*Two years ago we won a trip to visit Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which has just recently put out an open invitation for Americans to move there should Drumpf win the upcoming presidential election. It’s a PRETTY GREAT TIME up there, and the scenery is bonkers, so we’ve got half a mind to take them up on their offer. Here’s a detailed account of our trip and why YOU might want to start packing your bags, too:
A couple of months ago I attended a Cape Breton Lobster Celebration lunch at ICC (to highlight Nova Scotia lobster + tourism), and I ended up WINNING a trip to Cape Breton through DCBA, which is probably the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me; I mean that in the sense that 1. winning a trip (in any capacity) is pretty much the greatest, but 2. Cape Breton is one of the most fantastic places I’ve ever visited, both from a landscape perspective AND a cultural one.
My trip spanned five days to overlap with September’s Right Some Good Festival, a dreamy pop-up series for foodies that (for this particular weekend) brought in three renowned chefs to cook locally-sourced, multi-course meals around the island of Cape Breton. During the day I got to sight-see, and at night, I got to eat an obscene amount of delicious food. (NOT A BAD DEAL.)
Below I’ve documented the entire experience, and if you like what I saw, YOU might consider bunking off a few days from work in October for the famous Celtic Colours International Festival, an annual music-centric event in Cape Breton that coincides with the changing fall leaves and highlights the Celtic cultural influence on the island. (Nova Scotia isn’t called “New Scotland” for nothing…)
Without further ado, though, here’s my take on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia:
I woke up at the crack of dawn to hop on my flight out of Newark, which left me in Halifax for a layover, followed by a quickie flight out to Sydney Airport in Cape Breton. From there I was picked up (by my tour guide Kelsey, who is basically the friendliest human you will ever meet) and taken to my first hotel (a very state-of-the-art Hampton Inn / HIGHLY RECOMMEND) in Membertou where I got settled for the night.
Now, Canada is obviously not so different to America, but there WERE some things that surprised me. Here were a few of my preliminary observations:
- Everyone was SUPER NICE. I realize that might seem like a blanket statement, but everyone I came into contact with (even the TSA people) was incredibly friendly and hospitable. (Granted, most places are kinder than New York City, but I was very impressed by the Cape Breton disposition.)
- While everyone predominantly spoke English, French was more prominent than I expected. There were also channels in French on my hotel room’s TV, so I tried to pretend like I understood it by watching Family Feud. (Turns out I am not good at pretend translation.)
- BRITISH CANDY WAS READILY AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE! As such, I ate way too many Maltesers.
- The money was weird! Canadian coins are called LOONIES AND TOONIES, and they look like Chuck E. Cheese tokens. Also, the bills are like Monopoly money and have a picture of Queen Elizabeth II (at least on the twenties), which is kind of the greatest.
At the start of the second day I was picked up by Kelsey at the hotel after breakfast; we were headed to Baddeck, the town in which I’d be attending the first night of Right Some Good. On the way, we stopped off at the Fortress of Louisbourg, which is a HUGE reconstruction of a settlement that was originally made in the early 1700s, and is also TOTALLY DEFINITELY HAUNTED. There are lots of reenactors on site that you can speak with about what life was like back in the day; apparently everyone was drunk all the time, AND there were 5-6 men for every woman, meaning I probably should have been born three hundred years ago.
After that mini adventure, we continued on to Baddeck to have lunch and GO ON A SAILBOAT! I hadn’t been on a boat in a very long time, so this was extra exciting. The tour took us around the Bras d’Ors Lake, and we got to 1. see Alexander Graham Bell’s summer home, which contains THIRTY-SEVEN ROOMS, 2. look at seals, 3. FEED BALD EAGLES / WE FED THEM CHICKEN WHICH I DON’T THINK YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO BUT IT WAS REALLY COOL, 4. learn that a sailboat can’t capsize even though it felt like it would a lot of the time, and 5. be reminded that I should always wear three hundred layers of SPF 5000 sunscreen!
