Bonavista Social Club

“Be sure to check out the Bonavista Social Club.”

“Are you going to the Bonavista Social Club?”

“You’ve got to get up to the peninsula – the Bonavista Social Club is there!”

We heard this over, and over, and over again.  In fact, the first time we heard about it was in EDMONTON.  Really though, people needn’t have been so insistent - a good play-on-words is reason enough to visit any place.  

The Bonavista Social Club is a restaurant in Upper Amherst Cove on the Bonavista Peninsula, and cleverly drew its name from Cuba’s iconic Buenavista Social Club

It was founded several years ago by Katie and Shane Hayes; she’s a chef who grew up in the area, and he’s from Ireland, where they met.  After their daughter was born, they decided to return to the peninsula, and converted Katie’s father’s woodworking shop into an eatery.  It’s quickly become a popular culinary destination, and has a specific mission in mind:

….the Bonavista Social Club harnesses the established farm gardens, animal husbandry and self sufficient lifestyle presently at work in Upper Amherst Cove to provide a truly unique experience of rural Newfoundland.

The restaurant sits on a steep, terraced hillside, and Katie and Shane take advantage of the space in front of their business to grow food in garden beds and a greenhouse. 

When we were there in October, one of the shelves inside was lined with dozens of vibrant, recently-harvested tomatoes.  

The restaurant is home to Newfoundland’s only commercial wood-fired bread oven; it seemed to be the heart of the restaurant, the point from which everything else radiated. 

They heat it with Newfoundland-grown white and silver birch, and the red bricks used to face the oven were collected from old buildings in St. John’s.  Each day, dozens of sourdough loaves, baguettes, bagels, focaccia, and various other breads are baked within it.  

With the oven at its core, the Bonavista Social Club is a spectacular setting to experience.  Katie’s dad, woodworker Mike Paterson, built and renovated the space, and is also responsible for its rustic wooden plates, bowls, and spoons.  The restaurant is fairly ample in size, yet feels cozy and warm; all the wood provides a sort of golden hue.  Wrapped in the warmth of the restaurant, we looked out over the bay, its shore lined with colourful homes.

We split a rhubarb lemonade (throwback to Two Sisters’ in Smithers!), a grilled cheese sandwich,

a pizza,

and a brownie. 

All were fantastic, and we wished we could have stayed for dinner; the house-made pappardelle and moose burger with partridgeberry ketchup were taunting us.  

To everyone who recommended the Bonavista Social Club, you can rest assured we made it there.  Actually, we drove three hours out of our way to catch them before they closed for the season.  You can also rest assured we loved it, and will now join the community of folks who enthusiastically endorse it.  

“Hey you!  Have you heard of the Bonavista Social Club?  What does it matter that we’re in Vancouver?  Get yourself there.”




Glamorous Gander, Quiet Salvage

Years ago, while listening to the CBC, I learned all about Gander from Stuart McLean.  In that unmistakable and comforting voice of his, Stuart told me of the town’s remarkable history as an international aviation capital; in fact, in 1940 it was home to the world’s largest airport.

It held this honour because of its strategic location as a place for planes to refuel before crossing the Atlantic.  This became especially important during WWII, when Allied planes were making frequent trips between North America and Europe.

The lounge of the Gander International Airport was designed with far more cosmopolitan glamour than you’d expect of a small town in rural Newfoundland, one that only a few decades earlier had been nothing but dense Boreal forest.  Rural or not, Gander’s airport proved worthy of the works of internationally renowned designers including Herman Miller, and an epic, 69 foot long mural painted by Canadian artist Kenneth Lochead.  It's frequently referred to as a 'time capsule' of Modernist design; even the New York Times says so.

All sorts of celebrities – Frank Sinatra and The Beatles included - have rested in this lounge, but you’ll have to listen to Stuart to get the full story on that.        

Fashioned editorial from Bloomberg Pursuits.

While we very much appreciate its days of aviation glory, we (unsurprisingly) sought out food in Gander. 

As a matter of fact, we even got a cooking lesson! 

Chef Alex Bracci took us in at Bistro on Roe, a fine dining restaurant he and his wife Nicole opened eight years ago. 

They use as many local ingredients as possible in their dishes, and Chef Alex showed us how to makes several of their signatures – the scallops with blueberry sauce,

cod puttanesca with house made pasta,

and the partridgeberry flaky.

They were all wonderful, and the 'flaky' reaffirmed our newfound love for partridgeberries.  They’re slightly less tart than a cranberry, and Chef Alex reduced some into a sauce, then layered them with pastry cream and crunchy squares of filo.  It was a very simple, elegant, and moreish dessert.

That evening we stayed with the lovely Ruth and Wayne at the Prints of Whales Inn, located in Sandringham.  We wanted to explore the area a bit, so they suggested we take a drive to the village of Salvage (which is pronounced with an emphasis on the last syllable, rhyming with ‘age’). 

Its fishing past and present are obvious; we settled down on a dock for a while, and took in the view of squat boathouses and moored fishing boats.

Looking out over Salvage, it’s tough to determine its age.  Newer boats aside, you can’t really tell whether you’re in 1943 or 2013; there’s smoke rising from the chimneys of wood-heated homes, and weathered red paint on the old-fashioned boathouses. 

It’s a quiet, restful little place, and you can be sure that unlike its more glamorous, bigger brother Gander, Frank Sinatra ain’t never heard of it.