Eating and Drinking in St. John's

Saturday, 13 August 2016
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

As soon as my sister and I booked a trip to St. John's, I started researching restaurants and breweries. With only a week, we scoured the city for as many traditional meals and as many local beers as we could. Here's what we managed to fit into a week on the rock. I'm already itching for a trip back! 

Celtic Hearth (298 Water Street, St. John's)

You can pretty much find cod prepared in every way in St. John's. In just one week, I tried cod gratin, cod fish and chips, a cod burger, cod tongues, cod chowder, and cod cakes. My first taste of seafood upon arriving in St. John's was the Celtic Hearth's salt fish cake benny: two freshly fried fish cakes topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. 

The Celtic Hearth is in the heart of St. John's industrial downtown. It's housed by one of the few buildings that survived the city's Great Fire of 1892. Friendly and welcoming, it was a perfect first stop in St. John's. 

Quidi Vidi Brewery (35 Barrows Rd, St. John's in the village of Quidi Vidi)

Quidi Vidi is a picturesque neighbourhood located less than 15 minutes outside of downtown St. John's. Quidi Vidi Harbour, known locally as "the gut", is a charming place to wander by foot. It's also home to the Quidi Vidi Brewing Co., which was established in 1996.  

Founded by former engineers in the offshore oil industry, David Fong and David Rees, the brewery "competes in a market which has been dominated by national and international giants." It takes pride in Newfoundland's rich heritage. 

"The newly reconstructed building, formerly the Cabot Seafood’s Plant, sits surrounded by granite cliffs at the mouth of the harbour in Quidi Vidi Village. With its green spruce clapboard and white trim, it looks comfortably at home within the rustic surroundings of the village. This ultra-modern facility houses a state-of-the-art brewery, a retail store, administrative offices, and reception room."
The brewery offers tours and tastings, but what's most unique is, unlike a Toronto brew pub, there's no formal area to sit and enjoy a beer. Instead, you're encouraged to buy one of their many of their award-winning brews, crack it open with a bottle opener tethered to the cash, and enjoy it on the wharf. While enjoying one of the brewery's famous Iceberg beers we enjoyed a show by a cheeky local fisherman who sprayed us with cod gut mist as he washed down his table after gutting some fish. Seriously, does it get any more Newfoundland than that? 

If you're going to do anything while visiting St. John's and area, visit Quidi Vidi. Enjoy a brew and stop by the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation to chat with local artisans while you're there. 

Fixed Coffee & Baking (183 Duckworth Street, St. John's)

Fixed Coffee & Baking appeared early on my must-visit list after stumbling upon their Instagram a few weeks before I arrived in St. John's. The folks at Fixed seriously love coffee. 
"At Fixed we believe that coffees should be named by their country, region and farm name, and not by their roast level. We brew one single-origin coffee of the day—we never brew blended coffee. We believe that coffee should be a delicious representation of its region. We brew only six cups at a time made in a Fetco coffee brewer, to ensure freshness, and if you are ordering a coffee to stay, we can brew your coffee fresh by the cup in a pour-over brewing device."
They also seriously love local arts and artists, selling local zines and albums. Fixed is associated with Broken Books, the only independent new-bookstore in St. John’s. (Broken Books is incredible, but I'll get to it in a separate non-food related post about St. John's.) If you can't tell already, Fixed is my kind of place, and it felt like a little slice of Hamilton a handful of provinces away.

We visited Fixed on a uncharacteristically hot day, so I had an iced coffee and probably the most delicious scone I've ever had.

I can't say enough about this place.

YellowBelly Brewery (288 Water Street, St. John's)

"Sitting where George Street intercepts Water Street, YellowBelly is a testament in stone and masonry to a time long gone. Originally constructed in 1725 and one of the oldest structures in North America, it's the place where the 'Great Fire of 1892' was finally extinguished."
Quite a few people told us we had to visit YellowBelly while in St. John's, and I'm so glad we did. Before our first night at the famous George Street Festival, where we saw #HamOnt boys the Arkells, we braved the cold and sat on the patio of YellowBelly. Keep in mind, this was the same day I needed an iced coffee at Fixed. The weather changes very quickly in St. John's! 

What I loved about YellowBelly is that not only are their beers fantastic, but they also use them in so many of their menu items. I settled on a beer-less item, the creamy seafood chowder: A selection of seasonal seafood and market vegetables simmered in a creamy seafood velouté, topped with steamed mussels. I also did what every beer lover must do: I ordered a flight of beer. Pictured below are Yellowbelly's Wexford Wheat, YellowBelly Pale Ale, Fighting Irish Red Ale, St. John's Stout, and a seasonal cider

Luckily, this wasn't my only chance to try a YellowBelly beer. Luckily many of the pubs and restaurants around the city had it stocked. If you're wondering, my personal favourite was the St. John's Stout.

Shamrock City (St. John's)

Have you read Alan Doyle's memoir, Where I Belong, about growing up in Petty Harbour, just down the road from St. John's? If not, it's a fantastic read! He dedicates Chapter 5 to the cutting of the tongues, meaning his childhood job of cutting out the triangular bit of flesh in the mouths of codfish and selling them to local restaurants as a delicacy. "They are very labour intensive to harvest, as it requires someone to handle every single fish and cut out the tongue by hand," he writes.

A brief excerpt:
"Can I have your tongues?" 
I expect that's a sentence that sounds strange to just about everyone, yet it was shouted hundreds of times on every summer day in Petty Harbour. How weird it must have seemed to any visitor from the Mainland who happened upon the wharf when a boat was coming in — this pack of young fellas in rags, waving buckets and sharp knives, shouting out to sea, "Can I have your tongues?" 
My sister and I had both already read this passage from Where I Belong, so it was imperative that we try the tongues. We visited Shamrock City pub before, fittingly, seeing Alan Doyle at the George Street Festival. How do I review cod tongues? They tasted like you might expect a cod tongue might taste: chewy and fishy. That said, I quite enjoyed them!

The Rooms (9 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John's)

I'm going to rave about The Rooms in another post. Part art gallery, part history museum, it's one of the most spectacular cultural centres I've ever visited. It also houses a restaurant with the most stunning view of the St. John's narrows I saw on my trip, and to make things even better, the food was fantastic.
"The menu emphasizes Newfoundland and Labrador’s food heritage, focusing on traditional fare with an eclectic twist. Every menu item is made from scratch using only basic fresh and raw ingredients. A range of specialty coffees, house made desserts, and carefully selected wines and micro-brewed local beers are also available."

We started with the traditional cod cakes: Local salt cod simmered in milk, rosemary, savoury, caramelized onions, potato, and served with grainy mustard aioli. There's no photographic evidence. We devoured them within seconds of their arrival.

I ordered the seafood gratin, and it was easily one of my favourite meals in St. John's: Atlantic salmon, local cod, shrimp, and scallops, white wine cream, lemon zest and cracked pepper, Newfoundland savoury stuffing, parmesan cheese, and seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes. We finished our meal with a slice of gingerbread cake. The entire experience was absolutely wonderful.

The Country Corner Restaurant and Gift Shop (14 Water Street, Brigus, Newfoundland)

We stopped at the Country Corner Restaurant & Gift Shop on a day trip with McCarthy's Party tours. Located in Brigus, a small fishing community located in Conception Bay, the Country Corner is as quaint a place as you can imagine. While many folks on the tour ordered their moose stew, I ordered their house specialty, the cod chowder. While it might look a little unassuming, I assure you this chowder was incredibly flavourful. I'd kill for a bowl right now.

O'Reilly's on George Street (13 George Street, St. John's)

On our final night in St. John's, we wanted to check out some live music, so we visited O'Reilly's, where Russell Crowe once famously played. We started our meal with toutons, a traditional pancake made by frying bread dough on a pan with butter or pork fat. My sister ordered the pan-seared touton served with molasses and I ordered the salt cod stuffed touton. After that, my final meal in St. John's was a cod burger served with yet another pint of YellowBelly beer.

Boxing Rock Brewery (Shelburne, Nova Scotia)

I'm cheating a little bit here. We didn't visit the Boxing Rock Brewing Co., but we did have a one-hour stopover at the Halifax airport, which was just enough time to load my carry-on with a few local beers. Founded in 2012 by two engineers with a passion for beer, Boxing Rock is one of Nova Scotia's newest craft beer outfitters. I've yet to try the Sour Mash Cranberry Wheat Ale (saving that one for tonight!), but Boxing Rock's Scottish ale has me dreaming of another trip to the East Coast. 

Beer road trip, anyone? 