And FINALLY here was the first Right Some Good dinner that I’d been hugely looking forward to attending! For starters, I can’t say enough good things about the location, which was on the grounds of the Inverary Resort; the tables were set up in a tent a short walk from our rooms for the night, and the spot just so happened to be right on the water as the sun was setting. (Scope the picture of that below / #UNREAL.)
Our table was also the most fun, because the festival founders’ parents were with us, as well as the other two chefs who’d be cooking the next two nights, AND Jeremy White of Big Spruce Brewing, who is a #LAUGHANDAHALF. I actually got into a little trouble with Jeremy, because (having zero understanding of Canadian beers) I ordered the first lager the bartender reeled off, rather than testing out Big Spruce’s Cereal Killer Stout (AMAZING name, BTW)…so not ONLY was this unintentionally impolite of me, but it was also super dumb, because the stout (as I would learn the next day) turned out to be INCREDIBLE, and I could have been drinking it had I known.
But enough about beer / let’s talk Chef Dennis McIntosh (of Jamaica), shall we? Dennis is super rad (we hung out the next night at the second Right Some Good dinner / topics of conversation included ska music and how he went to school with one of the guys from The Specials), AND he’s a hell of a chef. Highlights of his five-course meal (for me, anyway) included a seafood dumpling in coconut + tomato cream w/ scotch bonnet oil; I could’ve stood even more of that scotch bonnet kick (though I appreciate his restraint / I’m sure a lot of the people in attendance aren’t as into spicy things as I am), but it was like a Thai panang curry went on holiday to the Caribbean and got a nice ‘n lifted. I was also super into the pork loin he served up for the main course, which had a tamarind apple + rosemary chutney and was 1. kind of like an upscale version of pork chops and apple sauce, and 2. something I’d eat forever if I could. (Overall a great meal in great company, and you better believe I slept like a log afterwards.)
We got up early the next day to grab some breakfast before heading out on the famous Cabot Trail. I was SUPER pumped for this portion of the trip, because from what I’d heard, the scenery was going to be INCREDIBLE. (Plus I really like going for drives when I’m not the driver, so this was an added bonus.) The stretch of road we needed to drive was hours long, but it was far from boring; for one thing, the views stood up to (and exceeded) the hype, to the point that photographs REALLY don’t begin to do them justice. We stopped off for a coffee break in the afternoon in a town called Cheticamp that speaks primarily Acadian French, and whether it was the French siren song calling my name or not, I ate some EXCELLENT pain au chocolat from Frog Pond Cafe.
Following that little detour we headed to The Glenora Inn & Distillery, a combo of lodging and whisky production that is B-E-A-U-tiful and very reminiscent of a place you might find in Scotland or Ireland. We took a quick tour of the distillery, which uses a local brook as a water source to produce some EXCELLENT single-malt Scotch whisky, though they’re not supposed to call it Scotch as it’s not made IN Scotland. (Whatever, it’s still Scotch.) We got a shot at the end of the $7 tour / WORTH IT.
Yet again we embarked on my favorite part of this trip: DINNER. The second leg of the Right Some Good tour (at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique) featured a four-course menu by the ultra-talented Chef Tommy Klauber (of Sarasota, FL). In two words: HOLY PRESENTATION! Everything Chef Tommy put out was seriously a work of art, though I was ESPECIALLY partial to our first course, which was Cape Breton snow crab with shrimp and chanterelles in a yuzu sabayon and chervil oil; the flavors were perfectly balanced, and it was essentially like eating a delicious fireworks show. (SUPER GOOD.) The main course of grilled lamb was ALSO out of this world (due in no small part to the bomb apricot and mint chimichurri Chef Tommy paired it with), as well as the not-too-sweet-yet-not-too-savory olive oil cake w/ goose berry compote we had for dessert. Knocked. It. Out. Of. The. PARK.
