Last Updated on August 18, 2023
By John and Sandra Nowlan
With safe streets, friendly people, and fine dining, Canada has become an attractive destination for U.S. travelers, especially Fredericton and Saint John in New Brunswick. The two Canadian cities are also close to the Maine-New Brunswick border, which make them perfect getaways from such northeastern states as Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts.
Fredericton, the leafy, laid-back provincial capital, is a short drive from the northern terminus of Interstate 95 at Houlton. The bustling port city of Saint John is reachable via Maine Route 9 from Bangor or by following U.S. Route 1 up the Maine Coast north to Calais, Maine.
In recent years both small cities have developed a reputation for quality, innovative cuisine, craft beer, and imaginative cocktails, including the best non-alcoholic drinks we’ve ever enjoyed.
The “City of Stately Elms”
Fredericton, on the banks of the Saint John River, is the “City of Stately Elms,” and also the cultural center of New Brunswick.
With a population of just 65,000, it boasts two universities, a Playhouse, a lively music scene including a Symphony Orchestra, and, most remarkably, the world-class Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The later is home to significant works by British artists Turner, Constable, and Gainsborough. It also has a rich Canadian and Indigenous collection.
The gallery’s masterpiece is probably Salvador Dali’s Santiago El Grande. The massive 13 by 10-foot painting created for the Spanish pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Worlds Fair.
Best Bed and Breakfast in North America
During our road trip from Fredericton to Saint John, we were fortunate to stay at the 1840s Quartermain House B&B during our three-day visit, just a ten-minute walk from downtown. Sitting along the river, the three-bedroom property has beautiful gardens. Its also been rated the best Bed and Breakfast in North America.
Host Debra Quartermain takes great pride in her comfortable rooms and luxurious amenities (including T.V., wi-fi, air conditioning, fridge, and large, luxurious bathrooms). Her creative, substantial breakfast included fresh berries, yogurt, an omelet with aged cheddar and asparagus, blueberry crisp, and a Virgin Mimosa.
Fredericton to Saint John, In Search of the Best Food and Drink
Our goal on this trip was to find the best food and drink (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) Fredericton and Saint John have to offer. Dinner on our first night in Fredericton set a high standard.
Owners of the 11th Mile Restaurant on York Street are Jennie Wilson and her Chef/Husband, Peter Tompkins. They promote locally sourced ingredients and offer modern Canadian cuisine in small sharable portions on vintage family china.
We particularly enjoyed a scallion pancake with tangy dipping sauce. Also wonderful was a chilled shrimp salad with cucumber ribbons, and crispy pork tacos on homemade tortillas.
Most impressive was a crispy roasted half cauliflower with a creamy miso cashew dressing. It is topped with drizzles of guajillo chili sauce and pickled onions. A vegetarian dish is hearty enough for a main course! Our dessert was a tender almond torte topped with whipped cream and rhubarb.
On this Fredericton and Saint John trip, we had our first taste of the craft cocktails (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for which New Brunswick has become well known.
Another meal we particularly enjoyed was at the Feel Good, a café with its own smoker. It turns out a delicious croque monsieur (smoked brisket, mornay sauce, old cheddar, Korean BBQ sauce, and brioche bread) and Cubano sandwich featuring pork shoulder and mojo sauce (citrus and cilantro).
We also enjoyed the unique flavors at the Hana Ethiopian Café and the Wolastoq Wharf Seafood Restaurant (outstanding lobster and salmon dishes).
Cocktails at Marriott’s “Hotel of the Year”
One evening we discovered that the bar manager at the Marriott Delta Fredericton Hotel (just named “Hotel of the Year” by Marriott International) made wonderful-looking and fabulous-tasting cocktails beyond the usual standards.
Sandra enjoyed a Lemonade Ukranian Mule (vodka, lemonade, ginger beer, lime, and mint), while John had a colorful Blueberry Mojito with blueberry syrup, lime, club soda, mint, and fresh blueberries.
Some of the most interesting and complex Fredericton cocktails were prepared by talented mixologist Kanye Eustache at the Provincial Bar and Lounge. Using freshly squeezed juices and several locally distilled spirits, his drinks were complex and very satisfying.
Sandra had an “Internal Imagery,” vodka, pisco, strawberry syrup, red pepper syrup, fennel, lime, and rhubarb bitters. At the same time, John’s non-alcoholic cocktail called “Mo Money” included Granny Smith apple juice, celery juice, lime, and cardamom syrup.
From Fredericton, Off to Saint John
Kanye Eustache admitted that his main competition as a mixologist who invents and prepares outstanding mixed drinks comes from New Brunswick’s largest city, Saint John.
Eric Scouten runs Kakuteru Lounge, a small Japanese-inspired cocktail and conversation venue. It has just 12 seats and furnishings brought from a decommissioned Baptist church.
Small snacks are always available, but Eric, the winner of a national mixologist competition, specializes in unique cocktails. He prepares them with house-made simple syrups, fruit leathers, fruit compotes, and ingredients he forages. Kakuteru
Eric uses five high-end non-alcoholic spirits for cocktails without liquor and delights in his creativity. He makes drinks to order (Sandra wanted something not too sweet made with dark rum and fruit) and often uses smoke to add an extra flavor element. It works exceptionally well with non-alcoholic cocktails.
With thirteen microbreweries, cideries, and distilleries in Saint John, it’s not surprising numerous excellent restaurants are located in Saint John.
The Saint John Ale House is always popular. There celebrity chef Jesse Vergen offers upscale pub food and also a wide variety of locally brewed craft beer.
The Italian By Night restaurant includes a kitchen-side Chef’s Table where the chef can prepare a custom menu.
But the most popular restaurant in Saint John is, surprisingly, a vegetarian and vegan venue. VEGolution, located next to the historic City Market, is TripAdvisor’s top restaurant recommendation in Saint John. In fact, it’s the top in all of New Brunswick. Be sure to visit it if you’re on a Fredericton to Saint John road trip.
Keith Broome, owner and Executive Chef at VEGolution, has wanted to be a chef since age 16. After training at several local restaurants, he took polls and discovered a solid local appetite for a high-quality vegan eatery.
As omnivores, we were skeptical about an all-vegetarian meal but were delighted with Chef Broome’s talent and creativity. His Korean Sticky Soy Bits tasted like pork in a sweet sauce, and customers love his Revolution Cheeseburger. The latter includes brown rice, mushrooms, and walnuts.
For accommodation in the city, it’s hard to beat the Saint John Hilton, located directly on the waterfront near the famous Reversing Falls and adjacent to the modern cruise ship terminal. A pedway links the hotel to many shops and services. It’s an ideal venue to enjoy all the city of 75,000 has to offer.