Last Updated on December 11, 2022 by Jim Ferri
By John and Sandra Nowlan
Amazing feasts can be enjoyed at two of the best restaurants in PEI.
In fact, many critics consider these feasts to be two of the most incredible culinary experiences in Canada. It’s also incredible they’re both on Prince Edward Island, about a four-hour drive from historic Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Each lasts three hours and includes seven creative courses. And they both feature the very best that this small, agriculturally focused province can offer from land and sea. We were fortunate to be able to sample each on two successive, delicious evenings.
The Fireworks Feast
The first, “The Fireworks Feast,” is clearly one of the best restaurants in PEI. It is the creation of Food Network celebrity chef, TV host, and multi-cookbook author Michael Smith.
He and his wife Chastity run the five-star Inn at Bay Fortune and even more upscale Inn at Fortune Bridge. Guests at Fortune Bridge get transported to the nearby Feast in a vintage 1957 Bentley.
Every night guests at the Inns have priority seating at long, communal tables seating 86 patrons. They are served food that Chef Michael told us he wants to be “real.”
That reality comes from the adjacent ten-acre farm, 50 raised herb beds, and an abundance of fresh seafood. Much of that seafood comes from the Bay in full view of the lush resort.
The Feast ($C195 per person) starts at 6pm daily. But we joined other patrons at 4pm for a guided tour of the grounds, herb gardens, greenhouses, and vegetable beds. Our guide was head farmer Kevin Petrie.
The Fire Garden Sizzles
Then at 5 pm, the Fire Garden sizzles at this one of the best restaurants in PEI as guests meander among the Fire Alter, Smokehouse, and charcoal grill. They enjoy fresh fire-roasted oysters, smoked salmon, Yakitori chicken livers, and tacos there. Notably, the heat and flavour these sustainable hardwoods impart far surpass gas or electricity.
It’s also notable during this pre-Feast hour that Chef Michael is clearly in his element. He parks himself at the all-you-can-eat Bay Fortune Oyster Bar, shucking fresh ice-cold oysters and chatting with guests.
Smiling guests (especially those who love oysters) then file into the Inn’s main dining room. This is where the Fire Brigade prepares the Feast in front of a roaring hearth. The menu is generally the same each evening but can vary, of course, depending on availability.
The Feast starts with wood-oven baked sourdough bread made from heritage grains grown on PEI. It’s accompanied by brown maple butter, smokehouse paté, and house-made fresh cheese.
The bread is an outstanding accompaniment to the east coast chowder. It is thick and delicious and includes mussels, bar clams, scallops, salt cod, lobster, and bacon.
The salad course, Chef Michael’s “Harvest Bowl,” looked wonderful and tasted even better. It included fresh herbs, shoots, stems, leaves, edible flowers, and vegetables. Eating such a salad made us feel even healthier.
We were in awe of the organizational skills as we watched the large staff assemble and prepare so much food.
It was especially evident for the complex main courses – a choice of lobster stuffed with savory, lovage, and crab; smoked Island beef brisket with wood-grilled flatiron beef; or chia lentil vegan cake with Japanese knotweed relish. Side dishes of potatoes, kale, radish, parsnip, turnip, milkweed, and beets were so fresh and tasty they would convert any vegetable skeptic.
Rhubarb was the star of dessert with a sorrel and rhubarb cake with lavender ice cream.
However, Chef Michael wasn’t entirely done with us, as all guests were given long sticks and homemade marshmallows. We were then invited to roast them at an outdoor fire pit prepared by staff. A creative end to an amazing culinary experience.
The Table Culinary Studio
Michael Smith is clearly the star chef on Prince Edward Island, but he now has competition from a relative rookie. Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, called him “one of the country’s next star chefs.” He is the creative culinary genius of another of the best restaurants in PEI.
A native of Ontario, Chef Hunter Guindon is just 25 years old. He fell in love with PEI and its potential for great cuisine while attending culinary school on the island. Guindon actually began his career working for Michael Smith at the Inn at Bay Fortune. But now he’s Executive Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in rural New London, PEI.
The Table, located in a decommissioned church, also features an exquisite and creative seven-course menu ($C125 per person + $40 for a flight of five excellent Canadian wines). But it differs in several ways. Chef Hunter told us his goal is never to cook the same dish twice. “Every week, I change the menu from top to bottom.”
He added that he also plans his menus backward. “Instead of deciding on a menu and seeking ingredients, we scour this part of the island for the best we can find, lay them out and write the menu.”
He and The Table owner, Derrick Hoar, take great pride in using only Canadian ingredients. Most of them come from within 15 minutes of the seventy-year-old former church. The only exception is black pepper. And “instead of lemon and limes, we add flavour with rhubarb juice,” they told us.
Unlike the large crowd at the Fireworks Feast, The Table seats just 27 guests. Before each course, Chef Hunter tells his guests about the dish and how he creates it. And what outstanding dishes they are!
Our menu started with Kentucky fried oysters with seaweed ranch sauce. A salad of thinly sliced cucumber with herb dressing and smoked yogurt followed it.
The next dish had the most creative presentation we’ve seen in some time. The chef called it Scallop Raviolo, his version of a bacon-wrapped scallop. Pasta surrounds a large, perfectly cooked scallop and ground smoked pork then is drizzled with lobster roe cream.
More unusual treats followed with popcorn polenta (popcorn cooked in cream, then put in a blender and strained). The chef then garnishes it with peas, spring onion, herbs, and asparagus.
The main course was a tender eight-hour braised Island beef shoulder with ox tail jus and fresh vegetables. The exotic (and very tasty) dessert was a black garlic and beet cake with buckwheat honey icing. Readers Digest called The Table the most unique restaurant in PEI.
We lived on Prince Edward Island in the 1980s when restaurants were good but not spectacular. With outstanding chefs like Michael Smith and Hunter Guindon leading the way, Canada’s smallest province can now rightly take its place as a culinary hot spot.
If You Go:
Inn at Bay Fortune
Inn at Fortune Bridge
391 Route 310
Souris, PE C0A 2B0
Tel: (902) 687-3745
Open: May to October
The Table Culinary Studio
– Sandra and John Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax.