Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
BADDECK, CAPE BRETON ISLAND, NOVA SCOTIA — Even before you step into Bite House, you’ll be won over by the charm of the place. Set on a small property with a garden that grows herbs and vegetables used in the restaurant’s dishes, Bite House is the vision of chef-owner Bryan Picard.
Having worked at fine-dining establishments in Montreal and Europe — including Scandinavia, where some of his inspiration originates — Picard wanted to invigorate his adopted home of Cape Breton with ambitious culinary aspirations.
He’s accomplished that goal with Bite House, a 14-seat restaurant operated in his home in a rural part of Baddeck, the Cape Breton town at the south end of the Cabot Trail. Picard’s nine-course tasting menu — which costs only $65 — carries diners through a journey of the Maritimes and the heights its cuisine can reach.
The dishes are immaculate; bright and fresh foods decorated with edible flowers, herbs blazing with green, and delicate sauces that add texture and lusciousness to the flavours they are meant to complement. It’s a sensation for the eyes as well as the tongue. No Cape Breton menu could be complete without lobster and Bite House delivers a version that will linger long after it has hit your throat. Picard grills the crustacean and serves it with warm, buttery egg yolk and flowers. Haddock is plated with brown butter, spinach, oats, and a tangy herb bouillon. Even the oregano butter the restaurant serves with its rye sourdough is divine.
“I wouldn’t want to do other type of food,” says Picard, a francophone who hails from New Brunswick. “This is creative and interesting. It’s what I like to do.”
His experiences taught him, correctly, that people will travel to dine at places such as Bite House. And Picard has created perhaps the most quaint destination restaurant in Canada, a nation with a number of very good far-flung establishments, including Pilgrimme on Galiano Island in British Columbia and Michael Smith’s Inn at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island.
Bite House, which opened in 2014, was popular with out-of-towners from the beginning. But things have changed, Picard notes, as Cape Breton’s younger crowd and those who want modern cuisine that you might otherwise have to venture off of the island to find frequent his restaurant.
“At the start it was mostly tourists, now it’s hard for the tourists to get in. I’d say it’s about 80 per cent locals,” he says. “People travel. They dine around in different places. They know good food. I wanted to have more of that on the island.”
If you plan to visit Cape Breton, be sure to reserve your table well in advance. Bite House operates from May to December and is open from Thursday to Saturday nights only; it’s often sold out.
More About Bite House
Address: 1471 Westside Baddeck Road, Baddeck, Nova Scotia (see map below)
Menu Price Range: Nine courses, including dessert, for $65. It may be the best value in Canadian fine dining.
Bite House is far from the only location serving quality food in Cape Breton. Here are two other choices to put on your list when you visit this gorgeous island.
Purple Thistle Dining Room at Keltic Lodge
Despite the white tablecloths and the sharply dressed wait staff and the setting inside one of the Maritimes’ most venerable properties, you’ll still have many reminders of where you are when you dine at the Keltic Lodge.
Darryl MacDonnell, the first executive chef in the lodge’s 77-year history to hail from Cape Breton, makes sure you have a sense of the island’s character as well as its food. When your main course arrives don’t be surprised if it is accompanied with a wedge of corn on the cob, a playful addition to the plate that makes you put down the knife and fork and remember where you are and who you are around. The line-caught halibut, topped with Atlantic snow crab and asparagus, was presented with that corn wedge, too, grounding you on the island. The restaurant’s signature dish is a butter-poached lobster-tail appetizer, served drizzling with lobster bisque. The lobster, as MacDonnell points out, is brought in from down the road, having been caught that morning by one of the many fishermen from the town of Ingonish who churn through the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean each day during fishing season.
The desserts are immaculate as well, completing a dining experience that is on par with the exquisiteness of the Highland Links golf course for which the property is famed.
If you love lobster rolls (and who doesn’t?), try the one at the lodge’s casual Arduaine Restaurant. It costs $22, tastes exceptional, and comes with a plentiful bowl of seafood bisque.
More About the Purple Thistle Dining Room
Address: 383 Keltic Inn Road, Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia
Menu Price Range: Main courses cost between $22-$45 and feature a range of options, including decadent local seafood, as well as beef and pork from Atlantic Canada, and vegetarian choices.
Panorama at Cabot Links
Cabot Links is home to the best golf course in Canada — Cabot Cliffs — and it is attempting to have a hospitality experience that is a match for its sport accolades. Panorama is its flagship restaurant and it executes some dishes very well.
The amuse bouche is a tasty octopus salad and the oysters are sourced from across the Northumberland Strait at Prince Edward Island’s Raspberry Point. Lobster can be enjoyed stuffed into pasta or topped with a hollandaise sauce and served with corn bread on the side.
The deconstructed blueberry cobbler for dessert is a creative finish — and for some golfers a fitting end to an experience highlighted by a golf course that just may turn your game inside-out.
More About Panorama at Cabot Links
Address: 15933 Central Avenue, Inverness, Nova Scotia
Menu Price Range: Main courses run from $28-$49, with butter-poached lobster ($49) and pan-roasted halibut ($45) being the highlights.