For literature lovers—and girls the world over—Prince Edward Island evokes Anne of Green Gables’ books (and films), which famously captured the essence of the small Canadian province’s wind-swept sand dunes, haunted forests, rolling hillsides and ocean view landscapes. As a girlhood devotee who read not just the Anne books but every book and journal L.M. Montgomery wrote, finally visiting P.E.I. and Lucy Maud’s birthplace with “my Diana”—my lifelong, girlhood friend like Anne’s own Diana—was a bit like coming home.
Reminiscences of Ireland and Scotland (both countries are a huge part of the island’s demographic roots, alongside French Acadians) are seen in PEI’s green hills and coastlines. Midwest America has a kindred in PEI’s red earth and corn and potato fields. New England’s rocky shores are not dissimilar to PEI’s shoreline where we gathered oysters and clams. There is a breathtaking oceanside cemetery at the historic Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel Church in Mont Carmel, one of the Island’s oldest churches. Or visit otherworldly places like Greenwich with its floating boardwalk leading to white sand beaches and dunes, lush with wildlife, both breathtaking places that exemplify PEI.
But what about the food? PEI mussels are rightfully famed the world over but there is a wealth of shellfish and fish (heavy on oysters and lobster) teeming in the crisp, cold waters surrounding the island. It’s true: PEI is not exactly lined with great restaurants or much beyond simple preparations of its seafood glories. But digging in unleashes a few edible gems. In the fall, the weekslong Fall Flavors is an ideal time to visit for a slew of culinary and drink events, including a two-day PEI Beer Festival. At Fall Flavors, heartwarming events like Festin acadien avec homard are an insider’s peek into local culture, historic Acadian recipes and music. At the beer festival, sample PEI beers like a tart blueberry ale from PEI Brewing Co. or quality Canadian craft beers like Ontario’s Brewing with their artful cans.
Here are seven standout food and drink options around the island—and in keeping with PEI in general, they often center on seafood (note: restaurants can often be closed during the winter so always check before planning a visit).
1. The Inn at Bay Fortune
The island’s one Michelin-worthy restaurant on remote eastern shores, The Inn at Bay Fortune is well worth a trek. The 1913 inn is a dreamy setting (formerly a summer home for Broadway playwright Elmer Harris, then owned by actress Colleen Dewhurst who played Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables); guests are welcome to wander the inn’s organic farm. Celebrated chef Michael Smith cooks the most forward-thinking dishes I tasted on this sleepy island and Bay Fortune’s unique dinner format makes the experience unforgettable. Starting with fresh-shucked oysters, hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour (using garden herbs and local spirits) on the front lawn rolling down to the bay, guests can wander the farm and herb garden before sitting down to communal tables in the inviting inn. There is live-fire cooking from outdoor firepits and indoor hearths, freshly baked bread, smoked fish, housemade charcuterie, a wine library and an inspired tasting menu. If you make one island splurge, it should be Inn at Bay Fortune.
2. Mussel and Lobster Shore Boil
On the westernmost part of the island, after driving through remote forests, then down an unpaved dirt road, you start to wonder if you’ll reach a destination at all. Then you come upon fisherman Jim Conohan’s trailer in the woods with the bay sparkling through the trees. Jim takes you down to shore as his sons boat out in the bay to grab famed PEI mussels while you gather clams and oysters from the shore. Then it’s back to the trailer to shuck, clean and prep for a seafood boil. Conohan gathers PEI lobsters earlier that day and it all goes into a hearty, rustic boil where you eat the fruit of your labors and get a true glimpse into the hardcore life of PEI fishermen and their families. Sign up for a boil between May and October here.
3. Point Prim Chowder House
Jutting out on a narrow peninsula in central PEI, Point Prim Chowder House
is worth a visit for the setting alone. Its famed lighthouse (one of many on the island) draws visitors onto a red dirt road where Point Prim Chowder House sits in view of the lighthouse. In keeping with the island in general, this isn’t so much forward-thinking cuisine as it is fresh, local and heartwarming. They offer a welcome range of chowders, like traditional local seafood, a Manhattan or a curry crab and corn chowder. There are baked oysters and lobster rolls (warm or chilled)—island essentials on many a PEI menu—as well as grilled cheese or pulled pork sandwiches. With a deck right on the sea, waves lapping at your feet and views of both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the distance, this is quintessential PEI.
