Over the past few years, Agricola Street has become a hotspot for independent restaurants, cafés and bars — a renaissance, if you will. It’s how Halifax’s North End Business Association (NEBA) described it, calling it a place with “deep soul, fierce spirit and historical diversity.”
Chain Yard Urban Cidery is the latest arrival in the North End, where it’s now being confirmed as a great place to stroll, shop, eat and drink. Having opened in May 2017, just in time for the Nova Scotia’s first ever East Coast Cider Festival, the new taproom, kitchen and patio is already making an impact on the corner of North and Agricola.
On the day I visit, it’s sweltering hot. “It’s a great day for cider”, says co-owner Mike Lim, who started up the business with his wife Susan Downey Lim and business partner, Brian Kelly.
Lim and Downey Lim aren’t newcomers to the hospitality business, nor are they strangers to the North End. The couple owns Grape Escape Wine Tours, while Downey Lim owns Taste Halifax Food Tours. They have lived around the corner since 2007.
“We wanted to be in the North End,” says Lin. “And when we noticed that the FRED building was available, we were like, that’s what we want, that’s where we want to be.”
The FRED building has good Hali-karma. In 2004, Fred Connors and his partner Joel Flewelling bought the former Bank of Nova Scotia building and transformed it into the eponymous hair salon and café, representing perhaps the first “trendy” business to venture into this section of Agricola.
Thirteen years later, Chain Yard has got its finger on the pulse, and it seems they also have a knack for predicting the weather. Only a few foggy days ago, the team installed a single line of homemade patio tables and benches along the modest stretch of sidewalk in front of the building. Despite the relatively traffic-heavy location (North Street is a main artery to the MacDonald Bridge), on this sunny afternoon, nearly every table is full, most customers nursing a flight of ciders.
It’s the first time Halifax has ever seen a patio on this corner.
To help you soak up the apples, Unchained Kitchen offers a menu that evolves throughout the day with cider-tasty items such as a scotch egg with peach grilled hash (brunch), fresh local oysters (lunch and dinner), as well as some fun but semi-sophisticated bar snacks like sour cream and shallot popcorn, or simple Old Bay frites.
But today there’s special treat. Ron Lee, an old friend of Kelly’s is back in town. After moving away from Halifax, Lee apprenticed under Lawrence La Pianta at Cherry Street Bar-B-Que in Toronto before taking a role as garde manger at the Tofino’s Wolf in the Fog. His next venture is the soon-to-open Tofino restaurant, Little Ronnie’s Backyard Barbecue, and to that end, Lee has driven from Tofino to Willoughby, Ohio to purchase a giant barbecue smoker.
After a week of sleeping in his Jeep Wrangler (Lee is reluctant to leave the smoker unattended), and some paperwork still to complete for his Tofino restaurant, Lee got as far as Ottawa, and then made a decision: “Instead of turning left, I turned right. I thought I’d be better off feeding my friends and family in Nova Scotia.”
“He’s been with the brisket since 9 p.m. last night,” says Kelly.
Brisket ready and being plated by the kitchen, Lee nurses the second batch of meat in his new smoker and chats with friends in the afternoon sunshine when a black SUV pulls up.
“Hey,” jokes the passenger, rolling down his window. “Are you doing drive through?”
“Sure,” says Lee, running to the kitchen and returning with a chunk of brisket, which he hands over through the car window.
“That’s it, we’re parking up,” the passenger says to the driver.
And just like that, another table on the patio is filled, and I am left with the feeling that at this refreshing new North End spot, anything could happen.
Chain Yard is only one of several new ventures in the Agricola Street district (2606 Agricola Street). On your next visit to Halifax, make time for noodles at Water and Bone (5687 Charles St), try some simple pub grub from the new kitchen at the Timber Lounge (2712 Agricola St), or stay tuned for good things from Compass Distillery (2533 Agricola St) and Kismet restaurant (2733 Agricola Street), both due to open this summer.