officially call myself a tuna snob if that didn’t make me sound like a moron, but this tuna was insanely fresh, tender, and pretty much as perfect as any West coast sushi chef could produce. For a main course we shared the chili-lime haddock tacos with mango salsa and the lobster roll. I’ve got a thing for lobster rolls, mostly because they’re made up of succulent and juicy lobster mixed with mayonnaise (uh, hello?), so I have to order one if it’s on the menu. This was up there with some of the best– lightly dressed with tarragon mayo and some fennel, and a side of crispy and salty fries to boot. And those tacos? Yeah, I’ll have five more of those, please. We washed it all down with a bottle of Nova Scotia’s own sparkling Nova 7, which made for a pretty interesting Q&A back at the convention after lunch, but whatever, do you even know me, like, at all?
So the Bicycle Thief touts itself as being an Italian restaurant, but I’d just call it a pretty close to perfect restaurant. After an end-of-day celebratory glass of champs at cute little wine bar Obladee along the way, we walked downhill to the marina for some dinner at what I was told by a stranger on a plane who was trying to hit on me once was one of Halifax’s not-to-miss restaurants. Stranger wasn’t wrong. Greeted by friendly bartenders pouring damn good cocktails (try their old fashioned), knowledgable servers who are genuine fans of what they’re serving, a crowded room full of classy people– these are my kinda digs. We were totally knocked off our classy asses by the dishes we had, starting off with a dozen fresh oysters right from the bay, a fat and happy crab cake fried to crispy perfection, some sort of magical gnocchi bolognese I dare say was just as good as the one at Nook back home, and the most decadent and sublime veal scaloppine I think I might have ever had the pleasure of devouring, rich and saucy and so good I wanted to punch the chef in the mouth. Our very smart server talked us into splitting the butterscotch caramel layer cake for dessert, dense and creamy and frustratingly perfect, the kind of dessert that makes you pound the table and make people stare at you like you’re crazy. I cannot tell you enough how good this meal was. Bonus points for having a Flowers Pinot Noir from Sonoma County on the wine list which made my boyfriend speechless– so thank you for that for one blissful moment, I mean hi, sweetheart!
Since we spent a considerable portion the night before dancing the jig and drinking gin at a couple of local bars, we weren’t feeling up to snuff the next day and needed a mid-convention lunch to set us straight again. The Foggy Goggle is an awesome pub also in walking distance with monster portions of pub food that’ll graciously take away your hangover. Boyfriend wolfed down a huge ham and egg breakfast wrap with chili garlic mayo, and I held true to our seafood-only pact and had a fabulous haddock burger “goggle style”, a breaded and fried fillet garnished with a heap of housemade coleslaw. The kitchen’s a tad slow because everything’s made fresh to order, but I’d rather wait if the food’s this good. Oh how I wish Vancouver pubs would get their shit together and serve decent food! Why oh why do we have to settle for mediocre wings and dusty hamburgers from the freezer? Am I missing something, Vancouver? Is there a hidden pub here with amazing food and I just don’t know about it? I mean, I know everything so this just doesn’t equate.
For dinner we ventured on another recommendation to The Press Gang, a romantic and bluesy restaurant complete with trumpet player and sleepy regulars sipping on cocktails. The oldest building in Halifax second only to the church across the street, its stony interior used to be the stables to a privately owned residence, so like if you had a horse they would sort of have to park it for you. We ate another plate of oysters on the half shell, some crispy calamari rings, beef tenderloin in a chocolate coffee sauce, and grilled fresh Atlantic scallops atop a bacon puree with leek risotto. The menu has almost an English pub type of feel to it with a more elegant and refined twist, the portions are super generous, and the service is yet again over the top friendly. After dinner we even got a tour of the place before we left, and I’m pretty sure our server doesn’t even watch TV!
I heard on that Twitter website that there was a bar in Halifax so secret it required a weekly password to get in to, and because I like hipster speakeasys and secrets and shoes (wait, what are we talking about?), it went on the list as a must-try. The trick is to subscribe on the Middle Spoon website to receive the password via email to enter the Noble Bar downstairs. Walk into the Middle Spoon, which serves amazing decadent desserts so you might as well get one while you’re there, recite the password (with a little gravitas, please) to your server, and be prepared to be whisked away down the stairs and into Noble. Their whole M.O. is original specialty cocktails with lots of old timey freaky ingredients you’ve never heard of, all concocting to make some of those most artfully delicious drinks you’ll probably ever taste. I don’t want to blow the secret so you’ll just have to experience it for yourself, but word to the wise: these drinks are three ounces each. As in, once you have two, you’re pretty close to blotto and confessing to whomever’s listening that your dream role is Ariel in a remake of The Little Mermaid. Also another word: tomorrow morning ain’t gonna be so hot, and one heck of a hangover meal is going to be required to put the fire out.
Which brings me to….
Don’t know if you’ve heard, guys, but I like a burger more than I like most children. And the burgers at Flip Burger are bad ass. There’s the Nutty Professor with bacon, jalapeno and peanut butter (!!), the Three Little Pigs burger with pulled pork, Canadian bacon, AND regular bacon (!!!!!!), or you can just be like me and piss off the cook and design your own (O.G. style with cheddar cheese, all the groceries, and their oh-so-burgery special Flip sauce). You can even get a side of the most heavenly fries with truffle oil and parmesan cheese, which may have caused me to utter “I will kill you” when the BF tried to take one. In my dreams, someone smart buys into the franchise and opens Flip Burger in Vancouver, because we need you over here. People are putting sunflower seeds in burgers here. And probably ingredients from yoga mats. Please help me.
Have I enticed you to venture out east to the wonderful shores of Nova Scotia yet? Don’t you too want to be getting down with your cool hipster self in a speakeasy and gorge on fresh oysters and dance like a fiend to fiddle music and be embraced by the sweet and wonderfully warm Haligonians? Of course you do! “But isn’t Halifax cold?” you ask. I dunno. Are you a wuss?
Also, you know those cocktails keep you warm, too, right?