Newfoundland Restaurants Worth the Drive
Years ago, a travel writer came to Newfoundland and harshly criticized the abundance of deep-fried foods and lack of quality eateries in several rural towns. While it’s not a lie to say we love our fried cod and calamari, the province’s dining scene has come a long way, garnering international acclaim for our reawakened devotion to local ingredients and reimagined culinary traditions.
In the before times, I travelled to eat. I researched destinations all over the world, searching for local restaurants, and booking hotels based on culinary experiences I wanted to have. Last year, our travel was limited to a Newfoundland staycation, and Adam and I travelled all over the province, and it was different this time.
There were no roadside diners like the ones on American sitcoms nor were there Autogrills with espresso shots to go like the ones we downed in Italy. Shiny pit stops aren’t really a thing here in Newfoundland like they are on the mainland (no shade to the Irving Big Stops; I had a pretty good $12 Eggs Benny in Deer Lake last July) but dining destinations are different. And they are truly special. Many an isolated saltbox has been transformed into a dining experience I’ll not soon forget.
2020 was “the year of the staycation,” and little did we know, we’d be in for another summer of local travel this year. Now more than ever our local restaurants and cafes need our patronage, not just to keep their livelihood from transforming from an inspirational travel article into a statistic of how many restaurants closed during the pandemic, but because they create some really amazing food. Newfoundland isn’t a small place, it takes hours and hours to drive across, hence why the culinary gems are few and far between.
But here are the Newfoundland restaurants I think are worth the extra mile.
Fork in Witless Bay
Fork Restaurant is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year and considering almost two of those have been during a pandemic, you know the food is good. While it’s the closest on my list to St. John’s, the place feels like you’re tucked away in the woods with the glint of the ocean shining into the windows on a sunny day. Last year we snagged a table at one of the last brunch services of the season after a hike on the nearby East Coast Trail and their Dirty Bird breakfast sandwich was piled so high with delicious buffalo chicken, bacon, egg and blue cheese sauce I thought I wouldn’t be able to conquer it (don’t worry, I had no problem). Dinner service at Fork is equally epic with plates like scallop ceviche with pico de gallo and seafood risotto with mussels, shrimp and octopus.
Small Point General Store in Small Point-Adams Cove
If you’re taking a drive up the Baccalieu Trail for hiking, whale watching or visiting breweries, the Small Point General Store in Small Point is worth stopping for one thing: their amazing tea buns! Hot and fresh most days of the week, you can choose between raisin or cheese tea buns, and good luck to you getting them home — I’ve been known to eat a bag to myself. They’ve also got the usual convenience store necessities like beer, chips and Slush Puppies, not to mention fishing gear and laundry detergent. Oh, and they’re opening a food truck this summer too!
Bare Mountain Coffee Shop in Clarenville
Veer off the highway when making a pit stop in Clarenville and head to Bare Mountain Coffee Shop. This cafe opened in summer 2019 and is a welcome addition to the pit stop lineup. addition to their house-made sandwiches, salads and soups, their sweet treats like Twix Cheesecake, M&M cookies and blueberry scones make for a delicious break. The tables inside have a great view, but it’s the giant patio with sprawling views of the ocean and Random Island that’s worth the stop.
Bonavista Social Club in Newmans Cove
Newman’s Cove isn’t exactly the place for a pit stop, since it’s not really on the way to anywhere, but the Bonavista Social Club is a culinary destination in its own right. Their decision last year to not open for the season was a hard one, but this year the wood-fired oven will be roaring on all cylinders to pump out fresh breads and pizzas when they reopen at the end of June, along with their salads, moose burgers and boozy rhubarb lemonade.
Boreal Diner in Bonavista
The Boreal Diner in Bonavista is another destination dining situation on the peninsula — a must-eat spot when you’re visiting the area. Their bright red saltbox on Church Street isn’t easily missed, with an ever-changing menu featuring local ingredients like nut-crusted local scallops with spiced yoghurt and wine-poached rhubarb or artic char fettuccine. They’re firing up the kitchen at the end of May, and I cannot wait to get back there this summer. (You can read about my stay in Bonavista a few years ago in this post)
Bangbelly Cafe on Fogo Island
An adventure to Fogo is a culinary experience in itself — there are so many culinary gems on the island. I have a warm spot for Bangbelly Cafe, its delicious coffee, brightly coloured dining room and bistro-style menu with a heavy dash of comfort food. Their big breakfast sammie is a great way to start the day, and they’ve also got soups, chicken wings, tacos and even pizza. They open for the season on May 9th.
The Newfoundland Tea Co. in Gander
Gander is a natural stopping place in the province, it’s pretty much halfway across the island on the TCH. But I beg you to resist the fast-food temptations along the town’s portion of the highway and go for lunch at The Newfoundland Tea Co. Fresh beet salads with goat cheese and walnuts, cod cakes with sweet pickles and big cheese balls of arancini await you. The restaurant which also serves as the company’s flagship store for their famous tea blends is open for lunch and dinner.
Best Coast’s Rooftop Patio at the Hew & Draw
Corner Brook’s brewery scene has overflowed in recent years and is pumping out some of the best pints on the island so it makes for a great place for an overnight stopover. Adam and I stayed at the newly-opened Hew & Draw Hotel last summer and one of my favourite meals was on their rooftop patio. The hotel’s onsite eatery Best Coast Restaurant also happens to be home to Boomstick Brewery, which means dining on tacos and french fries with curry dipping sauce while you down a flight of local beers in the sunshine is a necessity.
The Old Store Cafe in Norris Point
To get all you can out of a visit to the majestic Gros Morne National Park on the West Coast you need at least three days. The park is huge so driving from hike to hike is commonplace, and The Old Store Cafe in Norris Point is a perfect stopping place to get a meal. This little coffee shop in Norris Point packs in a whole lot of flavour: along with traditional pea soup and fresh salads, there’s always a curry on the menu as well as a pot pie. When we visited last summer, Adam demolished a beef pot pie he still talks about. The cafe reopened for the season in early April.
Cafe Nymphe in St. Lunaire-Griquet
Like many rural establishments in Newfoundland, The Cafe Nymphe above the Dark Tickle Company in St. Lunaire-Griquet is a utility player: it serves as an ice cream shop where house-churned blueberry ice cream is stuffed into Instagram-worthy sculpin cones, a bistro AND its a museum, housing The Granchain Exhibit which tells the history of the French migratory fishery along the Petit Nord. We didn’t get to try the hot offerings like cod chowder or fresh pizza last summer, but the sculpin cone was worth the drive on its own!