Bursts of colour pop on Jellybean Row.
St. John’s and beyond
One of the best ways to get to know a place is through its food. I start off by venturing down to dine bar-side at Terre, a restaurant that’s located conveniently (for me), in the lobby of the Alt Hotel, where I am staying. Chef Matthew Swift, whose pedigree includes stints at Montreal’s Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillon, helms the kitchen and is committed to the wild, farmed and fished resources of the region. The herbs, garnishes and greens are as local as it gets—Swift grows them on the hotel deck in his greenhouse and garden.
To delve deeper into Newfoundland’s foodways, I take a 45-minute drive to Lori McCarthy’s woodland home in Mobile, on the Avalon Peninsula.
McCarthy is a forager, outdoors-woman, award-winning author and host of the culinary-adventure TV show The East Coast Forager. Her residencies, called Food Culture Place, get people rolling up their sleeves to try everything from pickling to butchery to campfire-making—with lots of stories and sampling along the way. Shortly after my arrival, McCarthy hands me an antique teacup (her grandmother’s) to fill with an infusion of my own choosing. Her Irish setter, Tessa, looks on as McCarthy and I chat while preparing a lunch spread of hearty beans, golden-topped cod cakes and warm baked goods with tart partridgeberry jam.
Next, I visit Petty Harbour—only 15 minutes away from St. John’s and the birthplace of award-winning musician Alan Doyle. These days, it’s home to Janet Harron, a craft-vinegar maker who gives heritage tours.
Harron strides through Petty Harbour in combat pants, her long silver hair flying from beneath a bucket hat, as she shares insider stories of community life. We take in the bridge that once divided Catholic and Protestant residents and the Fishing for Success building, where wooden boat and handline fishing traditions are kept alive. Our tour ends inside the Petty Harbour Fisherman’s Co-Operative Society building, where Janet makes her stout-fed vinegar. I sample the sharp and caramelly condiment, while looking at black-and-white photos of local scenes, including cheeky kids cutting cod tongues at the fish plant for pocket money.
That evening, I have reservations at Portage, a new St. John’s restaurant opened by alumni from Raymonds, the recently shuttered fine-dining spot that put Newfoundland cuisine on the world map.
The Portage menu draws on the Asian culinary heritage of chef Celeste Mah, as well as the local sensibilities of Newfoundland-born-and-raised Ross Larkin, season six winner of Top Chef Canada. Here, the kelly green dining room is homey, the servers chatty and the dishes made for sharing.
On my last day in the city, I go shopping. At St. John’s Farmers’ Market, I browse stamped butter knives, cardamom-infused sugar cubes and colourful hand-stitched journals.
Later, I head downtown to Rosemill Antiques & Collectibles, on the recommendation of friends. “We sell everything here, from a baby’s fart to a clap of thunder,” says owner Rick Clarke.
While I didn’t find those, this place is full of treasures—just like the city itself.