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By Darcy Rhyno
From chocolates at the Maine border to exotic dulse from the sea and fiddleheads from the forest, New Brunswick’s delicacies are fit to be eaten on a food-focused road trip up or down either coast, or along the great Saint John River to the capital. Creative chefs are leading a farm-to-table (and sea-to-table and forest-to-table) culinary evolution across the province. And the influence of the Acadians—descendants of the region’s French settlers—is present throughout much of the local cuisine found in family-run restaurants, heritage parks, and festivals throughout the region.
Here, discover three palate-pleasing driving routes for visitors looking to eat their way with indulgence across the province.
First stop: A celebration in chocolate
Travelers from the United States who enter Canada at St. Stephen, New Brunswick (aka “Canada’s Chocolate Town”) through Calais, Maine are in for a treat. At the Chocolate Museum, located in the original Ganong factory where the first chocolate nut bar was invented, visitors can sample a trove of sweets and handmade goodies while watching as confections, like double-dunked cherries or peanut butter cups, are hand-dipped in chocolate. Plan ahead to arrive during the first week of August and join the fun of Chocolate Fest, hosted by its fuzzy mascot, Chocolate Mousse.
Route one: The Bay of Fundy
Since the mid-19th century, St. Andrews (nicknamed St. Andrews By-the-Sea) has been a favorite vacation spot for Americans because it’s only a half hour drive from the border. Today, it’s the perfect first stop on the Fundy coastal route.
It’s in this historic and scenic setting that one of New Brunswick’s best culinary scenes thrives. Fine restaurants, funky cafés, and charming shops line the colorful streets. Be sure to visit the award-winning Kingsbrae Gardens for photo opps among 2,500 species of perennials, walks along wooded trails, and lunch at Savour in the Garden, where you’ll enjoy artistically inspired dishes using the freshest garden ingredients and products from all over New Brunswick. Atop a hill overlooking the bay, the iconic Algonquin Resort has been a favorite hangout since 1889. The Rossmount Inn Restaurant honors local fishers, farmers, and foragers with creative menus featuring ingredients like Bay of Fundy scallops, Beau Soleil oysters, and greens, like goose grass from the seashore and fiddleheads from the riverbanks.
Plus, with Passamaquoddy Bay—the body of water that divides the U.S. and Canada—at its feet, Saint Andrews is also an ideal launching place for whale-watching tours, which take place aboard everything from a tall ship to a former FBI jet boat.
Car ferries link several islands in and beyond the bay. Since the mid-19th century, Grand Manan Island has attracted artists like painter Winslow Homer and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Willa Cather—whose handmade cottage visitors can still rent today. Approaching the ferry terminal, herring weirs are visible near Swallowtail Lighthouse. While they once supplied a large smoked fish industry, today lobster is king and dulse is queen. The burgundy seaweed that grows best in the shade of the island’s dramatic cliffs is dried and eaten like potato chips.
Further northeast, Saint John—the only city on the Bay of Fundy—is another culinary hotspot. Established in 1876, the Saint John City Market is the oldest continuously run farmers’ market in Canada, as well as a National Historic Site. The Deputy Market Clerk still rings a bell twice daily to signal the opening and closing of the tidy vendor stalls on the floor of the sloping central hall. In the blocks known as uptown Saint John, dining and nightlife spill onto the street at favorites like the Saint John Ale House, where smoked mackerel, local crab, and mussels make the menu along with a couple dozen craft beers.
Continuing 80 miles northeast from Saint John, Fundy National Park offers outdoor adventure in the form of a variety of hiking trails, glamping sites, and backwoods camping spots, as well as a saltwater swimming pool, rivers, lakes, and the dramatic Bay of Fundy coastline. Within walking distance of Headquarters Campground is the small town of Alma, a fishing port where boats rest on their bellies at low tide and restaurants are all about local seafood.
Just 13 miles from Alma at the aptly named Cape Enrage, a cliff-top promontory and former lightkeeper’s home makes for the spectacular location of a surprisingly fine restaurant. The Cape House Scallops are like New Brunswick on a plate. White wine-flamed Fundy scallops are dressed with wild mushrooms, local maple syrup, and nutty fiddleheads. Diners are audience to zip lining, cliff rappelling, and some of the widest tide swings on earth.
Route two: The Acadian Coast
In contrast to the Bay of Fundy’s dramatic coast, the Acadian Coast—which runs northwest from Shediac (the self-proclaimed lobster capital of the world) to Dalhousie—has Canada’s warmest saltwater beaches, such as those at Kouchibouguac National Park, and a rich cultural history.
La Sagouine, a fictional cleaning lady with the gift of the gab, is the embodiment of Acadian culture. Thousands visit Pays de la Sagouine, a small theme park on a tiny island in the coastal town of Bouctouche half an hour northwest of Shediac, to pay homage to the famous character and her creator, Antonine Maillet, and to see live theatre, hear Acadian music, and sample traditional foods. Once hardy fare for fishermen and lumberjacks, dishes like poutine râpée—a potato dumpling stuffed with pork—are served with molasses for dipping. Nearby, Restaurant La Sagouine serves varieties of râpée, along with dishes like tartes aux coques or clam pie.
This year, Canada’s only officially bilingual province is hosting the World Acadian Congress from August 15 to 24, with the closing ceremonies taking place in Shediac. Marc Allain, executive director of Le Carrefour communautaire Beausoleil, an organization that promotes Acadian culture, says, “It’s going to be a massive event. We’re excited to be getting thousands of people in the area who are primarily interested in Acadia culture, food, song, and dance.”
Route three: The Saint John River Valley
The third major route to explore New Brunswick’s culinary culture follows the great Saint John River to the capital, Fredericton, and beyond. Saturday mornings, the smoky aroma of PaPa Don’s Southern Style BBQ lures visitors to “Food Alley,” the lane leading to the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market. Alternatively, try a wood-fired pizza from Milda’s outdoor oven or Iqbal Fagir’s Yummy Samosas. As many as 250 vendors stock fresh fiddleheads, jugs of maple syrup, homemade sausages, and local honey and cheeses for up to 10,000 shoppers a day.
Fredericton also has a reputation for being the craft beer and spirits capital of Atlantic Canada. “There are 25 craft breweries, start-up distilleries, cideries, and meaderies in the region,” says Mary Ellen Hudson with Tourism Fredericton. “Visitors can taste-tour on their own or check out Second Nature Outdoors’ tours like ‘Gears and Beers’ or ‘Paddle and Pint.’”
“Fredericton also has several world class festivals,” says Hudson. “Robert Plant is headlining this year’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. We’ve got the oldest whisky and spirits festival in Canada, and FLOURISH is a vibrant interdisciplinary music and arts festival.”
A half hour drive west at the Kings Landing Historical Settlement on the banks of the Saint John River, interpreters in 19th-century costumes tend the farm, keep house, and serve meals in the King’s Head Inn Restaurant. A cold poached filet of locally farmed salmon on a bed of fresh greens topped with capers and tarragon mayo is the hearty house salad.
Under an hour northwest, stop at Covered Bridge in Hartland, the potato chip maker where visitors watch crisps come off the line, then sprinkle them—still warm—with any of dozens of flavorings. Potatoes are New Brunswick’s most important crop and the inspiration for fun festivals and quirky museums like Potato World in Florenceville-Bristol.
Visitors who hit the road in New Brunswick, choosing just one route, are sure to be hungry for more. So make time (and room) for another course. And don’t forget to grab a box of Ganong’s chocolates before heading home.
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