Inns offer Maritime hospitality

The east coast of Canada is a treasured summer destination for travellers who like great vistas, history, wonderful people, festivals, craft shows and good theatre.

In Nova Scotia alone, there are more than 800 festivals and events every year. If you’re planning an east coast trip, check out the country inns where the food is in sync with the hospitality.

It’s the best way to really enjoy the company of Maritimers and their cooking.

There are elegant inns and casual, breezy ones, but they all have one thing in common: owners who care for their guests and are keen to share the bounty of interesting foods that typify the Maritimes.

Here are a few of my favourites:

  •  Gowrie House, Sydney Mines, N.S.
    Clifford Matthews and Ken Tutty have been buying Atlantic antiques and art for as long as they’ve lived in the region.

    Innkeepers Clifford Matthews and Ken TuttyThey have bid against museums and won. And, frankly, I doubt whether any curator could look after the coection with greater love and affection.

  • Some of the pieces of interest include the huge self-portrait by Sheila Cotton entitled “Einstein and the Wayward Women” and Anne Meredith Barry’s “Low Cloud Over Blow Me Down Mountain” in the breakfast room.

    The soul of the house is a 1690 Russian icon set discreetly on a side table in the front parlour.

    There’s an 1810 Japanese Kuttani tea service in the “thousand faces” pattern and a collection of Royal Doulton that brought tears to Michael Doulton’s eyes when he saw so much of his grandfather’s work.

    Local suppliers
    Dinner is one sitting for in-house guests and wise locals. It is not a lavish affair. There’s a genuine attempt to use local suppliers. Hank’s Family Farm delivers vegetables and fruits, such as currants and gooseberries.

    Fisherman Blair Campbell, who farms on the side, supplies raspberries. The lamb comes from Cape Breton, as does the rhubarb that goes into the chutney. Salmon and scallops are from Green Island near Arichat, Cape Breton. 

    Dessert is lavish, such as a summer peach Pavlova with island blueberries. 

  •  The Inn at Spry Point, Spry Point, P.E.I.
    The Inn at Spry Point is set on a spectacular private peninsula, with beaches on one side, red sandstone cliffs on the other, framed by meadows and spruce forests.

  • The inn is a new venture of David Wilmer, who also owns the Inn at Bay Fortune, and I have great hopes for Wilmer’s newest endeavour.

    It’s a meditative kind of place. Laurel-lined trails lead from the inn to the forest, where you can wrap yourself in sweet spruce perfume and the soft noises of insects. Behind a berm of thyme, the inn gardens are still young.

    Next page: Mussels, island potatoes

    Mussels, island potatoes
    Chef Shirleen Peardon orders her vegetables from Clarice Hambly’s huge supply at Bay Fortune. The menu is simple, with perfectly grilled tuna, and beer-marinated pork grilled rare and served with a fresh peach sauce.

    Here’s where you should dive into a bowl of mussels. They’re messy and require no particular decorum. Peardon does great things with island potatoes, too. 

  •  Rossmount Inn, St Andrews by the Sea, N.B.
    Rossmount Inn, just outside the bustle of St. Andrews by the Sea, is easy to miss but don’t! For years, the property had been in decline until the talented and committed couple, Chris and Graziella Aerni, took it over—along with Chamcook Mountain.
    For the Swiss couple, there’s something quite special about owning a mountain. When the deal closed, they immediately phoned home to spread the news.

    The Aernis honour local ingredients and the people who produce them, and continue to search out new suppliers.

    Oysters, steamed periwinkles
    I met Chris for the first time on a hot August day. Before I had unpacked, we were off to harvest rockweed, which grows in profusion all along the coast.

  • After blanching, it turns bright green and is perfect as a bed for serving fresh oysters or steamed periwinkles, another local delicacy.

    It’s a challenge, as any Atlantic Canadian chef will tell you, to obtain fresh seafood. The distribution system rarely accommodates the needs of local business.

    Pan fried fish
    But Chris has a beguiling way about him, and the fishermen are responding with some of the most interesting seafood you’ll find in the province. While I was there, the kitchen was busy cleaning fresh Fundy herring, saving the roe to use as a garnish.

    The fish are simply stuffed with fresh rosemary and thyme, then pan-fried. If you’re lucky, you may get to taste sea urchin and you will definitely be served pioneer salmon farmer Skip Wolfe’s great smoked salmon from Fundy’s Jail Island. Arugula and perfect peas from organic grower, Beth Beurkel, complete the main course.

    And for dessert? It may be as simple as a bowl of local blueberries with cream or as decadent as meringue glacée with Swiss chocolate sauce.

    For more information:
    Gowrie House
    139 Shore Road
    Sydney Mines, N.S.  B1V 1A6
    Tel: 902-544-1050
    Toll-free: 1-800-372-1115
    E-mail: [email protected]

    The Inn at Spry Point
    Spry Point, P.E.I. C0A 2B0
    Tel: 902-583-2400 (summer)
    Fax: 902-583-2176 (summer)
    Tel: 860-563-6090 (winter)
    Fax: 860-529-1929 (winter)
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Rossmount Inn
    4599 Route 127
    St.Andrews, N.B.  E5B 2Z3
    Tel: 506-529-3351 
    Fax: 506-529-1920
    E-mail: [email protected]