4. Local Distilleries: Myriad View and Deep Roots
With Prohibition lasting here over 40 years, home distilling has long been common around the island. In the last decade, a few distilleries have opened. Myriad View Distillery and Deep Roots Distillery are prime examples of “craft” (small batch) entrepreneurship in a country notoriously difficult when it comes to alcohol exportation anywhere beyond your province given cost-prohibitive taxes. So far, these spirits are only available on the island and worth seeking out for a tasting.
The gracious Paul and Angela Berrow started Myriad View in 2006 (Paul is a physician by day) with co-founders Ken and Danielle Mill. Their pristine tasting room is surrounded by vineyards overlooking the sea, offering an impressive range of balanced spirits, from triple-distilled vodka to rums, Canadian whiskies to an elegant brandy. There is also a lively gin; pastis; (a tribute to Paul’s dad’s favorite spirit) and straight shine and lightning, both long-held island traditions in the moonshine vein.
Deep Roots was originally an apple farm—and is still an extension of Beamish Organic Orchard—started by a former teacher and his wife, Mike and Carol Beamish, who began distilling apple brandy to not waste excess apples but grew to become a beloved local distillery. Besides apple brandies, they distill a cane sugar based spirit (akin to a moonshine or sugar shine with whispers of un-aged rum); not-too-sweet maple liqueur; absinthe; blueberry (one of the most common berries on the island) liqueur and local, tart haksap berry liqueur.
5. Terre Rouge Bistro Marche
In downtown Charlottetown, Terre Rouge Bistro Marche is one of the few restaurants around attempting a hipper, farm-to-table approach with local craft beers on draft and farmers listed on the menu. That being said, it’s not exactly current by global standards with some hit-and-miss elements, but it still is a respite on PEI for a more youthful vibe and vegetarian options. Besides mac ‘n cheese, burgers and local seafood, Terre Rouge offers mushroom toasts and a lentil beet burger (the latter a standout menu item except for the grocery store-like bun).
6. Marc’s Lounge
Though you’ll find worthwhile breweries and distilleries, PEI is not the place for great cocktails or a bar “scene” (head to Halifax in nearby Nova Scotia for the closest options in that realm). But one can soak up local flavor even if drinks are forgettable at arguably the most memorable Charlottetown bar: Marc’s Lounge, hidden upstairs in an artist’s loft above The Brickhouse restaurant. Brick-walled and beam-lined, the loft glows with live music and locals, a tribute to the spirit of its namesake, Marc Gallant, a beloved PEI artist, author, artist and land use activist who lived and created art in the loft in the 1980s but passed away in 1994 at age 47. Raise a glass to Marc as you sing along with talented local musicians.
7. The MacMillan Dining Room at Dalvay
Possibly the most magical building on the island, the historic The MacMillan Dining Room at Dalvay is famed as the fictional White Sands Hotel in the Anne of Green Gables film. The enchanting Dalvay by the Sea begs for a sunset stroll pre-dinner along its picturesque lake, over nearby sand dunes and around the inn’s soothing grounds, followed by a post-dinner dram in front of the lobby’s roaring fireplace. The dining room is casual and spacious with views over the lake. Though the seasonally changing menu reads ambitious for PEI (like lobster and crab okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake)—and chef Chris Colburn pulls from local farmers, fisherman and produce from Dalvay’s organic garden—in my visit, execution ran a bit dated and overwrought with overcooked fish and over-sauced dishes. Overall, it’s still a uniquely PEI experience and setting.
Where to Stay: In downtown Charlottetown and conveniently walkable around the town, the Holman Grand is one of the island’s tallest buildings at 10 floors. It may look a bit “corporate” but it is one of the more modern, comfortable choices around, its staff offering that warm PEI welcome. For local flavor in a remote village on the eastern side of the island, Georgetown Historic Inn was established in 1840 and though the top floor rooms are quite small, here you soak up village flavor, bay views and the engaging welcome of the attentive owners and staff.
As national editor at Table8, SF/NorCal editor at Zagat and the Bay Guardian’s head food/drink critic, Virginia Miller constantly travels the world in pursuit of great food and drink for her day jobs as well as her regular articles in places like Food Republic, Liquor.com, Paste and Distiller Magazine.