For our recent wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to head north for a weekend getaway to Cape Breton. Making our way up the Marconi Trail, we decided to stop and spend the night in Sydney for some metropolitan charm. After taking in a variety of sights, including the world’s largest fiddle, we concluded it was time for dinner and headed to Governors Pub & Eatery.
It was a gorgeous sunny day and the patio overlooking the harbour was packed with locals and tourists alike enjoying the warmth of what was one of the last hot, hazy days of summer. We headed inside to the dining room, which isn’t dissimilar to photos I’ve seen of pubs in Ireland and Scotland. The walls are red and the furniture dark, a fireplace that keeps customers toasty during chillier times can be enjoyed in the main dining room, and lots of Irish inspired artwork and sayings (which I haven’t the faintest idea of the interpretation but made me happy to see nonetheless!) create a homey décor.
As their slogan states, Governor’s Pub is truly “An Irish pub with a wee bit of Scotch!” – the telltale sign of Scottish influences are the kilted uniforms of the wait staff, the hearty portions of food, and a portrait of good old Robbie Burns on the wall – Scotland’s favourite son. If you enjoy too much of the local lager (Garrison), you could actually be convinced that you’re in an Irish or Scottish pub far, far away.
It’s hard to pretend you’ve landed abroad though when there’s such a huge emphasis on local products. You are reminded with each bite that you’re on Cape Breton soil. With all the food options available to you at Governor’s, a trip to the Emerald Isle for bangers and mash can wait.
“When I think local, my priority is Cape Breton, then it’s Nova Scotia, then it’s Atlantic Canada, then Canada. If we can try to stay within those perimeters, we’re doing justice to our country as a whole and our community – we’re being as responsible as we can,” says Governors’ chef and owner Ardon (Ardie) Mofford. He prides himself on offering a sustainable and local menu. Governors Pub will soon launch a new menu, which will offer customers 90% local product.
Growing up in the world of hospitality (for many years his folks owned and operated a hotel and restaurant in St. Peter’s), he was part of a family business that had local product delivered to the backdoor on a regular basis. Farmers dropped off cases of beans, salmon and halibut were delivered from the back of someone’s truck.
At Governors Pub, seafood comes from Louisbourg Seafoods Ltd., the beef comes from Hank’s farm (where his Highland cattle are raised and some of Ardon’s vegetables grow), the pork comes from The Pork Shop in Pictou, the bread that Ardon and his crew don’t make themselves comes from an organic bakery in Whycocomagh, and the list goes on and on. Using local product has always been a focus for Ardie.
Ardie’s started a cooking corner at the local farmers market as well. Lessons are held the last Saturday of each month and he brings in a local chef, with a focus on sustainability to teach. Market-goers will learn what they can do with local product and what’s available and in season at the market. It’s been a great opportunity for folks in the community, as well as for Ardon who’s been able to connect even more with where his food grows.
Eager to try the aforementioned local products, we allowed executive sous chef Jeremy Howell and chef Ardon to choose from the menu for us. They did not disappoint.
We started with seared scallops, which were incredibly fresh. They were flavoured with only a touch of sea salt and pepper and dressed with juicy blueberries. I appreciated the simplicity of this dish and was astonished that they could make something so simple taste so out-of-this-world delicious. The scallops paired perfectly with a glass (or maybe three) of Benjamin Bridge Nova 7: we were in scallop and Nova 7th heaven.
Next up was a heaping bowl of mussels, which were steamed with Nova Scotia wine and flavoured with a bit of Galloping Cows jalapeno jelly and lots of cream. It took all my might to not tip the bowl upwards and empty the leftover sauce into my mouth, it was that good. I shed a few silent tears when James our waiter removed the plate from our table.
I didn’t have time to suffer too much heartache however, because as quickly as James left with my beloved mussels and sauce, he returned with a trio of halibut. Typically a customer would receive only one of the three options when they order (not every version is on the menu each day), but if you have room for all three and they happen to offer them on the menu at the same time – it’s worth the belly stretch!
There was a pan-seared halibut with a blueberry sauce, blackened halibut, and halibut that had been coated with panko breadcrumbs, flash fried, and served with a Thai sauce. Each version was divine. They were cooked to perfection – and every bite offered moist but flaky deliciousness.
Accompanying all this was a side of fresh biscuits made by Ardon’s father. His father, at the youthful age of 78, gets up every morning and makes the biscuits for the restaurant. His work ethic could put the best of us young’un’s to shame. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t take a photo before I gobbled up the biscuits, but they were hearty, quite substantial in size, and full of flavour. How I ate two of them after all the scallops, mussels and halibut still amazes me.
Last but not least, we were treated to homemade apple crisp and a piece of rum cake made by Ardon’s Father. The rum cake is a secret recipe that not even Ardon is privy to and is the moistest piece of gateau I’ve ever had. The rum sauce had me testing my strength (AGAIN) to not embarrass myself by licking the plate clean. The apple crisp, with fresh apples from Scotian Gold, was comfort food at its finest. The apple to crisp ratio was perfect, and the topping duo of vanilla ice cream AND whipped cream, melted just enough to create a vanilla-infused creaminess throughout.
Shortly after eating our dessert I fell into a comforted, full belly, coma-like state. We said our goodbyes and headed off to our hotel across the street – although we didn’t have the convenience of being delivered right to the hotel’s back door, we knew we had supported someone in our “backyard”.