It seemed appropriate that the first two songs we heard in our fancy Mini Clubman rental were:
Here Comes the Rain Again—Eurythmics
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet—BTO
And, nope we hadn’t seen anything yet because the fog from Charlottetown’s airport to Summerside was like driving into a giant steam room.
I’ve been to the island ten times now. Kim has been every year since she was probably six (insert station wagon family vacation and non-stop 20-hour drive here. Never to be repeated again. God bless planes). I never tire of the Maritime quirk: Smelt Festivals, foxes so abundant and tame that you can hand-feed them peanut butter sandwiches, Pig & Whistles (still not sure what they are, but it sounds interesting) and Bingo at every church corner.
When you ask for directions in PEI, you often get an escort. And, even more frequently, the place or person you are looking for is a relative of some sort. We were driving blindly around Ellerslie looking for a new brewery called Moth Lane. We were expecting signage but the GPS was at a loss too. We found a cherub of a man licking a vanilla twist at the Kenny Dairy Bar (probably a relative of Kim’s) with his son. When we asked if he knew where Moth Lane was he said that he “sure do. My cousin owns it.” He was driving right past it in fact, and would happily ‘drive us there.’ And he did, finally flashing his lights 10 kilometers later at Moth Lane. We peeped our horn in thanks and drove down a road that had Kim doubtful. It seemed more like a tractor route, the kind of place where a kidnapper would take you. But, we found it, and a minute later, our direction giver wheeled in behind us and waved. Obviously he thought our honk meant we needed him.
Sidebar: It is definitely worth stopping at any dairy bar or bingo hall to find Moth Lane on Mickie Allen Shore Road. Grab a Motor Boat’R and No Exit Pale for $6 bucks a pint. And, you’ll want a glass to go. I mean, the actual glass, not a glass of beer to go (but, that would be nice too). The branding of Moth Lane comes with a sly grin from the owner’s son-in-law. “My father-in-law’s dad always used to look for a porch light on.” He was like a moth to the flame, hoping to find late night company and a place to go for a drink. Their pint glasses read: “Drawn to the grain like a moth to a flame,” in tribute.
There’s a dog greeter (we’re not even sure if he belongs to the brewery or a nearby house, but, he’s game for belly rubs of any length). On the upstairs patio the uninterrupted view of the bleached dunes across the Conway Narrows is probably one of the best places to drink a beer on the island.
But, enough beer drinking. We did educational things too, like visiting the International Fox Museum and Hall of Fame. Who knew that Summerside was the hotbed of the fox farming industry? In the early 1900s there were over 8000 fox ranches dotted around the island. A pair of breeding silver foxes sold for over $35,000. The museum is a curious mix of relics, pelts, heritage and an actual tattoo kit that was used to mark the ears of the foxes in captivity. If you like odd museums, put it in your itinerary. We later learned that we could have participated in Summerside’s Fox Hunt—which involves trying to find a dozen hidden foxes (designed by Malpeque Iron Works) around town.
What first-timers or ten-timers will notice most in PEI is the lack of fences between houses. I asked Kim, “Is it because of friendliness between neighbours or high winds?” She is 100% sure it’s the friendliness that is integral to island life. But, for anyone who has lived in the suburbs, or anywhere in Toronto, or anywhere other than PEI, really, it’s a remarkable thing to see. Even the birds live in communes.
PEI is much like a living museum of the dying arts. This is a place where everyone still plays cards and gets together to jar pickles. There are still proudly displayed spoon collections and quilts, advertisements for lawn bowling members, strawberry socials and cut-throat crokinole matches. People still do embroidery here and bake from scratch with lard and go to church and get the daily paper (The Guardian: Covering Charlottetown Like the Dew).
