Monday, September 5, 2011

St. John's, NL - Restaurants

My wife Laura and I fell in love with St. John's, Newfoundland after spending 8 days and nights there in late summer 2011.  It's North America's oldest and most Eastern city. In the first of an ongoing series of articles I intend to write about this paradise, here's a fond look back at the restaurants we tried.

Thai One On - Pad Thai from The Sprout
The Sprout - 364 Duckworth Street, 709-579-5485
The Sprout is St. John's only 100% vegetarian restaurant; each dish has a vegan option. The food is delicious and very reasonably priced. If there was a place like this in Ashland I would eat there all the time! The menu is extensive and offers some unique twists on favorites like poutine. We ate there twice and I'm still thinking about the incredible pad thai. I also tried the chili and the Bravocado (avocado and cheese) sandwich, which was also great. Not only is the food good, but this is also the place to meet a beautiful vegan girl*! (*Neil Conway reference for those in the know!).

The Ship Pub - 265 Duckworth Street at Solomon's Lane, 709-753-3870
For bar food/pub grub I can't imagine a better place than The Ship.  The food is tastier and made with more care than it needs to be for a place like this.  Try the breakfast burrito, the fish and chips, the fish cakes, or the poutine - possibly the best poutine in the city.  They stop serving food at 8pm though, as most pubs here do, so get there early if you want to eat.  After eating it would be perfectly fine and normal to stay the rest of the evening drinking at the bar, chatting with the regulars and tourists alike, enjoying the great local Quidi Vidi and Storm beers on tap, and taking in the world-class music they have there almost nightly. And then come back and do it again the next day!  Here's a great article about The Ship written by Candice Walsh for West Jet up! 

Afgan  Restaurant - 375 Duckworth Street, 709-754-2230
Across the street and a little over from The Sprout is the aptly named Afgan Restaurant.  A lot of folks may miss or overlook this little place, but if you like simple chicken, kabab and naan bread meals then this is definitely worth trying. If I remember correctly, the menu only had a few options but you really can't go wrong here.  The pricing is good too.  I would eat here fairly often if I lived in St. John's.

International Flavors - 4 Quidi Vidi Road,709-738-4636
If you're visiting St. John's for any length of time you have to try this place!  It's Pakistani food at its best!  It is all the way at the other end of Duckworth towards Signal Hill and The Battery, but not too hard to find.  They are open noon to 7pm most days (closed on Sundays I think).  The coolest thing about this place is there really is no menu.  There is one dish being cooked and you can get it with or without meat (chicken or pork) in a size small, medium or large. I love that concept!  I ordered the medium plate and it was a lot of food; all I could do to finish it.  Also, it is very inexpensive for St. John's standards. If I lived here this is definitely one place I would take visitors.

The Pepper Mill - 178 Water Street, 709-726-7585
Water Street is where a lot of the fine dining restaurants are located.  If you're planning to dine at any of them during peak dinner hours, I suggest you call ahead and make reservations. We didn't know this and happened in The Pepper Mill on a Monday night after the first place we tried was full up.  As walk-ins, we only got a table due to a cancellation. I'm not a real fancy eater, so there's a point where some of the things you're supposed to appreciate at a nice restaurant are lost on me.  Fortunately The Pepper Mill does their best to make your dining experience all that it can be, even for regular folks like me.  The Pepper Mill returns on your dining investment with perfectly cooked, well chosen entrees.  I had the halibut on special and the portion size was larger than I expected.  I finished it, but I was very full.  And actually their prices are pretty reasonable, I would find, for this type of place in St. John's.  Add in a good wine and beer menu and if you're looking for a nice, romantic dinner this is the place I would go.  Side note: I had packed lightly for this trip, mostly hiking clothes, not exactly stuff you'd wear to a nice restaurant. Fortunately St. John's is a relaxed, non-snooty city so although I was a little under-dressed in my opinion I was never made to feel uncomfortable in nice restaurants.

Aqua Kitchen and Bar - 310 Water Street, 709-576-2782
Aqua is the other fine dining place we tried.  The food was pretty good - more like comfort food and very rich.  It's a little more pricey than The Pepper Mill.  The $26 Southern Fried Chicken meal I got was nice but I felt like I payed a little bit too much, and the attempt to fancy up this down home dish was perhaps a little under-appreciated by me. I did try some wasabi mashed potatoes which were out of this world! Not too spicy with just a hint of wasabi. Wicked. The bread with olive oil and sundried tomato for dipping they brought out was an unexpected bonus.  This place has a good reputation, it's hip and is often packed, so again, it's best to call for a reservation if you want to get a table here.

Zachary's - 71 Duckworth Street, 709-579-8050
On our last night in St. John's we popped into this unpretentious, more Newfoundland like local restaurant for dinner.  It was a quiet night there, being far removed from the maddening crowd on George Street, but the food hit the spot!  Home-cooked chowder, grilled cheese, salad, fish and chips, fish cakes, local beer...they have it all here!  Zachary's is the kind of quaint place you'd expect to find in some tiny fishing village and not a booming, industrial habor town like St. John's.  The restaurant is more known for its breakfast and lunch...try it then!

Venice Pizzeria - 81 Military Road, 709-738-7373
We wanted pizza while in St. John's and saw several pizza places scattered about, but we were directed to Venice Pizzeria on Military Road near Bannerman Park. They stay open late and the pizza is great for beer munchies after a night of drinking.  Nothing fancy here - just great, traditional, crunchy pizza the way it's supposed to be.

Linda's Inn of Olde - 67 Quidi Vidi Village Road, 709-576-2223
The Inn of Olde in Quidi Vidi is more of a funky neighborhood watering hole and I will write more about it when I cover pubs, but after a long day hiking the Sugarloaf section of the East Coast Trail their seafood chowder with a side of bread and a Black Horse beer was just what I needed. The fresh cooked chowder was creamy with celery and carrots in it.  By the taste of the ingredients you could tell it wasn't out of a can.  They also offered chili but we didn't try that. This is a place you'll want to linger a while to take it all in.

Asian Taste - 250 Duckworth Street
The only other place we ate at was this Asian sushi place on Duckworth on a day we were undecided about what to get for lunch.  They had some good sushi box lunch combo options - slightly expensive - but a lot of food and very satisfying.  Nothing incredible, but just as good as similar sushi places we have back home.  They also have Chinese dishes. Oh, and pictures of everything are shown on the menu, which can help someone like me with ordering.

I was surprised by the number of ethnic restaurants within walking distance offering excellent quality food.  This is the type of stuff we like to eat, so we ate at these types of places more frequently than typical visitors might, and a little less at the traditional Newfoundland establishments.  I regret now not having the standard boiled dinner that a place like Velma's offers, but I think we got a good taste of the food being offered in St. John's and definitely lucked out into finding a few favorite places.  If we were there longer we probably would have tried the Basho Japanese restaurant (expensive!!!), or India Gate (for the lunch buffet), or Shalimar (another Southern Asian place), or Blue On Water (more fine dining), as all of these places were recommended to us by locals, but there was only so much we could sample in a week.  Until next time!

Click on the following links to read more about my St. John's trip and the pubs, live music and hiking I encountered.

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