We’ve had some weird winter weather this year. It makes me think of a phrase from Longfellow’s nursery rhyme: When she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!
Ken and I made plans to go to dinner at McKelvie’s on one of those horrid nights- snowy, icy and numbingly cold. We lucked into a parking spot less than a block away but even the 2 minute scramble was enough to take your breath away. It was more of a dive through McKelvie’s front door than a graceful entrance but it was far better than freezing to the sidewalk.
I’ve lived in Halifax for almost my whole life, and I have never before been to McKelvie’s.
This is embarrassing for many reasons, but in particular, McKelvie’s recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and it’s something of an institution in Halifax. Located in the block between Lower Water, Prince and Bedford Row, the building was originally the Number 4 Fire Station until 1969 when it was converted to a restaurant.
Chef Matt Vander Heide came out of the kitchen to chat with us before we ordered. He explained that the inclusion of both classic favourites and modern choices helps their menu appeal to a wide range of guests. Classics like the seafood chowder, crab bisque and crunchy haddock have been staples on the McKelvie’s menu for years, while the more modern items allow Vander Heide to express his creative side.
Chef Matt especially enjoys experimenting with new appetizers like the fish tacos he got hooked on in Florida. A monthly tasting menu is another outlet for his creativity as well as an upcoming selection of Mardi Gras-themed dishes – stay tuned!
McKelvie’s “Delicious Fishes Dishes” slogan belies the emphasis on seafood, and Chef Matt and I talked about the variety on the menu. There are several oyster options available and I mentioned that, as much as I try, this is one shellfish I’m not crazy about. Since I do like fried and smoked oysters, he pointed out a version he thought might work for me, the Acadiana Grilled Oysters. He offered to go back and cook us up a plate, so I accepted.
A Little Heat
We started our meal with local white wine, Grand Pré’s L’Acadie Blanc for me and Jost’s Pinot Grigio for Ken. Chef Matt’s Acadiana Grilled Oysters were served on the half-shell, covered in crispy bread crumbs, tarragon butter and a dash of Louisiana hot sauce. While raw oysters aren’t my cup of tea, these hot ones were delicious – salty, rich and spicy – a fiery way to warm up and an exciting intro to the rest of our dinner.
Crab Bisque – I love the word ‘bisque’ and can rarely pass it up. The crab bisque at McKelvie’s was nothing short of fantastic, with sautéed leeks, a Parmesan crust and a distinctive hit of sherry. It was the perfect choice on such a frigid night and warmed me right to the core.
Tempura Fish Tacos – Ken decided to try out the monthly tasting menu, starting with the Tempura Fish Tacos (our own addictions started in Hawaii). The trio of soft tacos was stuffed with crispy fish and served with a nicely balanced cilantro jalapeno sour cream for a fresh, tangy result.
Main: Scallops & the Man Meal
My main was Pan-seared Digby Scallops served with an apple brandy cream reduction and sweet potato mash. Six plump and well-seared scallops lined up in front of a medley of zucchini, asparagus, red pepper and a mound of mashed sweet potatoes. The cream sauce drizzled around the plate was fantastic!
Ken’s choice of 12 Hour Braised Beef Short Rib was equally well received. This slow-cooked wintery dish screamed ‘man meal’ and boy, it was! A luscious hunk of meat sat atop garlic mashed potatoes and surrounded by a glossy jus. Even the green beans and diced root vegetables looked succulent bathed in butter. Ken was a happy guy.
The Final Winter Warm-up
Warm Gingerbread – I decided a wintery dessert was required, so I chose the warm gingerbread with lemon sauce. The gingerbread was moist with a nice level of spice and the lemon sauce did not overpower. Overall, a definite winter warm-up dessert.
Mile High Coconut Pie – Ken had a different strategy when choosing a dessert from the tasting menu. He opted to try to escape winter with the tropical coconut cream pie. Since he has cut out sugar and dairy from his normal diet, this was quite a treat and his eyes lit up when it was placed in front of him.
Several inches of fluffy whipped cream balanced precariously on the dense pie filling, and the whole thing was showered with toasted coconut shreds. It was a thing of beauty and tasted just as good as it looked…because of course I got to taste it too!
While it’s easy enough to enjoy a night out on a summer evening, we sometimes assume we need to hibernate through the winter until spring. It may not be patio weather but finding a warm cozy spot to ride out the storm with a good meal and a glass of wine can make our Nova Scotian winters not just bearable, but downright enjoyable.