Nova Scotia is flush with tourist towns, the communities so often called “quaint” and “charming” that they become cliches themselves; villages so tourism-based that come late October, I imagine the locals folding up the main streets like so many cardboard façades, tucking them under their arms and heading off somewhere for the winter.
As I sightsee with visiting family, I wonder about what goes on during the off-season—what do all the natives do, where do they go and, of course, where do they eat.
I answered one of these questions for myself this year in Mahone Bay, a town defined by the famous Three Churches, when I did the tour-guide routine and drove down for the Scarecrow Festival. I’ve been coming here for a few years, and every time I’m down I eat at the Mug and Anchor Pub. Frequently full of tourists throughout the summer, this pub is open year round and is no doubt a local favourite.
The pub is on the main drag, with a deck overlooking Mahone Bay—to the left are the church steeples, to the right, the islands dotting the bay. It’s a view fit for all the cliched adjectives you can think of. Inside, there’s a fireplace that is surely a cozy place to sit by on winter nights, with the snow falling softly over the water and the lights twinkling in the windows of homes across the bay.
But today is a crisp autumn day, neither cold enough for the fire nor warm enough to sit on the deck, so we pull up a couple of comfy captain’s chairs to a corner table and peruse the menu. There are plenty of options, from typical “pub grub” to pastas and fish dinners.
We settle on a couple of old favourites. Fishcakes and beans ($9.99), served with brown bread, are consistently excellent. They’re touted as being prepared in a traditional Newfoundland style, and they do indeed have the rustic texture and taste of a home-cooked fishcake. The beans are good too, and the only thing that would make this dish better is if the brown bread was home baked.
A toasted, garlic-buttered baguette holds a mound of sliced beef for the beef dip ($9.99); tender meat plus a flavourful dipping sauce makes for a filling lunch. The sandwich comes with a pile of French fries (sadly, the frozen kind).
We split an enormous helping of bread pudding ($4.95) for dessert. Four thick slabs of bread soaked in custard and served with an orange sauce is enough for more than two.
The Mug and Anchor serves up a hearty weekend brunch as well. Three types of eggs Benedict, with a huge serving of hash browns and enough Hollandaise to drown in, each for $8.99.
I’ve never experienced the service at this pub to be anything other than friendly, and this visit is no exception. I’ve seen it nearly empty and booming busy, and the staff is always the same—fast, efficient, courteous and accommodating.
The Mug and Anchor is a great spot for tourists, sure, as the kitchen does local specialties like haddock and scallops, the sort of thing visitors will order, very well indeed. But I can also imagine locals would be happy to stop by for a mid-week supper, or come out on the weekends for live music. Maybe this winter I’ll take a run down and see for myself. But for now, stuffed to the proverbial gills, we amble out to continue our sightseeing down Main Street, stomachs content in the reliability of the Mug and Anchor kitchen to turn out great food year after year.
Mug and Anchor Pub Mader’s Wharf643 Main Street, Mahone Bay 624-6378Mon-Thu 11:30am-9pm Fri 11:30am-9:30pm Sat 12-9:30pm Sun 12-9pm
Fishing for food ideas? Find liz feltham online at: www.foodcritic.ca.