New Brunswick is an overlooked gem for girlfriends and foodies in Canada. It's just an eight-hour drive from Boston, so a great road trip for New Englanders. From Chicago, I hopped on a short flight to Toronto, then transferred to Moncton and took a road trip around the charming province.
Upon arrival at the Delta Beausejour Hotel in Moncton, I sipped on a refreshing glass of blueberry and grapefruit-infused water before heading up to the spacious penthouse suite. The hotel has a contemporary design, featuring vibrant artwork from local artists, but the building's Acadian roots are on display at The Windjammer, a Four Diamond restaurant modeled after a ship captain's dining room, where I had the pleasure of enjoying a multi-course seafood dinner. Chef Stefan Müller was kind enough to show me his rooftop garden, along with his beehives (approach from the back to avoid being stung!) before we sat down to a feast. Chef Müller is known for his locavore menu, featuring fresh seafood and produce within a 100-mile radius of Moncton. Smoky mushroom chowder with honey-toasted barley and a trio of Acadian desserts, including a sugar pie that is better than Momofuku Milk Bar's crack pie, were highlights. Poutine à trou was another of the Acadian desserts I tried, and so different from the "poutine" most Americans know, fries smothered in cheese and gravy from Quebec. This poutine (French for pudding) was like a mini pie, filled with tart cranberries, raisins and apples, and then the hole on top was filled with maple syrup for a sweet and sour delight.
The next day I was introduced to a savory version of Acadian poutine, poutine râpée, at L'Idylle Bistro. The Acadians first came to Canada from rural France in the 17th century and their food was simple and hearty. Traditionally this dish is a simple potato dumpling with pork. Chef Emmanuel Charretier gives the classic a sophisticated twist with a thin crisp layer of golden-brown potato enveloping a soft and creamy potato dumpling with chunks of lamb. He serves the poutine with wild cranberry sauce and orange marmalade, both homemade.
Then we were off to Saint John, with a scenic drive along the Bay of Fundy, stopping at the Hopewell Rocks and Cape Enrage on the way. At The Hopewell Rocks, Paul Gaudet taught me a lot about the New Brunswick tides and how they mold the rock formations. The tides here can reach more than 50 feet and highest and lowest tides occur at the new moon, when the gravitational pull of the moon is strongest. Hundreds of years ago, French sailors called the rocks "Les Demoiselles" or "the maidens," because they thought the formations looked like aristocratic French women wearing hats. Maybe they had been away from home for too long, but I can see it if I squint.
After settling in at our hotel, the Hilton Saint John, I checked out the Saint John City Market before dinner. The market is the oldest in North America, dating from 1785, and open year-round. There's an eclectic mix of prepared foods to local produce, seafood and meat and even imported Asian snacks. However, I was headed to dinner at East Coast Bistro shortly after, so I didn't want to spoil my appetite. Instead, I waited to enjoy Malpeque oysters with hibiscus mignonette and bouillabaisse with mussels, prawns, cod and salmon at the newly opened restaurant.
St. Andrews was our next stop, and the small town of 2,000 is the most picturesque seaside landscape. It may be small but there was so much to do. From sea kayaking with Eastern Outdoors to whale watching with Island Quest Marine, there's plenty for the more adventurous nature lovers. Local shopping, including a Thursday morning farmer's market and relaxing on the waterfront, are options for a more leisurely stay. We spent a couple nights at the Treadwell Inn, a bed and breakfast on the historic main street in town. Gourmet food shop St. Croix Olive Oil is attached to the inn, with more than 60 specialty olive oils and balsamic vinegars to choose from.
The Kingsbrae Garden is one of my favorite attractions in town. From the children's fantasy garden and a sculpture garden to the scents and sensitivity garden for the visually impaired, there is something for everyone. I munched on blackberries and rose hips in the edible garden, and discovered a new fruit - arctic kiwi. These thimble sized green fruit from Siberia and Northern China look just like kiwi on the inside and taste like their larger counterparts too.
Another must in St. Andrews is whale watching. There are several operators in town, but I liked Island Quest Marine for their knowledgeable and friendly guides. We were lucky enough to see the first North Atlantic Right Whales of the season. This species is endangered - there are only 400 of them left - and I had a chance to see a mother and her calf. The following day, I went kayaking for the first time and became fast friends with my guide, Charlotte. We saw a fishing weir (a big net fishermen use to catch herring and mackerel) as well as seals around Navy Island.
Before dinner at Niger Reef Tea House, we took a guided tour via bike with Kurt Gumushel, I loved biking in a kilt and as a St. Andrews native, Kurt provided fabulous insight on how the town has evolved over recent decades. Niger Reef Tea House served some of the best and freshest haddock I've had in my life, and it's the perfect gemütlich neighborhood spot. The following evening, I dined at Rossmount Inn, which bills itself as a "culinary inn set between the forest and the sea," and it lives up to this storybook description. Chef Chris Aerni and his wife, Graziella, made me feel right at home, while serving delectable dishes like caramelized scallops with summer ratatouille and hazelnut chocolate feuilleté cake.
The following day, we visited King's Landing Historical Settlement, the most impressive historical village I've ever been to. I had a chance to learn the art of hearth cooking, a home-style cooking school from the 1820s. Evelyn taught me how to make buttermilk biscuits and gingerbread in a Dutch oven with butter she churned herself. Guests here can do everything from spin wool to forge nails and split logs.
Fredericton was our last stop, where we spoke to an up-and-coming chef, Shane Bauer, who has just taken over at Blue Door, where he aims to cook comfortable food with Maritime flavor. With his pastry background, Shane's new desserts like yuzu steamed pudding with lemon curd and blueberries and chocolate truffle cake were outstanding. Make sure to save room for sweets, which is easier said than done when the entrée is confit braised lamb shoulder with pea mint risotto and local goat cheese. The most conveniently located hotel in town is the Crowne Plaza, right on the St. John River, next to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and across the street from the local theater, The Fredericton Playhouse. Before dashing off to the airport the next morning, I had breakfast at Fredericton Farmer's Market, the most impressive market I visited in New Brunswick. The whole town of 55,000 seemed to be milling about and supporting local farmers, bakers and artisans. I tried tiny wild blueberries, handcrafted dark chocolate bonbons and a great lobster roll for a well-rounded morning meal.
New Brunswick is great for a road trip, since the drive from town to town is easy, with lots to see along the way. For artsy ladies, there's the Fundy Studio Tour, where you can visit artist galleries' and even stay at their studios. Perhaps the expansive seaside landscape will inspire your own artwork. I can see myself coming back for an extended stay at St. Andrews, maybe once the Algonquin is renovated! I had a chance to tour the under construction hotel, and we are already looking forward to the luxurious room, champagne sunset receptions and spa treatments using local honey and sea salt. The resort's soft opening is in October with a full opening in spring 2014 and it's the only all-inclusive resort in town.
Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.