The schedule allowed us to sleep in a little later than usual on Saturday, so we accidentally missed the Inn’s breakfast service (which ended at 9:30am, GEEZ), but it was a blessing in disguise, ’cause I’d never have gotten to experience the magic that is hash brown poutine (poutine = the addition of gravy and cheese curds to fries / all potatoes, basically) if we’d not been forced to go into the nearby town (Mabou). It’s a wonder I didn’t get a heart attack from that plate (which, collectively, was entitled “The Hangover”); it came with about a package of bacon, three eggs, four thick pieces of porridge toast, as well as aforementioned poutine-ified hash browns. BUT all of this was necessary to line my stomach for a little beer flight over at Big Spruce Brewery!
Big Spruce is owned by Jeremy White (who you may recall I met at the first night of Right Some Good), and is picturesquely located on a hillside. You can go to the brewery to refill growlers or to sit on the screened-in wooden porch and enjoy a brew or two. I had a tasting of the three all-year beers, which included the very popular Cereal Killer stout, my favorite of the ones I tasted despite the fact that I’m not a dark beer person. (Who’d have guessed?!) Each sample was two Canadian dollars for a grand total of six very worthwhile bucks spent.
We headed back to the Hampton Inn at Membertou (from my first night in Cape Breton) for the third and final Right Some Good dinner, and THIS, my friends, was the holy grail of my dining experience. It was a five-course meal from Chef Rich Francis (of Top Chef Canada), whose menu was INSANE; we’re talking bone marrow for the first course, a bacon / cheddar / squash / scallop soup for the second, and a potato + herb crusted salmon in an UNREAL sage + blueberry sauce for the third.
“But Megan, you said there were five courses!” Yes, yes I did, and I’m getting to the rest momentarily, because while those first three courses were fantastic, the last two were RELIGIOUS. The fourth course is where the title of this segment (HOLY DUCK) comes from, because HOLY DUCK! First of all, I started following Rich on Instagram the first night of Right Some Good, so I was able to watch the labor-intensive process that went into getting this course ready. It featured duck every which way (duck leg, duck breast, duck prosciutto…) with a stone fruit gastrique and duck demi, plus chanterelles AND roasted root vegetables. (I wanted to lick the plate when I was done.)
But just when I thought things couldn’t get any MORE off the hook, dessert came my way. It was a boar bacon cornbread with maple brown butter ice cream and peach preserves. (Like, WHAT?!) It was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. It was breakfast for dessert. It was (as I say) LIFE CHANGING. Thinking about it right now is depressing me because I can’t cram another helping in my face. This course was proof that god exists, and if I ever end up on death row, I am pretty certain it’ll be my last meal request.
(In case you couldn’t tell, I can’t say enough good things about this meal. Next-level from every angle.)
It was finally time to pack up my suitcase and get ready to head back to non-magical America, but not without first stopping off at Governor’s Pub & Eatery (owned and operated by Chef Arden Mofford) for some brunch. Arden and his sister Pearleen (both responsible for the conception, execution and continued success of Right Some Good) joined me and Mary Tulle (of Destination Cape Breton Association) for a mind-blowing meal, which was LOBSTER EGGS BENEDICT. I knew it was going to be good, because how can anything with lobster NOT be, but holy eff, you guys…add this to the growing list of things I would like to eat every day for the rest of my life. The dill hollandaise was nicely balanced and not at all overpowering, the eggs were perfectly poached, and the tender biscuit base was a nice alternative to traditional English muffins. But let’s be real, the star of the show was the BEAUTIFUL (and delicious, obviously) lobster component, which (as you can see below) is the stuff dreams are made of. HIGHLY RECOMMEND for a beer and a bite if you end up in Cape Breton anytime soon.
I really can’t get over how incredible my five day journey was. I’d like to say a huge thanks to the Destination Cape Breton Association for organizing everything and hanging out with me during the trip, as well as the Right Some Good curators, the chefs, and everyone I met along the way, really. Easily one of the friendliest and most hospitable (not to mention REMARKABLY BEAUTIFUL) places I’ve been in my travels, and I’d love to get back as soon as I can. Again, Celtic Colours is quickly approaching, so if you can swing it, I’d super recommend taking a few days off and heading to Cape Breton for a visit!