For many Atlantic Canadians, fish cakes are a staple – they provide a quick and easy but comforting meal. Once created to make the most out of leftovers, they now grace the table of the finest restaurants, and ingredients vary from haddock to cod to the ever-esteemed lobster.
As the foreign half of an American-Canadian couple, it was decided that the time had come for this American guy to try said fish cakes. A lunch date was made, and we headed to Emma’s Eatery in Eastern Passage to indulge in the city’s “Best Fish Cakes” according to The Coast’s 2011 Best of Food guide.
Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by a smiling waiter and a merry hello from Kim Emma Stacey - owner, operator and head chef. This breakfast/lunch locale is as bright and cheerful as its owner. Vibrant yellow and lime green walls please the eye, and comfy cushions are abundant for you to cozy up with while you wait for the grub. Latin music is even playing over the speakers to soothe your ears and take your focus away from a grumbling stomach…and how could it not be grumbling with all the delicious smells coming from the kitchen out back!
The woman behind the fish cakes
Once a high profile businesswoman in Toronto, Kim left a corporate career to return to her East Coast roots for a more relaxed lifestyle. Eastern Passage offers exactly that. Home to Fisherman’s Cove, one of Nova Scotia’s many idyllic neighbourhoods, shops line a small boardwalk adjacent to the dock – a dock where you’ll find working fishing boats perched and waiting to be sailed out to open waters in search of fresh seafood.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Kim while we dined, and she shared with us her passion for using local and sustainable ingredients – some of her seafood products even come from the aforementioned fishing boats.
She was proud to state, and we were proud to hear, that almost 100% of her revenue goes back into local businesses – a true locavore if we ever met one!
Her vegetables and fruit come from Tap Root Farms and Pete’s Frootique; the eggs (SO many eggs!) come from Scotia Poultry Farm; her fish from a variety of local sources; meat is delivered from Oulton’s family farm in Windsor, and she even supports the local Propeller Brewery so customers can enjoy a nice cold glass of homemade root beer.
The fish cakes
Since both of us wanted to try the famous fish cakes, there really was no difficulty in deciding what to order. Thankfully this was the case because everything on the menu looked so belly-warming and comforting that it would have been difficult. The menu ranged from a stack of buttermilk pancakes to clubhouse sandwiches and chowder, to an amazing Greek omelet special in celebration of the Halifax Greek Festival.
Being a burger kind of guy and liking my food groups stacked on a bun, I ordered “Nova Scotia’s very best fish cake burger” with home fries and Jill got the more traditional dish of fish cakes and eggs.
After the food arrived, silence ensued. Our taste buds were too happy with the food to bother with talking. We could do that later!
The burger came complete with a famous fish cake topped with crisp lettuce and house made tartar sauce. Interestingly enough, the burger was not sandwiched between a typical burger bun, but instead rested on an English muffin. The soft bread and crispy fish cake is an excellent combination – Jill didn’t stand a chance in trying the burger because it practically vanished into my mouth. Don’t feel bad though because she didn’t offer up any of her lunch either.
Jill’s lunch was equally as impressive with two generously-sized fish cakes, mounds of the deliciously crispy home fries, fluffy scrambled eggs (the eggs are made to your liking), a massive whole-wheat biscuit, molasses baked beans and green tomato “chow” – an accoutrement we first learned about during our visit to Emma’s Eatery. It is apparently somewhat of a popular relish and must accompany fish cakes. Who knew?
We had fun visiting the kitchen and learning how the fish cakes are made with Kim. We felt a bit like members of the “insider’s club” when she explained why the fish cakes are so crispy on the outside but soft and dense on the inside.
“The recipe isn’t really that much of a secret, it’s really timing and technique,” says Kim. But I know for a fact if I were let loose in that kitchen and responsible for lunch, the fish cakes wouldn’t fare so well.
Kim shares her tips for making the award-winning fish cakes here:
We were excited to learn that Kim’s fish cakes are a family recipe hailing from her father’s side. She cooks the fish cakes the way she remembers her grandmother making them in Newfoundland and was able to duplicate the recipe by memory and taste. Her memory and taste is spot on – so much so in fact that customers have asked to meet the chef because they’re curious about what part of Newfoundland she’s originally from. “It’s kind of this journey of discovery of my own heritage,” says Kim.
She’s actually met distant cousins and connected with people who knew her father all because of those delicious morsels of fried up fish. “You have an emotional nostalgic reaction when you eat this food,” Kim explains. “People want tradition, they’re desperate for tradition, they want to hang on to their heritage. They want it to taste the way it did when they were growing up.”
Lunching at Emma’s Eatery gave us a great feeling. We not only felt like we were experiencing a homemade family meal at a dear friend’s house, but we also felt joy in knowing we were supporting so many local businesses just by partaking in a delicious meal.
We have one piece of advice for you: if you’re ever in Eastern Passage and have a fish cake size hole in your stomach you must visit this charming restaurant. Your taste-buds will be happy, your belly will be warm and full, and you’ll know you’ve made a difference in the life of a local farmer, fisherman, butcher, and brewer.