Everything was in place: I had a VIP ticket for the Savour Food & Wine Festival, the premier food and wine event in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The plan was that I would join media colleagues for a pre-tour at 6pm. My niece, Kate Mallin, who had flown in from Toronto for the weekend, would then meet me at 7pm when the general public rolled in. However, things didn’t unfold quite as planned.
Savour Food & Wine Festival
I dropped Kate off close by at the Garrison Brewing Co. to hang out for an hour. But when I arrived at the Cunard Centre (where Savour Food & Wine Festival had been held in previous years), there wasn’t a soul there. The parking lot was empty and the centre was in darkness.
I have the wrong night! I thought. Reason took over and I told myself, No, dodo bird, you have the wrong venue.
I returned to get Kate, only, she wasn’t there. Where could she be? Through a comedy of errors, we eventually found each other (I’ll spare you the details), and we discovered that Savour was taking place at the Halifax Trade and Convention Centre. We arrived at 7pm, along with 784 other ticket holders. And what a scene it was!
Picture this: over 70 exhibitors showing off their finest in food and drink. Chefs galore were doing what they do best: putting gorgeous food together and plating it with the flourish of an artist.
As Kate and I were trying to eyeball the convention centre and devise the best way to make the rounds, I spotted my daughter-in-law, Heather Avery. A huge Savour fan, she’d driven all the way from Saint John, NB, (a neighbouring province) to attend with friends. So it made the evening doubly delicious.
For the next two hours we watched chefs mince, chop, fold, sauté, season, and serve food with plenty of panache and pizzazz. After the show, I asked Heather to pick out her favourite food experience of the night.
Delicious Nova Scotia
“Gahan House was the clear winner with the pan fried scallop and braised pork belly on a delicious bed of fresh greens drizzled with a simple vinaigrette dressing. Love at fist taste!” she said, adding, “and the chowder from Ye Old Argyler was also fantastic.
Paired with Lion Winter Ale from Granville Island, the creamy texture from the beer complimented the creamy chowder in an almost parallel fashion.”
Heather’s top drink was “Ironworks Blueberry and Mint Lemonade” from Canvas Resto Lounge. “It had a spring-like taste and the blueberry liqueur used from Ironworks Distillery was amazing … great way to incorporate a local product.”
This was Kate’s first experience at Savour, and she gave it a big thumbs up. A great recommendation from someone who’s travelled all over the world and is more food and wine savvy at age 28 than most of us would be at 82.
“Everything was great. But the Press Gang’s yellowfin tuna sampler was beyond wonderful,” she said. The seared tuna had a sesame crust, topped with a dab of citrus-infused beet and onion relish, dressed with snow peas and taro crisps. It was also laced with a peppered beet gastrique. “It was over the top!”
Half-way through the evening, Kate rushed over to me saying, “Guess what? Pusser’s is here!” She took my arm and led me back to the Pusser’s Rum kiosk.
She was excited because Pusser’s Landing is a hallmark at Soper’s Hole in Tortola, BVI, a small island in the Caribbean that’s near and dear to her heart.
The chap at Savour was thrilled that she knew about “Pain Killers”—a drink he was serving that night, made famous at the Soggy Dollar Bar back in the BVI.
For me, the big pull was Gabrieau’s, and I confess to making more than one visit. Why? They were showcasing their decadent (and addictive) desserts.
I gravitated to the peanut butter moose in a chocolate cup, and crème brûlée. I mean, what’s not to love about these items when done to perfection!
Just before leaving, I picked up a couple of gift cards at Le Bistro by Liz—offering a free appetizer or dessert. The next morning, we made a reservation for 6:00 p.m. thinking this would be the perfect dinner prelude to opening night at Neptune Theatre for REXY!
Fast forward—Kate and I show up at the bistro. Alas, the receptionist couldn’t find our reservation but she was very gracious and arranged for a table without any fuss.
When the waitress arrived with the menus, I gave her the promo cards from Savour. She smiled, saying, “Oh! That’s for Liz’s Bistro. But I won’t mind if you leave, although you’re welcome to stay!”
We were in Bistro le Coq, one of my favourite places to eat in the city. Clearly, I had seen the word “Bistro” on the cards, and got my wires crossed.
As we were across the street from the theatre, and it also would take us some time to get the car and relocate, Kate called the Le Bistro by Liz with our apologies (and I made a mental note to eat there the next time I’m in town.)
Meanwhile, dinner was divine: but I’m running out of space to wax poetic about our meal. If you’re ever in Halifax, just go.
The show, REXY! delivered what it promised: a riveting performance depicting the death defying tight-rope walk during the war years of Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.
