Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
Saint John Ale House executive chef Jesse Vergen has created a flavourful culinary experience in a relaxed atmosphere focusing on local ingredients prepared with skill and attention to detail. That focus has helped make this New Brunswick favourite one of Vacay.ca’s Top 50 Restaurants in Canada for 2013.
“I’m just so excited to be on this list. Really, really excited for ourselves and for New Brunswick,” Vergen said during a phone call last week after his restaurant racked up enough points to earn its way onto the ranking. “I’m just thrilled that New Brunswick is represented, that’s probably my biggest thing. I guess I’m excited for ourselves, but also the farmers, the fishermen, all the people who help us to get our food to our guests.”
Vergen praised his staff, saying Saint John Ale House benefits from great leadership and a strong foundation of supporters. He also praised the community of Saint John, a city of about 70,000 people. The feeling Vergen has toward the community is clearly mutual, and is the biggest reason why this Maritime restaurant found a place on the most judicious ranking of the nation’s dining scene ever produced. More than 200 people wrote to Vacay.ca to vote for this chef, who is keen to promote food products and suppliers from Atlantic Canada.
Here are some of the words of praise our editorial team received for the Saint John Ale House:
Doris Duff: My husband and I eat at the Ale House quite often and they have the best Seafood Chowder ($7.79) on the planet. We really love their food and think it is the best restaurant anywhere. Also the service is polite, friendly and helpful. When we have visitors we always take them out to dinner at the Saint John Ale House.
Brenda Ulmer: I was seriously floored by how spectacular my service was. The Saint John Ale House has some of the most passionate employees in the hospitality industry. Chef Vergen had the way to my heart with a (Crosby’s) Molasses Panna Cotta ($5.69).
Tom Gormly: I would just like to vote for the St. John Ale House because during a recent vacation I had a wonderful time there. I wish it was in my town so I could enjoy it regularly.
Residents and tourists alike line up in the summer to chill out on the patio with a local craft beer, including Moosehead Cask Ale, made exclusively for the Ale House.
“I don’t think that we have ever tried to go and be something that we’re not,” said Vergen. “We try and give people good quality service and really good quality food. I think that’s given us a great base locally.”
Supporting New Brunswick’s Farmers
You only need to speak with Vergen for a few minutes to discover his passion for not only cooking, but cooking with New Brunswick ingredients. Need convincing? We ask him to name his favourite menu item and expect to hear praise for the Ale House’s pricier menu options, including the Lamb Bologonese, served with Cavatelli Pasta, Fresh Mint, Parmesan Reggiano ($17.49) or Pan-Seared Haddock ($23.59).
Instead, we get a surprise answer.
“Probably the one that I’m most proud of, and this is going to sound kind of funny, is our cheeseburger. And it’s really the story behind it that really makes it so special,” said Vergen. Described on the menu as Slipp Farms grass fed organic beef — Sussex aged cheddar — speerville stone ground flour bun ($13.99; bacon or mushroom add 99 cents). “It’s a good burger, people like it, and we sell a lot of them, but the story behind it is for a long time in New Brunswick, if you went to a restaurant, you would be eating beef from Ontario or Alberta or God knows where. So it was one of those things that we decided, and we changed, and we worked with a friend of mine who is an organic farmer, and we came to the realization that there are small restaurants around that would like to support the local beef producers. We’ve been serving organic beef burgers at Ale House for about five years now.”
But don’t think the success of this establishment stops at the burgers. One thing most tourists crave when they visit the Maritmes is seafood and guests over the years have asked for lobster rolls. One thing Vergen and his staff noticed was how poorly lobster rolls were made in the province, even describing one establishment that used frozen lobster stuffed in a hot dog bun.
“Our joke was to put a lobster roll on the menu, but we said we were going to do it in a different way — let’s make a really good lobster roll,” said Vergen. “So our lobster roll consists of literally a lobster and a half worth of meat that we shuck out of a shell, literally 7.5 ounces worth of lobster meat. We toss it up, we give a lot of care to it, we have a homemade loaf of sourdough, and we slice it and fry it in lobster butter, and it comes out really beautiful. When the customer gets it, it’s like shock and awe, it’s a really different take on the lobster roll. And they love it.”
And that’s why people love Saint John Ale House — Vergen and his team “do a bunch of things really well.” And it’s why their supporters have also made it a point to tell Canada and the world about it, pushing them into the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada.
More About Saint John Ale House
Location: 1 Market Square, Saint John, NB
Telephone/Email: 506-657-2337; firstname.lastname@example.org
Menu Prices: Dishes range from less than $10 to $32.37 for a 15-ounce Atlantic-raised beef ribeye. Click here to see the food menu. Click here to see the drinks menu that includes many craft brews.
Hours of Operation: Sunday: noon-10 pm; Monday-Wednewsday: 11:30 am-10 pm; Thursday: 11:30 am-11 pm; Friday-Saturday: 11:30 am- midnight. Pub & Waterfront Patio Hours: Sunday: noon-11 pm; Monday-Wednesday: 11:30 am-11 pm; Thursday: 11:30 am-midnight; Friday-Saturday: 11:30 am-2 am.
You Must Order: If you’ve read Jesse Vergen’s description above of the Lobster Roll (market price), you’re probably salivating and thinking about a flight to Saint John.
2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada: Saint John Ale House received a combination of votes from Vacay.ca’s Voting Academy and the public to earn it a spot in the 2013 rankings, which will be announced on May 1. It ranks No. 1 in its city and province.
Note: Photos courtesy of Saint John Ale House