Fringe Binge #9: (in)decision

Tuesday, 26 July 2016
All Hamilton Fringe Festival reviews originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

Playwright: Kyle Kimmerly, Tamlynn Bryson
Director: Kyle Kimmerly
Cast: Tamlynn Bryson
Stage Manager: Stephanie Taylor
Poster Design: Ariana Sauder
Warnings: Mature Content, Strong Language, Strobe Lights
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: General
Running Time: 60 minutes

(in)decision begins with a ticking clock and an incredibly energetic performer, Tamlynn Bryson, playing the role of Tess. Tess is a statistician in her twenties, and she's facing a big decision. Her boyfriend, Steve, a sensitive paleontologist has proposed, but there's a catch. He wants her to accompany him to Australia where he's moving for work.

In the past few years of attending the Hamilton Fringe Festival, I've attended at least a half dozen one-woman shows with a similar premise: Young woman in her twenties, or maybe early thirties, grappling with her identity, feeling unlucky in love and unsure of her place in the world. These shows usually involve a big decision: Should I get married? Should I travel the world? Should I have children? That said, there's something unique about (in)decision.

In (in)decision, the audience plays an important role, acting as the voices in Tess's brain. She calls this an "impromptu meeting inside my head." Through audience participation, including shows of hands and asking to weigh in, we're tasked with helping Tess make her life-altering decision.

Consumed by anxiety, Tess uses a pro-and-con chart and flips an oversized coin as she imagines her life with or without Steve. A tech-heavy show, it employs heavy use of sound effects and music, propelling the play's tense and anxious mood.

(in)decision is well-executed, funny, and thanks to Bryson's dynamic performance, it's filled to the brim with energy. This may have been the last play I checked out at the 2016 Fringe, but it quickly became one of my favourites.

Fringe Binge #8: Send Music

Sunday, 24 July 2016
Cast: Megan English, Dale Morningstar
Show Type: Contemporary Dance, Physical Theatre
Audience: General
Running Time: 20 minutes

Send Music is made up of two parts, each approximately nine minutes in length. They’re performed by Megan English, who has been “fostering movement experiences for people of all ages for over fifteen years through her performance, education, and dance movement therapy practices.”

The first piece, also called Send Music, begins when English takes the stage with nothing but two computers — a laptop and a desktop. Soon, the sound of an electric guitar fills the room as Dale Morningstar, owner/operator/producer/engineer of Toronto’s Gas Station Recording Studio, appears through a video messaging program. The pair interact with one another, English through dance, Morningstar through music, as the piece asks the question “How is the process of creating affected if the performers aren’t in the same room together?”

The next piece, Intro Shuffle, is “an attempt to hold onto the potency and anticipation inherent in the beginning, the intro, the start.” It’s accomplished through a musical medley made up of the introductory riffs of popular songs, including those by Nirvana, Iggy Pop, Fleetwood Mac, and at least a dozen others. As each new song begins, English’s movements change, revealing her versatility.

The Hamilton Fringe Festival is an excellent way for audiences to become exposed to mediums they might not often interact with, in this case dance. Send Music is the perfect introduction to those (like myself) who have had a limited relationship with contemporary dance.

Fringe Binge #7: The Tragedy of Othella Moore

Playwright: Esther Huh
Director: Jennifer Walton
Cast: Allison Edwards-Crewe, Laura Ellis, Nick Kozij, David Brennan, Annalee Flint, Krista McNaughton
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence
Show Type: Comedy, Drama
Audience: General
Running Time: 75 minutes

Everything about The Tragedy of Othella Moore is ambitious, from its 75-minute run time, six-person cast (unique for a Fringe play), and a script billed as Mean Girls meets Shakespeare. There’s no doubt that this gender-flipped adaptation of Othello featuring high-school cheerleaders is unlike any version of Shakespeare you’ve seen before.

The Tragedy of Othella Moore is the story of Amy, a bored cheerleader with a knack for creating drama. The target of her manipulation is Othella, the new cheer captain whose “hottie” boyfriend, Des, is the most popular guy in school. The cast also includes “the super basic neighbour girl Riley,” Amy’s “bestie” Cassie, and her sluggish, doltish boyfriend, Emmett, played by local comedian David Brennan, who steals the show.

Set to a soundtrack of pop songs from Omi to Taylor Swift, The Tragedy of Othella Moore is current, using social media and GIFs on a large screen to provide extra comic relief. The polished script by playwright Esther Huh is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, using over-the-top stereotypes to perfection, from the beer guzzling, backwards hat wearing “bros” and boy-crazy cheerleaders downing peach schnapps.

“Know thy frenemy” is just one piece of advice Amy gives in The Tragedy of Othella Moore, but as anyone who has read or seen an adaptation of Othello can imagine, this is not a play that doles out good advice. It is, however, a hilarious romp featuring memorable characters and quick one-liners that had the crowd laughing from beginning to end.