“It was a wonderful show with great actors,” Kate said, adding, “I liked how they played multiple roles.”
The way the stage was set up was simple yet brilliant, and I felt that the sets designer’s choice to go with “stylized realism” worked like a charm.
As it’s customary for theatre goers to be invited to munch and mingle with the cast after the show on opening night at Neptune Theatre, we joined the crowd. During the party, photographer Timothy Richard took stylized photos of theatre-goers then puts on them on Facebook—a fun way to top the night.
Local Tasting Tours
If you can’t make it to Halifax for Savour Food & Wine Festival in March, there are plenty of other things to do in Nova Scotia. The Lighthouse Trail is a scenic coastal drive worth doing and some great ways of tasting Nova Scotia’s culinary delights.
Local Tasting Tours offers five tours in Halifax. The company’s tag line is “Take a bite out of Halifax,” and before heading home, Kate and I did just that by joining the Open Kitchen Food Tour, led by Clair Gallant. It was a blast.
For starters, Clair is a chef, performer and world-traveller. As she lives in the North End of the city (where this tour takes place), she knows the area inside out. All the chefs and shop-keepers are friends, and she has tons of insider information.
On this particular tour, we started off at Highland Drive Storehouse—a butcher shop that specializes in meat products like I hadn’t seen for years. Owner Cynthia Kennedy took us in the back room where the butcher was carving hunks of a pig’s head, “We use every part of the pig except the squeal,” she said.
We were treated to some freshly cooked smoked bacon (done on site) and some melt-in-your-mouth shaved roast beef. “The Storehouse,” as it’s referred to, also makes sausages, stocks and spice rubs, along with providing a great selection of choice food items.
Stepping across the street, we ventured into Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo, where we were whisked downstairs to meet Chris Cuddihy who proceeded to give us a demo—and lots of pizza to eat.
We learned some tricks of the trade including how it’s best to put the cheese on the dough first, followed by sauce and toppings. He also often puts cornmeal under the bottom crust. Fun for a change!
Everything was so tasty I flirted with the notion of applying for a job, but Kate brought me to my senses.
Next stop: enVie, a vegan kitchen which was so amazing, I could easily become a convert. Owner Diandra Phipps gave us samples of her Berry Swirl Cheesecake.
Instead of using cream cheese, she uses cashews soaked in water for four hours. Bonus: we came home with the recipe.
The tour ended at the Agricola Street Brasserie where we sat on chairs overlooking the kitchen while chef/owner Ludovic Eveno prepared a wickedly delicious bean dish with pulled pork for us.
At some point I happened to mention that we saw a pig’s head at The Storehouse and how it put me in mind of my mother making head cheese when I was little.
Chef’s eyes lit up, and before I knew it, he presented me with a plate that had two slices of head cheese accompanied by some gorgeous grainy mustard—all made on site.
Aside from enjoying the food, Kate also loved the décor.
“I liked the story about how the restaurant salvaged beach tables from a seaside lodge that had burned down a couple of years ago. I love the way they used these tables around the light fixtures on the ceiling. What an effect!”
Mind you, the head cheese grossed Kate out—but this only meant that I didn’t have to share it with her. Suited me just fine.
The other tours on tap with this company are:
1-Downtown Halifax Food Tour
Visit the famous (some say haunted) Five Fisherman Restaurant, the historic Brewery Market, and peek in the Vault at legendary Chives Canadian Bistro. This tour includes handmade chocolates at Sugah!, award winning shawarma at Mezza Lebanese Kitchen, elegant plates at Gio, and more.
2-Downtown Somo Food Tour
This delicious tour explores south Barrington Street, Bishop’s Landing, and includes authentic Italian dishes at renowned Café Chianti, local rum cake, seafood at historic Halliburton House Inn, award winning wood fired pizzas at Morris East, and more.
3-Halifax North Craft Beer & Food Tour
Savour delectable grilled cheese, tasty cupcakes, authentic deli fare and gourmet ice cream at local favourites like Lion&Bright, Dee Dee’s, Hali Deli, FRED and more. Get the inside scoop on the city’s finest new chefs, the growing local food scene, and the history of this unique and ever-changing neighbourhood.
4-Night Out on Quinpool Food Tour
Check out the Halifax Quinpool Road district like a foodie with substantial tastings at five restaurants, including Greek, Lebanese, Thai, and Italian cuisine, with cheesecake for dessert. Learn fun food facts, the story behind the menus, and explore this unique strip which boasts an incredible concentration of local restaurants.
Sandra Phinney lives in Nova Scotia and was a guest of Destination Halifax.
The Savour Food & Wine Festival is a series of culinary events in Nova Scotia.