Since the pandemic started, people have been moving to Nova Scotia in droves; in fact, Halifax was the second-fastest growing municipality in Canada in 2021.
So it’s no surprise that with this influx of people there would be a corresponding rise in new restaurants. And while there is significant growth in downtown Halifax, it’s refreshing to see some of the best new food establishments are setting up beyond the downtown core.
These five excellent new venues are turning heads in and outside of Halifax.
Prelude; By Scotian Heritage Foods
Indian Harbour Nova Scotia, about 45 minutes outside Halifax, is a picturesque area dotted with small homes and cottages on St. Margaret’s Bay. It’s an area well known as a fishing village and for being close to Peggy’s Cove, but not much else; certainly not for fine dining.
That’s changing thanks to Colin Bebbington, who started Prelude; By Scotian Heritage Foods in June, a pop-up in an empty retail store on St. Margaret’s Bay Road. Bebbington has a fantastic pedigree. He worked with Thomas Keller at French Laundry and Bouchon in the Napa Valley, with Joe Flamm at the popular Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago, and at Davies and Brook in London where he was part of Daniel Humm’s opening team, which was awarded a Michelin star.
When the pandemic hit, Bebbington moved home to Halifax where he kept busy as a private chef and with fundraisers and pop-ups. But Bebbington was looking for his own space, which he found once he started looking outside the city. At his 30-seat spot, Bebbington serves lunch and dinner from Thursdays to Saturdays. He has garnered rave reviews from locals and tourists alike, especially for his four-course tasting menu which changes weekly and features what looks good to him based on his relationships with local farmers and fishers.
On it, you might find dishes like ricotta gnocchi cacio pepe, balanzoni with hazelnut and brown butter, or halibut chowder. With techniques honed at some of the best restaurants in the world, an affinity for flavour pairings, and exceptional plating skills, Colin has created a distinctive dining experience and destination in the most unlikeliest of places, one well worth seeking out.
Speaking of areas not well known for restaurants, Ori is located on Wyse Road in North Dartmouth, a traditionally rough area of town just off the McDonald Bridge coming from Halifax. This new café and restaurant, opened in April, is helmed by business partners Zoë Bartel and Lachlan Culjak, who decided to take a chance on an area they think is ripe for regentrification.
Bartel and Culjak are no strangers to the industry having worked in fine dining restaurants around the world in Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Toronto, and New York. They met at Halifax restaurant Elliot & Vine after moving back during the pandemic. They started talking and realized they both wanted to try a new approach, one that was more laid back and accessible. Once they found the right space, they made some interior renovations and built a large patio out front.
Then they started slowly with Bartel, the pastry chef, creating a curated selection of baked goods, and Culjak working on a lunch menu heavy on artisanal sandwiches, including a smoked brisket on rye that often sells out. As the menu took off, they started adding dinner items, including some options that were more adventurous, dishes like tigers milk-marinated tuna ceviche with puffed quinoa and smoked chilies, striped bass with pappardelle and lobster broth, and more recently, barbequed octopus with summer vegetable ragu.
As they continue to strike a balance between simple and refined their risk seems to be paying off; Ori has quickly become a must-visit neighbourhood spot.
Like Halifax, the Annapolis Valley is booming, and there is much to be excited about, including the brand new Bedard Bakery in Windsor. Opened in July by partner and front-of-house manager Kelly Bingham and husband-and-wife baking team Thea Greisman and Noah Bedard, the bakery was an instant success. So much so that lines quickly started forming well in advance of opening time and they had to implement a six-pastry limit.
Greisman and Bedard met in Toronto where they worked at Black Bird Baking Co., and moved to the area during the pandemic. While it was their dream to open their own bakery, they didn’t expect it to happen so quickly, but once they met Bingham, a former restaurateur-turned-consultant, they were open in less than six months.
The focus at the bakery is on hand-crafted quality. Bedard specializes in bread including interesting varieties of sourdough like whole wheat tahini sesame and buckwheat coriander, along with pillowy baguettes and flavoured focaccia, while Greisman, the pastry artist, creates such delicacies as raspberry sweet cream croissants, a fancy lemon pastry puff called a bichon, and a savoury potato and feta bourakas with za’atar. But be forewarned; if you don’t make it to the bakery before mid morning, you’re likely to be disappointed by empty shelves.
If you’re heading into Wolfville through Grand Pré, you can’t miss what is now called The Evangeline, a strip of motel rooms and a large guest house, the boyhood home of former Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden. Out front is the restaurant, for decades a diner famous for its homemade pies.
Avram Spatz recently bought the property and has given the motel and the restaurant a significant facelift that is breathing new life into the decades-old landmark. The restaurant, now called Longfellow after the author of the poem Evangeline, is led by well-known local chef Ray Bear, who was originally brought in to help Spatz find a new head chef. He was so taken by the vision and spot, he decided to take the job himself.
At Longfellow, Bear has created a wide-ranging menu focused on local, high-quality—or in his words hyper-quality—ingredients. While the 110-seat restaurant serves three meals daily, it’s dinner where Bear really shines, and where the property’s new aesthetic and sensibility is most evident.
Standouts include the homemade gnudi with lemon and brown butter, eggplant involtini, and Bear’s favourite, the whole roasted trout. But locals and tourists alike need not fear; the pie ladies, as they are known, are still there and their iconic pies are available by the slice for a paltry $5—the best deal in town.
Peacock Wine Bar
The buzziest new opening is Peacock Wine Bar, the latest offering from Freehand Hospitality in the Queen’s Marque development in downtown Halifax. Like the other properties in the family—Drift, Bar Sofia, and Café Lunette—Peacock has its own vibe: whimsical, with a bold style, dramatic colours, and elegant accents.
James Pottie is the general manager, and he is responsible for curating the more than 120-bottle wine list that is heavy on natural and organic wines and hard-to-find varietals. It also includes a number of Nova Scotian wines. Pottie has built the by-the-glass menu to include 4oz options so customers can try numerous smaller pours with different plates from the outstanding food menu, which is led by chef de cuisine, Moira Murray, a native Haligonian who moved home for this role.
Her menu is vegetable-forward to showcase the local produce, and her flavours are bright, interesting, and not overly complicated, although they are damn flavourful, especially her pink peppercorn and preserved lemon tonnarelli, the summer squash and haskap salad, and the eggplant and marinated mushroom sandwich. Pottie and Murray work closely together to ensure the wines and dishes pair well, and they both anticipate changing their menus with the seasons. Good luck getting a reservation!