Of everything we learned about seafood on our trip through the Canadian Maritimes this was the most startling. Sure, we also learned that it was, in fact, possible to eat lobster every day and not tire of it. But learning that the oysters I’ve come to know and love as Malpeques are actually not was quire a shock. Sure, they’re still delicious and I’ll still eat them, but now I know their true heritage.
It started when we drove up to Malpeque Bay to visit an oyster shack there for lunch. Turns out we were too early for the season to really be started and the shop hadn’t opened up yet. OK, no problem. It was late and we were hungry but we recovered and found a suitable replacement nearby at the Shipwright’s Cafe.
Set in a house on the northern side of the island, Shipwright’s is one of the nicer restaurants in the region and the food we had bore out those reviews pretty handily. Sure, it is hard to screw up a lobster sandwich too much but they didn’t come anywhere close. It was delicious. And like everywhere else in the region they believe in a proper, thick slice of bread when the time comes. Good stuff all around.
Dinner that night was at the Claddagh Oyster House on Sydney Street in downtown Charlottetown. The restaurant is nearly 25 years old now and started out as a diamond in the rough in many ways. Focused more on quality food and flavors than cheap and fast, the restaurant opened on a block that was most definitely known as an area folks would want to be after dark. Over the years, however, they’ve held the line on the food and other restaurants have popped up in the area, turning it into a great little night time hangout in downtown.
Oh, did I mention that the food is still phenomenal?
For starters, Claddagh goes out of their way to explain the local oysters in great detail. Rather than just getting Malpeques, a name that is actually applied these days to oysters mostly from other parts of the island and which are mostly exported, they offer up choices from a variety of farmers that vary on a bay-by-bay basis. With names like Colville Bat, Shiny Sea, Lucky Lime and Uncle Willy’s these are not oysters that are generally found in great quantities outside the region. It is a shame, too, as the smaller farmers have some incredibly flavorful product (I’m particularly fond of the last two there).
After the oysters we headed into what has become a rather common approach to dinner for us: lots of appetizers. More variety and the food is often more fun and imaginative. We weren’t let down. We ordered three and each was delicious. First up were the mussels. Simple preparation, incredibly fresh and a great sauce for the bits of bread we had left. Absolutely no complaints there.
Next up was the pork belly with a Guinness glaze. Looking at the photo again it appears there was also a salad of sorts served on the side but that was definitely extraneous. The meat was tender and the sauce just the right balance of sweet to offset the saltiness of the pork.
Finally, my favorite of the meal (and probably of the entire trip), the lobster gnocchi. Homemade gnocchi that were perfectly done, about half a lobster worth of meat and a light cream sauce that was simply incredible. It was hard to pick a favorite, to be sure, as everything was delicious. But if I was stuck and could only have one thing this would absolutely be it.
Overall the food choices we availed ourselves of while on the island were top notch. Combined with the amazing scenery and Prince Edward Island is definitely a great place to visit.
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