We’re talking about the homeland of Chef Michael Smith (shameless plug for my sister and Harrowsmith: check out her Spring 2017 feature “FireWorks and Sticky Buns” about her edible bike ride along PEI’s Confederation Trail). The lanky, surfer-haired proprietor of the Bay of Fortune Inn and FireWorks restaurant embodies all that the island is. He’s the kind of guy who can put you under a starry-eyed spell while making apple strudel, regardless of your persuasion or feelings about strudel. And, we saw him. Up close and personal at Upstreet Brewing Company with his new summer staff. For me, it was a day of National Geographic moments. First, spotting eight foxes sunning themselves (with the kits entertaining themselves with a dead mouse) in Sherwood, next: Chef Michael Smith in his natural habitat!
Tasting notes: Order the Upstreet burger, simply stacked with iceberg, tomato, local bacon, stretchy cheese and a magical barbecue sauce. The beet and kale salad doused in a Rhuby Social (their rhubarb/strawberry beer darling) vinaigrette is very Instagrammy. Have a Rhuby on nitro (it gives it some party fizz, like beer champagne!) or 80’s Bob Scottish Ale.
Be sure to check out The Worse Case Scenario Survival Game from the jammed board game shelf (Uno! Exploding Kittens! Battleship!) and read through some of the cards (it’s like Trivial Pursuit–even a little more trivial in comparison). Over a burger and beer we learned how to outrun a rhino (and crocodile, but not at the same time), how to eat worms, ram a car at high speeds, why you should apply meat tenderizer to a bee sting and, how to give an attacker an eye jab.
While you’re in the vicinity, be sure to check out nearby Urban Beehive Project initiated by architects Silva Stojak and Shallyn Murray. Located in Charlottetown’s largest urban garden, the PEI Farm Centre. Learn all about honey with a hands-on approach (well, not too hands-on). The plexiglass viewing panes allow you to be a Peeping Tom and see the drones and Queen bustling away, creating their wares.
If you are seeking off the beaten Anne of Green Gables path encounters, put Glasgow Glen Farms on your custom map too. One step inside you’ll wonder why they haven’t bottled up the wood-fire pizza smell and sold it as a cologne.
Pumping out eight pizzas at a time (140 on a peak summer day), the bearded crew led us through a divine sampling of Lady Gouda cheese (also produced here). There are 17 varieties from fenugreek to pizza to beer gouda. You won’t walk away empty handed. We ordered a Hawaiian to go with that lovely blistered crust and heaps of oozy gouda, and wedge of the beer gouda. Sensing a theme here? Saturdays are a hot mess here as locals pile in for the $2 cinnamon buns as big as at toddler’s head. Did I mention the freshly baked brioche? This is the stuff of dreams.
As a ten-timer to the island, here are the annual necessary stops/eats:
- The Charlottetown Farmer’s Market. Kim would insist that you order flaky veggie samosas from Out of Africa. I’d send you to Gallant’s Seafood for a buttery lobster grilled cheese.
- Sugar Skull Cantina on Water Street in Charlottetown. It wasn’t open yet, but we love the co-owner’s other groovy HopYard resto: pick a vinyl, split some tapas. The Cantina will be all tacos and tequila. Say no more!
- Noelle and Nancy’s Malpeque mussels in a white wine broth flecked with onion and beautiful bacon. Noelle and Nancy are friends of ours, not restaurant owners, but, they’d probably welcome you in if you brought some white wine and a baguette. And Noelle would probably send you home with a jar of Maritime chow.
- Albert & Crown Pub, Alberton. A $7 halibut fish burger and pile of salt-tossed Cavendish fries? Simple math.
- Malpeque Iron Works in Summerside. Eric Shurman’s work is a marvel. If we could only bring these crows back as a carry-on!
6. Penderosa Beach. This is why you need to be friends with locals like Noelle and Nancy who share the best kept secrets!
7. One more thing: You need to have fish tacos at the Island Stone Pub (the storied old train station) in Kensington.
Corn Meal Crusted Haddock, Cilantro Lime Crema, cabbage, pico, pickled onions and rocket greens. This is the whispered sweet nothings that I like to hear…
For scavenger hunt fans–here’s your challenge. Find these:
Fox Plops, Chow and Blueberry Grunt.
And, no, it’s not a band name.