Flying into Nova Scotia, for the first time in my life, gave me one of those rare feelings of excitement and anticipation you normally associate with such events.
As the plane banked for the final approach to the Halifax airport, I could just see the Atlantic ocean off to the East. The smell of the ocean started to fill the cabin and it had been a pretty long haul across the country from Vancouver Island. We made one brief stop in Toronto to change planes and by and large, thanks to the jet stream, the West to East flight had been a slightly abbreviated one. Still, we arrived at about seven p.m. Atlantic time which is 4 hours ahead of Pacific time.
We were expecting a ride at the airport and short of going into all the details, our ride never 'arrived' as it were.
We waited around the airport for about an hour and then grabbed a cab into the city. The cabbie was awesome. He gave us some tremendous history of Nova Scotia and Halifax, including the gripping story of the Halifax explosion and some additional details about the infamous Titanic disaster. As most people may or may not know, there are many people buried in Halifax that died on or about the Titanic. More on this boat disaster trip and how it related to our visit later.
The ride into Halifax took about 40 minutes. It is, in fact, a 26 mile ride on a good quality highway into Halifax passing through Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. We got checked in without incident and after chatting with the concierge, determined that we would walk up historic Spring Garden road looking for a couple of possible late night dinner choices. We ended up at a place called "Your fathers mustache" which had awesome beer and natchoes.
In the photo at left, The Economy Shoe restaurant was the clear winner in the top pick of Halifax foodie joints. A lovely waitress told us.. "Hey, you will see famous people here.." I said, "We are ALL famous, even the wait staff!" The Shoe Shop had superb seafood and an unbeatable atmosphere. We wished we had more time to sample more of the better places.
All snacked up, we got back to our hotel at about 10:15PM. My cell phone rang. It was our 'ride'. It seems that their brakes failed on the way to the airport and they had to do an emergency ditching of their car off of the highway! This was one of many odd things that were to happen during our visit.
The next day we slept in and ended up at a Tim Horton's for a late breakfast/early lunch of bagels, cream cheese and coffee. We found some Gray Line information somewhere for the city tour. This is a tradition for us. Results may vary, but for the most part, a bus based city tour is often the best way to see a place for the first time. In the case of Halifax, the Gray Line bus company does not really offer good value. For forty dollars a person, one gets a 1 hour city tour and the privilege of hopping off and on the 'tour' for 2 days. I found a few days into the trip that I could 'walk' the bus tour in about an hour or less. I am not saying that Halifax, Nova Scotia is over-rated at this point in my article. That will come later!
One thing has to be said for Halifax up front: "Great food and great coffee!"
Wait! Is that two things?
Halifax is on the ocean, the Atlantic of course and a bounty of seafood awaits any visitor. We were given a great 'top-ten' list by some friends that included the best activities and restaurants. We did our level best to cover as much a possible during our stay.
The first stop in our list of great restaurants was the "Economy Shoe Shop". Neat name. The "Economy Shoe" is in a cluster of very interesting restaurants. I picked the Bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is a fancy name for fish stew. Bouillabaisse has mussels, clams, shrimp, prawns and white-fish in a creamy and spicy tomato sauce. There is nothing like it. In Halifax, the average price for a great bowl of Bouillabaisse is about 10 dollars. This same dish is generally 16 to 20 bucks on West Coast. This was the best I ever had. This was also the beginnings of some good eats in and around Halifax.
Part of the CoffeeCrew mission was finding great coffee and espresso. Much to our surprise, it was dead easy finding it. The first stop was Perks Cafe on Lower Water Street, Halifax. Not only did they have good coffee but it was fair trade coffee. They have a wide selection of baked stuff and good sandwiches for the lunch crowd. They are a patient lot there. Why do I say that? The busker festival was on in Halifax(more on that later) and their washrooms were like grande central station. If I had a cafe, I would at least ask people to show a little courtesy about the facilities!
Another eating hotspot was the Old Triangle Irish Pub.(photo inset) It was a new experience for me eating at restaurants and pubs with 250 year old liquor licenses. In my hometown, my local "Swan's" is considered old from 1985! We were at a pub spot called the "Split Crow" that got its license in 1749!
In the next chapter we will talk about the lack of chain cafes in downtown Halifax as well as more restaurant and cafe reviews!
Colin Newell is the executive editor of the CoffeeCrew. He lives in Victoria and travels around Canada looking for good coffee, food and drink.