24 August 2013

The Moose Curry Experience Goes Camping, Part II: Find Local Food

Maybe your camping holiday is so long you can't bring enough food with you for the whole trip.  Or maybe you just didn't have time to do your meal planning ahead.  Or maybe you wish you'd brought something different.  Or maybe you're saving so much money by camping instead of staying in B&B's or hotels, that you can budget for meals out.  Regardless, you are likely away from home thus not familiar with the local food resources.

The artisan bread from The Bonavista Social Club is baked daily in a large wood-fired oven; the only commercial oven of it's kind in Newfoundland.

Eating Out

We resist the temptation to stick safely to recognizable franchises: if we were so inclined, that is food we can eat at home so there's no point choosing it when travelling.  (But don't think we're above it or too good for it; more than one road trip has begun with a yellow cardboard box of assorted donut holes.)  Part of a place and the experience of that place is the food.  If you don't know where to eat, ask the locals (the camp ground staff, the people working at the gas station).  Ask other tourists you run into where they've eaten.  Do some research ahead of time.  And trust your instincts: the name of a place, the look of their sign and other advertising all give you a sense of what to expect.  And if you don't know what to expect, don't create expectations it can't live up to.

We think we saw the characteristic 45-degree
angled blow of sperm whales from the north
trail at Spillars Cove.
As mentioned in Part I, we were camped in the middle of the Bonavista Peninsula. Home of the original fishermen's union, officially (but controversially) the landing place of John Cabot, a very critical region in the history of the sealing industry. Rural Newfoundland.  Before moving to out here 11 years ago, the only travel book we could find in the whole of the Toronto library system was one called Come Near At Your Peril, a book which told us that Rural Newfoundland restaurants were uninspired at best.  Oh, not necessarily so, Mr. O'Flaherty.  (To be fair to O'Flaherty, I believe he was, in part, managing expectations; additionally, a lot has changed here in the nearly 20 years since the book was published.)

This particular holiday was a return trip to the Bonavista area, having enjoyed ourselves so much last year we just wanted to go back.  The appeal is simple: puffins nesting near-shore in Elliston and Spillars Cove, fantastic coastal hiking trails throughout the peninsula, and critically, it's possible to get a very good cup of coffee.  Admittedly, the first time we drove out there, we didn't know about the puffins or the possibility of spotting sperm whales from shore... we had been perusing the Eastern Newfoundland Geotourism Map and noticed there were at least a few coffee shops and restaurants that looked like the kind of place we like to eat.  The Bonavista Peninsula is an exciting place these days for local, seasonal, hand-crafted food... if we had a greater disposable income, we might not have cooked any of our own meals; or we might have timed our trip to coincide with the garlic festival in Upper Amherst Cove or Roots, Rants, and Roars in Elliston.  With the budget we do have, however, we could manage a couple of lunches out.

On the drive up to Lockston Path Provincial Park, we needed lunch.  From experience, we know to stop for lunch... putting it off because "there's not that much further to go" usually results in low blood sugar leading to aggravation and impatience while setting up camp, because you're hardly going to pull up to the camp site and eat before you put your tents up, right?  To avoid adding to the usual frustration of setting up camp, we stopped for lunch.  Stopped properly and ate a meal sitting at a table in a restaurant.  Megan's is on the Trans-Canada highway near Arnold's Cove on the isthmus between the Avalon Peninsula and the rest of the island of Newfoundland.  As you get close, a sign warns you that the best fish and chips in the world are coming up.  It was a bit of a mauzy day, so fish and chips sounded just about right.  Megan's is exactly what you would expect from looking at the sign: it's a proper old-fashioned roadside diner, the kind of place time forgot, the kind of place that does not have a website to link to.  This is the real deal.  Casual friendly service, charming retro food presentation, and their own tartar and coleslaw to accompany fish and chips that are indeed worth stopping for.

One of the real gems of the Bonavista Peninsula is Two Whales Coffee Shop in Port Rexton, found in a charismatic old house easily seen from a distance (a relief when you aren't familiar with the area).  Very good coffee.  Very very good lattes. Attentive, neighbourly service without being intrusive.  It's also very close to the camp ground so rather convenient for an afternoon coffee and slice of cake on the way back from the day's adventures.  Well-spiced, nutty and moist carrot cake that, if the sign didn't actually point it out, we would never have known it was gluten-free. (As it turns out, it wasn't gluten free!  Our mistake... that said, the gluten-filled carrot cake was great.)

Two Whales Coffee Shop is one of the reasons we go to the Bonavista Peninsula on vacation.  The coffee is fantastic, the food is delightful, the service is excellent, and the parking lot does not frighten the dogs.
Last year and this, we found ourselves salivating over the posted lunch menu, so finally planned a day around being in the area mid-day.  Skipping the extraordinarily busy Skerwink Trail (our dogs are rural dogs, and they-- and let's face it, Fefe too-- would be overwhelmed by walking amongst crowds of people), we took the beautiful Fox Island Trail across the harbour in Champney's West.  Then lunch at Two Whales.  We, of course, failed to bring a camera in with us thus you will have to trust us to report that food looked fantastic.  We were initially a bit disappointed to hear they were out of green tomato chutney but the blueberry chutney, undoubtedly hand made, served in the ploughman's panini was exactly right.  The red bean soup tasted of spicy wholesome goodness, but the accompanying cheesy soda bread may have been the best part.  (On further thought, the best part might be that the coffee arrived at our table in a french press, exactly how we'd make it ourselves.)  We swapped plates half way through and were both so full that we had to take our lemon drizzle cake and tunisian orange cake to go.  Something else worth mentioning:  it seemed the crowds from the Skerwink trail arrived all at once shortly after we got there.  The staff at Two Whales handled the overcrowding beautifully, finding chairs for the outdoor table, offering take out as an option... we never once felt crowded or rushed despite the busy-ness of the place.


