Chefs set on creating a distinctive food scene in St. John’s are tight with the local fishers, foragers and a new generation of farmers with the grit to grow greens—beyond those hardy root veggies—in The Rock’s chillier climate. This port city is a culinary melting pot offering everything from ramen and tapas to rum-doused desserts. All are infused with ingredients from home, whether salt cod in noodle broth or foraged blueberries in pavlova. The wild game scene is also strong, with moose and elk on menus across the city.
An annual event, the George Street Festival (July 26 to Aug. 1) is one big block party drawing thousands of music lovers for seven days of live performances. Knock back a few with the locals at 24 participating bars, such as Bridie Molloy’s Guinness Pub & Eatery. The festival vibe is raucous and dancing shoes are required. Acts turning up for this year’s party include Our Lady Peace, Trooper and Arkells.
For a literal and metaphorical breath of fresh air, book the Forage & Fire experience with forager Lori McCarthy at Cod Sounds. Take a hike along the shore in nearby Avondale and forage for wild edibles such as parsey-like lovage, mustardy sea rocket or tangy partridgeberries. After foraging, McCarthy hosts a traditional boil-up lunch around a beach campfire, incorporating the freshly gathered wild foods into the meal. Sample seafood and game meats that locals love—cod, of course, or maybe some seasonal arctic char, periwinkles, mussels, rabbit or moose. Lori brings her home-baked bread and berry preserves to the feast, as well as a host of stories about the region’s old culinary traditions and how they continue to influence Newfoundland and Labrador’s food culture.
This spot on Duckworth is killing it with the early risers for brunch, offering classics with a Newfoundland twist, think: crunchy brie-stuffed French toast with rum caramel sauce and hash browns.
Pop into Chinched Bistro’s deli from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for pig ear fries with buffalo sauce or sandwiches made from fresh bread stuffed with house-made charcuterie and pickles. Come back for happy hour and feast on P.E.I. oysters. Read more about Chinched Bistro.
Nibble on small-plate snacks at Tavola, a restaurant and tapas bar opened by Great Big Sea founding member Bob Hallett. The truffled popcorn is ridiculously more-ish.
For a hip urban vibe and a seafood-focused menu, try St. John’s Fish Exchange Kitchen and Wet Bar. Come for the traditional cod tongues and scrunchions and stay for the lobster mac and cheese—made with a four-cheese sauce.
By nights in Witless Bay, just outside St John’s, pop-up restaurant Fork takes over the Irish Loop Coffee House. Save room for their pavlova—a ring of mini meringues daintily plopped in lemon curd and garnished with local blueberries, granola and flowers.
Ranked No. 7 on the 2018 Canada’s Best 100 restaurants list, this St. John’s staple is set in a historic building with huge floor-to-ceiling windows in all three of its dining rooms, offering perfectly framed views of St. John’s harbour and downtown. The restaurant serves up fresh seafood, seasonal game and foraged ingredients. Local delicacies on the menu include sea urchin and diver-caught scallops, house charcuterie made with game meat, moose pâté and desserts featuring wild edibles, such as blueberry pineappleweed sorbet. Chef Jeremy Charles and sommelier Jeremy Bonia co-own both this fine-dining establishment and the more casual Merchant’s Tavern—also located in the city’s downtown.
“St. John’s culinary scene has transformed immensely in the past decade. People are focusing on what’s around us and celebrating those things [such as] the wild ingredients we have here and our landscapes and farms, foragers and growers.” —Chef Jeremy Charles, Raymonds
Raymonds’s sister restaurant, The Merchant Tavern serves up lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, but the menu highlight is the vinegar pie. It has a buttery sagamite (heritage-corn) crust and a filling that combines house-made apple-cider vinegar with smoky maple syrup and sweet cinnamon. Read more about The Merchant Tavern.
On Friday and Saturday nights until 1:30 a.m., nibble on thrice-cooked fries, vegetable fried rice with steak and crispy chicken steam buns at Seto Kitchen + Bar. Enjoy your bites with a seasonal cocktail or local beer.
This casual café, located inside the massive structure that houses Newfoundland’s main art gallery, archives and museum, cooks up plenty of East Coast classics with a bit of a twist. Try the Screech (local rum) pulled brisket sandwich.
Read about more great Canadian museum restaurants —By Dan Clapson
East Coast meets East Asia at this budget-friendly downtown spot. It’s co-owned by Jasmine Kean and Adam Gollop, a classically trained chef who has been a fixture on the city’s restaurant scene for more than 15 years. The duo wanted to bring the global noodles trend to St. John’s and the city has embraced the slurp-worthy flavours. While the menu here is small, it is mighty—the spicy chicken miso and pork belly shoyu are standouts, as is the occasionally served duck pho and a sesame and seaweed salad. Vegan or gluten-free? Gollop’s has you covered with his popular vegetable shoyu that can be served with rice noodles and features King Oyster mushrooms or Enoki, bok choy, asparagus, bean sprouts and more.
Bars, Beer Gardens and Breweries
At the hopping 18th-century bar and restaurant YellowBelly, brewer Liam McKenna makes limited edition brews. Wash down a wood-fired pizza with a pale and refreshing Wexford Wheat ale.
Take a tour then settle in for a five- or six-beer tasting at Quidi Vidi Brewery—best known for its iceberg beer made with the 20,000-year-old pure water of melted bergs. Go on Friday evenings for live music, chowder and a lively crowd at the kitchen party.
In 2017, Mallard Cottage opened up a beer garden where diners can chill out at the back of the historic wooden property and sip local brews while eating barbecued meats or stew cooked in a cast-iron pot over the fire.
Bakeries, Chocolate Shops and Cafés
Located in Portugal Cove, a short drive from downtown, this café is a new local favourite for baked treats like maple-glazed crullers, a twisted, fried-dough pastry.
Here you’ll find dreamy treats like black sesame, coconut, chocolate or raspberry hibiscus scones, and freshly baked bagels.
You can take home alcohol-infused George Street chocolate bars as a souvenir from the popular Newfoundland Chocolate Company.
[A version of this story appears in the July 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]
Why the History of St. John’s, Newfoundland, is Really Cool
The streets of St. John’s are teeming with history dating back at least four centuries. Visit historic attractions—like Signal Hill National Historic Site, Cape Spear Lighthouse and Mallard Cottage—to learn about one of Canada's oldest cities.