St. John’s culinary scene is one you’d expect of a city far bigger than 100,000 people. In a relatively short amount of time, it’s become a destination for food lovers, refuting the province’s reputation for boiled meat and deep-fried everything.
Of course, there are still plenty of deep-fried options for those who need a post-George Street snack. DO NOT WORRY.
St. John’s most acclaimed restaurant is Raymonds, named Best New Restaurant in Canada in 2011 by enRoute Magazine (Bar Isabel won in 2013). Executive Chef Jeremy Charles utilizes Atlantic ingredients such as cod, Newfoundland seabuckthorn, The Organic Farm’s vegetables, foraged mushrooms, and PEI grass-fed beef in his seasonal menus. Also, Jeremy Charles has a killer beard.
While we didn’t have a chance to visit Raymonds (we opted for the sneak peak at Mallard Cottage instead), we did explore several other eateries, all of which reinforced our (somewhat compulsive) desire to move eastward. They included:
The menu doesn't mess around; it’s full of dishes like fried moose bologna ('Newfie Steak'); fish and chips with bone marrow gravy; fried chicken and toutons with salt beef collard greens; and wild boar and chorizo sloppy joes. In other words, these modern twists on classics won’t just ease your hangover. They will kill that thing dead.
Dana had a porchetta sandwich with fries,
Adam opted for The Hangover Cure skillet,
and I chose the Exploded Hamburger Salad. Yes, that’s a real thing.
It was all the best things about a burger (iceberg lettuce, hamburger, mushrooms, cheese, pickles, tomatoes, cheddar, and fried onions) tossed in Thousand Island dressing and put before a very willing eater. The fact it had ‘salad’ in the title made me feel like I was really taking care of myself.
Another day, we visited Yellowbelly Brewpub.
Owner Craig Flynn took us on a tour, and told us the story of how his establishment got its name:
Back in the day, all of St. John’s immigrant residents (mostly from Ireland) were divided up along regional and religious lines. After playing in hurling matches (Irish field hockey) up near where The Rooms currently stand, the Wexford faction would come down the hill, and hang out on the corner where the brewery is now. During their matches, they wore yellow sashes tied around their waists to distinguish them from the other teams, and therefore, in both Wexford and St. John’s, they were known as yellowbellies. The place where they hung out became Yellowbelly Corner, but over the decades this nickname was largely forgotten.
When Craig was opening up the brewery in 2008, he met a city councilor and history buff who said to him “Oh! You’re the young fellow who’s doing up Yellowbelly Corner!” As soon as he heard it, he knew he’d found his brewery name.
He was able to give us the history behind the actual building, too; it was one of a few that survived the Great Fire of 1892, though parts of it survive back to the 1600’s.
Its multiple stories hold centuries of lore, and we especially loved the speakeasy they’ve built in the basement, aptly-named “The Underbelly.”
They serve various rums, ports, and whiskys – all throwbacks to the old days – and Craig even showed us a charred beam from the fire of 1892, when flames from the next building lapped at the foundation. Originally, the Underbelly space acted as service quarters, home to one or two big Irish families.
These days, on the main floor, they’re constantly brewing beer, and we arrived just in time to try the wort.
Wort is the liquid result of the mashing process, when hot water is mixed with malted barley. It contains all the sugars that will be eaten by yeast during the fermentation process, resulting in CO2 and alcohol.
Wort tastes like a sweet, earthy tea, and we tried it along with some of Yellowbelly’s finished beers, as well as a pizza from their kitchen.
Not only does St. John’s have a thriving culinary scene, but its restaurants tell tales. Stay tuned for more places to eat in St. John’s, and yes, the night we were finally screeched in.
Also, in case you missed it, Jeremy Charles' beard: