By Tamara Junkin
Prince Edward Island is focused on a push for tourism, the interest is there but somehow terribly misguided. Seafood enthusiasts abroad love PEI mussels but believe it to be off some exotic Italian coast and must assume for some reason the British were asked to name it. Southern state Americans call Info PEI with concerns about sinking the Island with their very large recreational vehicles. PEI is not battling obscurity but ignorance.
Within Canada PEI has been billed as ‘The Road To Avonlea’ for too long and people just don’t care for grown women in bonnets like they used to. By my estimation about 83% of Torontonians have referred to themselves as ‘foodies’ at least once this week. The Islanders have encapsulated this fallacy of urban sophistication and developed it into a re- branding blitz, tempting us with events called ‘ PEI Fall Flavors’ and Susur Lee affiliations.
Tourism PEI chose Archeo in The Distillery District as the venue for their event, it’s airy and bright but the exposed wood beams and ceiling joists allow for the rustic cozy feeling that should accompany the hospitality of endless lobster buckets. Two long banquet style tables on either side of the room were adorned with Chiavary chairs, proper table settings, and a novelty lobster made of stress ball composite on each plate.
Before sitting down we were treated to the music of Juno winning PEI native Meaghan Blanchard, Ontario Vineland Wines, and a signature cocktail called ‘ The Eddy’ made with PEI Potato Vodka, Triple Sec and Cranberry Juice…. Something I’ve always called ‘A Cosmo’ or a ‘You Don’t Get Out Much Do You’?
I four putted a par three mini-putt hole (with mulligans) through a lighthouse before I emotion- ate the pain of failure away at both of the display cooking areas. First I tried gnocchi clams in Nesterjin Blanquette. The clams were soft and delicious while the gnocchi were a bit hard and floury. It was an ingenious way to remind us that PEI is in fact in Maritime Canada and NOT Italy. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t usually regard mussels as nothing more than a vehicle for sauce but the lightly garlicked tender orange pillows in a shell at the second food station made me respect them as a food worthy of steaming and savoring in the most simple way.
After a few drinks and appetizers we sat down for a family style dinner. Susur Lee asked if the seat across from me was taken , it wasn’t, and that’s how I got to sit across from the guest of honor and get the kick in the butt I needed to visit Lee for the first time later that week. (Delicious food, he even dressed well in the kitchen)
Dinner began with expertly shucked, fresh, glide-off-the-shell oysters on ice with freshly grated horseradish. Next, PEI lobsters served in a steel bucket on the half shell came out and it felt like home if my home were a perfect seaside perch made with blue painted wood and warmed by a crackling fireplace.
I don’t always amuse at the prospect of lobster because they sometimes taste like an unexpected bail from your surfboard accompanied by a swig of the Atlantic . These were tender with subtle delicate buttery hints of salt, sand and frigidity. It tasted like the lobster I imagine my running partner to be when I am starving and still have 10k to go.
Where would all of this surf be without turf? I have no idea because they also served a 5 oz beef tenderloin, grilled straight up with a choice of medium or medium rare. Not being much of a carnivore I was drawn to the big plate of bright beautiful vegetables; small portions of beaming yellow corn on the cob, roasted bites of red jacket potato and multiple servings of earthy fresh from the ground grilled asparagus with it’s refined little charred crunch as well as shiny smooth grass colored snap peas that sound like the first bite of a kettle chip.
Little wild blueberries in a crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped off the meal and made me nostalgic for July when I can eat wild blueberries every day and secretly love the idea of having a blue mouth. It was perfectly sweet and perfectly sour and did things to my palate that it only could have if it read my mind. I said goodbye to all my lovely dinner companions and headed out the door, gift basket nestled in my arms completely forgetting about Anne of Green Gables and focusing on the fruits de mer.
Tamara Junkin is a Toronto writer, observer, traveller and wine enthusiast. She is obsessed with food and animals and is currently trying to figure out life without the two being diabolically opposed. Tamara is equally passionate in her hatred for eggs and feta cheese as is she about her love for fresh Passionfruit and hot sauce. She fears no scovall unit and has twice turned purple as a result. Over the years her love of playing sports has rewarded her with a storage room drawer full of ‘participant’ medals. You can check out her sardonic blog about nothing in particular at junkinsays.tumblr.com