Like a local: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Known as ‘Hali’ to locals, the city is one of east coast Canada’s culinary hotspots. From coffee to lobster chowder, you won’t go hungry in Nova Scotia’s capital.

By Emma Thomson
Published 13 Sept 2019, 07:00 BST
Halifax Waterfront
Halifax Waterfront.
Photograph by Tourism Nova Scotia

Caffeine cool

Coffee shops are common as cod in this harbour city, but there a handful of must-visit cafes. One of the best is THE OLD APOTHECARY in the heart of Downtown Halifax — set up by a mother-and-daughter team when word of their chocolate brownies went viral during a local food festival. Named after the chemist’s that stood here in 1910, a coffee and one of their delicious, handmade pains au chocolat will set you up for the day. 

One block over, the unpretentious WORLD TEA HOUSE has 120 organic varieties of tea that flat-capped owner Phil Holman personally sourced from small ethical plantations around the world. Whether it was scaling Nepalese mountains or attending the weddings of growers, “traceability means everything to me,” he says.

What THE NOOK lacks in size, it makes up for with heart. Not only is the coffee first-rate, but they also run a programme where you can purchase a token worth either CA$2 (£1.25) or CA$5 (£3.10) at the same time as your brew. You can give these tokens to those in need, who can in turn cash them in for a coffee and bagel. It’s a caffeine fix that warms both stomach and soul.  

Historic hangouts

A local institution trading since the mid-18th century, THE SPLIT CROW was Nova Scotia’s first tavern. Today, it’s swapped sailors for students who have adopted it as their campus bar. They come for the CA$13 (£8) Queen’s County Chowder — a warming bowl of lobster, haddock and potatoes. “It’s one of the closest to my grandmother’s recipes I’ve found,” says Rachael Sheppard (see column). “It takes the chill out of your bones in the winter and harks back to the days when lobster was cheap as chips.”  

Also providing comfort is the ‘donair’ — the city’s official street food since 2015. When two Greek brothers emigrated here in the 1960s, they couldn’t sell a single gyro to locals who preferred their lamb with mint sauce. So, they swapped lamb and tzatziki for spiced ground beef and ‘salad sauce’ (a tangy mix of condensed milk and vinegar) and instantly had queues around the block. It’s all freshly prepared at spit-and-sawdust SNAPPY TOMATO — a local institution that’s been dishing up ‘donairs’ for generations.  

Halifax hums with maritime history, and its seafaring heritage comes alive amid the briny air of the 18th-century pub, THE PRESS GANG. Here, platters of milky oysters are washed down with a single-malt whisky to a soundtrack of live jazz and blues on Friday and Saturday nights. 

If beer’s more your thing, you’ll be well catered for in this city of craft breweries. In fact, Haligonians are such fans of beer that Alexander Keith, the city’s most-famous brewmaster, was mayor three times. Head to the tongue-in-cheek CHARM SCHOOL pub, run by UNFILTERED BREWING, where a number of local beers are on tap.  

The Nook interior.
Photograph by Michael Carty Photography

Top places to eat

Lemon Tree
I adore this family-run Turkish restaurant. Housed in a pink, one-up, one-down house on ‘vintage row’ (Queen Street), you can’t miss the lemon tree painted on the facade. The welcome’s extremely warm and the food — from the kofte to the baklava — is faultless.

There are loads of places to eat lobster in Halifax, but this open kitchen is usually the cheapest and they also offer great grab-and-go lunches.

Primal Kitchen 
This rustic joint ages and butchers its pasture-raised beef onsite. It’s dished up on wooden boards, with homemade ’slaw and bone-marrow butter, but be sure to try the truffle parmesan fries too. Whenever I have friends visiting, I always take them here.  

Trident Booksellers & Cafe
For ‘me time’, I head to this 30-year-old neighbourhood gem. It’s a Parisian-style coffee shop inside a bookstore and I love the straight-backed mahogany cases, yellowing chequerboard floor and the quiet jazz they play while you browse. Plus, the coffee is also roasted onsite.

Housed in the Prince George Hotel, this is no bland hotel restaurant. The chef, Vince Scigliano, lets the talent of his team ‘run free’ on Tuesday nights with a six- or eight-course tasting menu that’s out of this world.

Rachael is the owner of Local Tasting Tours, which offers food-centric tours of Halifax. 

Published in the October 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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