Because camping is generally conducted in the summer months, there is usually the opportunity to buy vegetables, fruits and preserves from roadside stands.  Ask around about small groceries or bakeries that sell local products. We brought most of the groceries we needed for the length of the trip but made a point of not bringing enough bread.  If you are ever in the area, run out of bread on purpose as an excuse to go to the Bonavista Social Club.  And okay, their menu looks great too, and we can vouch for the fabulousness of their rhubarb lemonade, so you don't need to only go for the bread.  One of our dogs, however, is too neurotic to leave in their across-the-street-and-down-the-hill-a-bit parking lot (oh, that loud noise that sounds like a donkey is trapped in our car?  nothing to worry about, it's just the dog thinking she's been abandoned) so we've not had the luxury of stopping in for a meal.  We did, however, buy bread which was still warm when we broke into it for our lunch picnic.

The Bonavista Social Club in Upper Amherst Cove grows much of their own produce; their wood-fired oven bread is well worth the trip.  If you are headed home that day, buy enough to stock your freezer.
The Bonavista Social Club bakes all their bread in view of the dining area, in a great big wood-fired oven.  The sourdough is both soft and crusty, just like you want it.  The other breads are also tangy, suggestive of sourdoughs or other mature starters used in baking.  We bought too much bread to actually get through while it was still fresh (though their bread accompanied most of our meals over a couple days), so I can tell you this other thing for free: when we returned home, the Bonavista Social Club multigrain bread starred in the best garlicky croutons I ever made.


A short note on foraging opportunities.  We brought all our relevant field guides and had a lot of good intentions to pick up a bit of this or that to add to our planned meals.  We were too busy looking at puffins to remember to collect things to bring back to the campsite.  Strangely, however, the Bonavista Peninsula seems to be covered in scotch lovage... also abundant seaside plantain, beach pea and roseroot as well as the occasional sea rocket plant.  We were pretty good at snacking on wild berries; we were there just in time to catch the peak of the raspberries, but also took advantage of some late bakeapples and early blueberries.  A bit of fresh sun-warmed fruit is the icing on the cake when you're on a great trail.

Incidentally, the Bonavista Peninsula is covered with edible seaside plants.  Clockwise from, left:  Scotch lovage and seaside plantain surround a bit of remote installation art found near Keels.  Puffins and gulls nesting on an island nearshore at Elliston, are inadvertently tending lovage, plantain and roseroot.  The Bonavista Peninsula apparently produces massive amounts of lovage; this photo may also be from Keels, but we really did see lovage everywhere.  Sea rocket was found sparsely, but on several pebble beaches.


  1. Thank you for all the lovely things you say about our Two Whales Coffee Shop - it is wonderful when someone 'gets' the place and looks for more than a food fix. I agree with you about Megan's, wonderful retro vibe and great service - tho' being a veggie I cannot vouch for the fish and chips.
    One thing, the photo you have is of our regular Carrot Cake, which is not gluten free. We do have a gluten free carrot cake but it is made in the small loaf liners like the Lemon Drizzle in your other photo! Maybe soon I will be able to get out of the kitchen and do the Fox Island Trail - good choice by the way- and tak a cake along with me. Skerwink is way too busy for me and my dog at this time of year.
    Look forward to feeding you again soon.

    1. Thanks for catching the error; we saw a "gluten free" carrot cake on your menu board on our way out hence the mix up. I have no doubt the gluten free one is also tasty. I corrected the post. :)

      On a related note, since you mention being vegetarian, you might like this story. Two or three hours after lunch, I said, "Hey. I think the whole menu was vegetarian, wasn't it?" It's impressive to be able to offer a vegetarian menu without it being obviously vegetarian, if that makes sense.

      And thank you for continuing to make a good cup of coffee, producing thoughtful meals from local foods, and supporting your community. See you again for sure!

    2. Thanks for correcting the GF cake reference - just in case some GF customer has that image in mind when they stroll in looking for a cake.
      Your "...Hey...wait a minute, wasn't that all veggie?" moment made me smile, this year is the first time we actually 'fessed up and put 'Health Vegetarian Food' on the menu - previously we hid behind 'light, healthy options'. Likewise, it is the first year of a meat substitute making it to the menu in the shape of our TLT (tempeh, lettuce, tomato). An interesting dilemma for us as soy products are not locally produced:) but we do eat them ourselves. The TLT has actually kept bacon hunting customers in the shop - thus exposing them to other choices!

  2. A couple of years ago I visited Port Rexton for the first and fell in love with this beautiful region of our province. Your post made me even more excited for my weekend trip there. I can't wait to re-visit 2 whales and the beautiful trails. Haha, I expect a similar post coming next week from my blog ;)

    1. Such a great area and not enough time in a day to touch on why everyone should be in love with it. Have a fantastic time... I'm looking forward to reading about it. :)

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