Of all the places to eat on the South shore between Halifax and Lunenburg, the Seaside Shanty has long been my favourite. A small building tucked between the old highway and a jetty, the Shanty’s unassuming exterior belies the excellence of the food that pours forth from a tiny kitchen.
Stepping into the Shanty, your eye is drawn to the back of the dining room. An enclosed, rustic patio offers a beautiful view of the inner harbour, boats bobbing gently at anchor and seabirds swirling overhead. The dining room is cheerful and welcoming, the walls dedicated to a gallery of local artists.
Early in the season is a great time to visit, before the room fills with tourists and summer residents from the nearby resort area of Chester. The Shanty frequently has line-ups during the summer, with smart diners eagerly awaiting tables; by coming down this time of year you get to relax and enjoy the experience without feeling rushed.
The Shanty’s kitchen produces the best chowders I’ve eaten anywhere, and I always find it difficult to choose which to have; today we’ve opted for a cup of corn ($4) and seafood ($8). Lobster chowder and fish chowder are also available, and chowder lovers will not go wrong picking any of these.
The chowder is served with warm homemade rolls and soft butter (fabulous), and that’s all it needs. The corn chowder is sweet, filled with corn, chunks of potato and for colour, diced red pepper (not so great if you’re not a red pepper fan); there’s a choice to have bacon bits added and it’s a very good idea indeed. The crumbled bacon adds a smoky flavour that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the corn.
Eight dollars may seem steep for a cup of seafood chowder—that is, until you see what you’re getting. Packed full of shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels with barely enough room for the creamy broth, all other chowders pale in comparison. I don’t know enough superlatives to describe it.
For our main courses, we’re trying the fishcakes and knockwurst (each $11). The fishcakes come with delicious baked beans, green tomato chow and a medley of fresh vegetables. They’re real, old-fashioned-style fishcakes, packed with whitefish, onions and potatoes, fried golden brown on the outside with a warm, soft interior. While they don’t reach the heights of the chowder, they are darned good fishcakes. The knockwurst sausage is, dare I say, the best of the wurst. Two large links, served with a very hot Dijon mustard and Tancook sauerkraut (what other kind of kraut would you serve on the south shore but the famous local kraut?). A mound of very garlicky smashed potatoes fills the other side of the plate, and while I might not enjoy this on a hot summer day, I certainly have no problem wallowing through it on this spring evening.
For dessert, we make room for carrot cake and apple crisp ($6 each), and they’re good. The carrot cake is moist and fragrant, lightly spiced and covered with a rich cream cheese frosting; the apple crisp has a perfect sweet apple-to-crumbly crisp ratio and is topped by vanilla ice cream.
The Seaside Shanty’s menu claims the food is prepared by talented local cooks. That, my friends, is the biggest understatement I think I’ve ever seen on a menu, for the Seaside Shanty’s kitchen staff is truly gifted when it comes to the handling of their local product.
The Seaside Shanty5315 Hwy 3Chester Basin(902) 275-2246Daily 11:30am-8pm
Hey, chowder head: visit Liz Feltham on the web: www.foodcritic.ca