I don’t know about you, but when I think of red shoes, the first thing that comes to mind is Dorothy clicking her sparkly red heels, hoping to get the heck out of Oz. But visit the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou, Cape Breton and you’ll be doing anything but begging to leave.
In fact, the pub is more like being in your favourite neighbour’s kitchen – warm, welcoming and filled with the kind of home-cooked comfort food that lingers in your memories. Add to that nightly kitchen parties that Nova Scotian legends are made of and you can’t help but feel like you’ve landed in the world’s most perfect pub.
Owned by the sisters of the famed musical family, the Rankins, The Red Shoe opened eight years ago to high expectations; like those that come with a band’s sophomore album. As usual, the Rankins had perfect pitch. And the crowds agreed. Ask nearly anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the pub and you’ll get rave reviews.
Sadly, my travelling companions and I didn’t have the chance to be at the Red Shoe when the music was jamming (which happens seven nights-a-week), but by the looks of the hardwood floors and the piano, it wasn’t hard to tell that many good times have been had there.
In fact, just two days before we arrived, world-renowned fiddler Natalie McMaster had stopped in for supper and at seven-months pregnant ended up playing for five hours. By the end of the night, nearly everyone in town had caught wind of the impromptu concert and was crammed into the venue.
But rest assured, not all was lost during our visit. In fact, I’d argue that the performance of the food rivals the performances of the musicians who play there.
Nearly everything is made on site, including the stocks, desserts, biscuits and breads, which are made from scratch every morning. As much of it as possible, from the eggs to the fish, is sourced locally. Not that we needed much convincing, but hearing all of that was enough to encourage us that we needed to try as many things as possible from the menu. C’mon, you don’t leave anywhere in Cape Breton still hungry, do you?!
Truthfully, I’m not even sure where to start raving about the food. Everything was divine.
The seafood chowder, with its meaty chunks of fish and potatoes, was so satisfying that it almost filled me up and put me out of commission for the rest of the meal.
And the homemade fish cakes would rival any chefs’ from around the world.
But the star of the show, well, that was a surprise.
The BBQ Pork Fries is a dish that goes into the memory books. Sweet potato fries topped with cheese curds, pickled cabbage and pulled pork. Stop and let the image simmer for a minute. Exquisite, right? And just about the most perfect pub food I’ve encountered. It’s a must-order at the Red Shoe.
Finally, all of that goodness was washed down with the tasty Red Shoe Ale, a red beer that is specially brewed by Garrison Brewery for the pub. It was a perfect nutty accompaniment to a deliciously hearty meal.
By the end of our meal, we were forcing ourselves to leave. The charm of the pub, the hospitality offered by our server and by the manager Angie, our satisfied taste buds, as well as the promise of fiddle-fueled, foot-stompin’ good times almost had us convinced that leaving was perhaps the world’s worst idea.
So like every trip to Cape Breton, we left with an eager promise to return. Next time, we’ll bring our dancing shoes.