The Tragedy of Othella Moore has become a fast favourite at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, and I won’t be surprised if we see it given the Hamilton Fringe Critics' Choice Award.

Fringe Binge #6: Saor (Free)

Saturday, 23 July 2016
Playwright: Carlyn Rhamey
Director: Mel White
Cast: Carlyn Rhamey
Warnings: Mature Content, Strong Language
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: Mature
Running Time: 60 minutes

Carlyn Rhamey can’t get her life together. She drinks alone. She suffers from ADHD. She’s probably going to die alone. (Her words, not mine.) She’s also prone to mortifying moments, many of which involve exposing her underwear.

“My life has always been a lighthearted trainwreck,” Rhamey says of these awkward moments that are central to her one-woman autobiographical show, Saor (Free). However, this humorous and exciting show isn’t only about underwear fails and the all-too-common sad-in-love trope. Above all, it’s about travel.

Sharing the stage with a bulletin board filled with souvenirs and postcards, Rhamey tells stories she accumulated as a solo traveller in the United Kingdom, sharing experiences with locals and fellow travellers she met along the way. Part Eat, Pray, Love part Bridesmaids, you can’t help but fall in love with Rhamey for baring it all.

Rhamey exudes excitement from the moment she steps on the stage. Her performance isn’t perfect, but it’s this awkwardness that make Rhamey so easy to relate to and so likeable. Audiences can’t help but laugh at her off-the-cuff Irish and Scottish accents and cringe-worthy stories.

“I did this. I did this incredible thing on my own,” says Rhamey in one of the plays more tender moments. Saor (Free) is the perfect play for anyone who is grappling with their identity, and asking themselves, “What’s next?”

Fringe Binge #5: All KIDding Aside

Thursday, 21 July 2016
Playwright: Christel Bartelse
Director: Michelle Polak
Cast: Christel Bartelse
Stage Manager: Nastazja Palonka
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: General
Running Time: 60 minutes

This post originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

"Do we ever feel ready to have kids?"

This is one of the many questions posed by Christel Bartelse in her one-woman show All KIDding Aside. The play's humorous and thoughtful observations, delivered through a series of monologues, make her opinion quite clear - There is no perfect moment to choose to procreate, and even if there were, biology often has other plans.

Diagnosed with endometriosis, Bartelse was never sure she could have kids, but to make things even more complicated, she was never sure she wanted to.

Set in a gynaecologist's office as Bartelse awaits the results of a pregnancy test, All KIDding Aside explores issues of fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood in a conversational tone.

In some of its more lighthearted moments, Bartelse pokes fun of everything from baby showers to annoying friends with kids (You know, the "Your life doesn't begin until you're a parent" ones).

Endlessly creative, All KIDding Aside begins with Bartelse birthing a gigantic papier mâché baby, a huge umbilical cord tied around her. However, the most memorable moments of this play are tender and sweet.

Whether you've had children, have yet to have children, are unable to have children, or have sworn off children completely, All KIDding Aside is easy is to relate to, sharing with the audience that both the decision to have children or not to have them are both equally valid and valuable.

Fringe Binge #4: The Cockwhisperer

This review originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

Playwright: Colette Kendall
Director: Colette Kendall
Cast: Colette Kendall
Warnings: Mature Content
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: Mature
Running Time: 65 minutes

"This is a cock," says The Cockwhisperer's Colette Kendall as soon as she hits the stage clutching a rubber phallus. With that, she instantly sets the tone for a humorous and energetic play billed as the "story of one woman's quest to find the love and penis of her dreams."

The Cockwhisperer is back at the Hamilton Fringe Festival for a second year after quickly becoming a crowd favourite in 2015. Recalling Kendall's tenuous and confusing relationship with the penis, The Cockwhisperer is raunchy and rude, laced with odd bits of Canadiana. Seriously, you won't expect so many Diefenbaker and CBC references in this one!

A word of warning: The Cockwhisperer won't be for everyone, and in all honesty, it wasn't for me. I'm no prude and I can handle a good dick joke, but 65 minutes of dick jokes leave me a little squeamish. That said, the hearty laughs coming from The Cockwhisperer's audience quickly proved I was the minority.

Part stand-up comedy routine, part confessional, The Cockwhisperer shines a light on the many things we might think before, during, and after a romp in the sheets, but don't have the guts to share.

Whether she's sharing the awkward moments of her first sexual encounters or poking fun at aging, Kendall's tell-it-like-it-is attitude is something worth applauding.
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