May 2, 1997 Halifax Herald

Is there a good place left to eat in Nova Scotia

While living in the United States, during the 1950s, I acquired a taste for well-prepared, quality restaurant food by sampling the culinary delights offered by fancy and not-so-fancy eateries in Boston, New York City, etc. Thus, responding from this perspective, when a gentleman from Hong Kong recently asked if I could recommend a few Nova Scotia dining spots which served first-class food, I answered, “No.” However, I did qualify my “no” by stating that there were several which served excellent speciality dishes. The "Seafood Medley" served by the Sheraton Library restaurant, for instance.

I learned later that he had posed similar questions to other Nova Scotians, and had found the fare at their suggested eateries wanting.

I offered, in response to his “Why?” that the scarcity of quality restaurant food in Nova Scotia was not a thing of long-standing. It had come about gradually because of the adoption of several bad practices by eatery owners; chief among these being that many had abandoned serving well-prepared entrées for the practice of serving poorly prepared entrées in a fast-food mode.

I then told him of the days when most Nova Scotia restaurateurs had taken pride in what and how they served the public. High-quality food and its careful preparation were the norm.

This brought back memories of the awesome chocolate cake which the Hedley House, Smith's Cove, once served with its classy meals (when its dining room was still open). Then there was the great Baked Alaska and other excellent fare that Liscomb Lodge once served. Whatever the reason for the removal of these delicious items from its menu, we haven't been back to dine since we sampled the new fare.

The same has happened elsewhere. Over the past 25 years or so, our family has visited virtually every community around the province. During these trips, we've had the pleasure of sampling the well-prepared offerings of a wide variety of restaurants. Just how good the food was in many of these places was witnessed by the fact that, during this time, I went from a slim 150 to a rather robust 245 lbs. (Note: I've since come to my senses and reduced to 185, helped, of course, by the present lack of good restaurant fare.)

The main reason why well-prepared, quality food has disappeared from many of our restaurants is the same reason which is causing it to disappear from eateries around the world - a mad fascination with improving the profit margin. In the pursuit of pennies, many eatery owners serve low-quality food; and then persuade themselves that people are stupid enough to continue to patronize a restaurant, regardless of the quality of the food their fed.

This presumption is proven wrong by the number of formerly good restaurants which have gone out of business, or the ones still open, but almost empty in the off-tourist season. One can't help but pity the poor tourists who come to Nova Scotia to enjoy a vacation, and often find themselves treated to first-class prices for third-class meals.

While crabbing, I might as well go all the way. One would think that high-quality fish and chips would be the norm in a province surrounded by the sea. Think again. On a one-day trip last year, Pat and I stopped at three different places to buy the dish, and found the fare so obnoxious that we fed it to the gulls. I'd swear that in one case, the meal was so bad, that even the hungry gulls hesitated to eat it. We tried to figure out what kind of oil had been used in frying the ingredients, and finally settled on used crank case oil.

Seriously, it probably was the cheapest cooking oil the owners could buy, and probably was used way beyond its exhaustion date. This penny-pinching mentality is applied to almost everything. The chips found in these places, almost invariably, are of the frozen variety. Home made fries are becoming as rare as the Dodo bird.

Some places even go so far as to promote their slop as quality. At one joint, in addition to fries of the frozen variety, we were served warmed-over frozen, processed fish sticks - which the menu promoted as fresh haddock.

The one positive thing about all this is that the food in many of these places is so low-quality and poorly prepared that it is almost indigestible. Thus, because it stays with one for at least 24 hours, it cuts down on the cost of eating.

In fairness, although not world-class, there are a few good dining establishments left in this province which take pride in serving quality food at very reasonable prices. For instance, if in Parrsboro, try the Glooscap Restaurant & Lounge; or in Millville, Annapolis Valley, near the Oaklawn Farm Zoo, try the Farmer's Family Diner. Both put up very decent meals.

If your aware of other good places to eat, Email me. dnp@ns.sympatico.ca. Perhaps one day I'll start writing a booklet - annually updated - entitled Where to eat in Nova Scotia.

Daniel N. Paul


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