Around New York City in 9 Pastries
When it comes to sweets, New York City takes the cake. From passing trends (Cronut, anyone?) to stalwart favorites (we're looking at you, cannolis. And eclairs. And macaroons.) there's no shortage of temptation. But the city's dessert offerings go far beyond those familiar treats, and that’s due in no small part to the many immigrants who come here, recipes and culinary traditions in hand. A tour of the specialty bakeries throughout Manhattan and its boroughs is a portrait of the diversity that makes the city so unique. We rounded up a sampling of international sweets, each from an eatery that's easy to get to with a MetroCard, so there's no excuse for limiting yourself to cheesecake and chocolate-chip cookies on your next visit.
1. Khao Nom
When Saralai Sarapaivanit, who goes by Jackie, moved to the U.S. from Thailand several decades ago, she couldn’t find many eateries making tub tim krob, a cold soup-like delicacy with pandan-jelly bits bobbing in a base of barely sweet coconut milk alongside pieces of crunchy water chestnut. She also couldn’t find many places to buy sweet steamed pumpkin, small tins of coconut custard with corn and tapioca pearls at the bottom, or lustrous luk chup, a marzipan-like sweet made with mung bean and molded to look like mini peaches and cherry tomatoes. So she and her brother-in-law opened Khao Nom, a bakery in Elmhurst, Queens, where they make their own. That’s just a small sampling of the hot and chilled dessert selection served in this high-ceilinged, laid-back space, where the tables are huge slabs of weathered wood set on vintage sewing machine bases. Stay put for the night to sample the bakery's brief menu of rice dishes, or check out the adjacent Khao Kang, the family's full-service Thai restaurant.
2. Lee Lee's Rugelach
In this supremely diverse city, you’ll find El Salvadorian and Colombian men tossing pizzas, Chinese people rolling bagels, and a Nepalese man and former Everest sherpa who’s been slicing paper-thin smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, one of the country’s most celebrated Jewish delis, since 2002. And then there’s the legendary Alvin “Lee Lee” Smalls, an African-American man from South Carolina who runs a rugelach empire from his charming, vintage-chic bakery in Harlem. The traditional Jewish pastry, something like a tiny croissant with a harder, yet just as flaky, spool of dough rolled up with jam, chocolate or, at Lee Lee’s Rugelach By a Brother (leeleesrugelach.com), even more creative ingredients. He sells over 1,000 pieces of rugelach each weekend and he'll certainly tack on about a dozen more the weekend you drop by.
3. Ole & Steen
In Denmark, spandauer, kloben, and carnival buns are as common as donuts and chocolate-chip cookies are here. Those traditional treats are just a few of the specialties at Ole & Steen (oleandsteen.us), a bakery with 89 outlets in Denmark and 10 in the U.K. But with the opening of the first U.S. store in Union Square this past January, and two more in the works, New Yorkers can have their fill of those pastries and more. The bakery features shelves upon shelves of Copenhagens (marzipan wrapped in a moist, flaky crust), cinnamon swirls, marzipan slices, and marshmallow puffs, as well as those aforementioned kloben buns (cardamom-and-clove-spiced soft rolls with raisins) and spandauers, which look like what we refer to as a Danish. There’s also a variety of bread for sale, including sourdoughs made with a 150-year-old starter. The place is a spacious café with coffee drinks and smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-face sandwiches) on the menu, so make yourself comfortable and settle in.
4. Brooklyn Kolache Co.
Brooklyn Kolache Company (brooklynkolacheco.com), an airy café in the rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, sells all the things other cafés in Bed-Stuy do: espresso, cappuccino, matcha, vegan buns. And it sells something the others don’t: kolaches. A traditional dessert in the Czech Republic and Poland that found its way to fame in Texas, these sweet rolls are made of a lump of yeast-risen dough that envelops sweet or savory fillings. PB&J, chocolate, and jam are among the regularly changing former, while savory picks include cheese, eggs, turkey, and sausage. Owner Autumn Stanford, a Texas expat, has done her homeland proud.
5. Al Sham Sweets & Pastries
What Nathan’s Famous is to hot dogs and Peter Luger Steak House is to the T-bone, Al Sham Sweets & Pastries is to baklava. That’s to say: a New York standard-bearer. This cash-only Jordanian bakery sits amid Halal markets and Middle Eastern restaurants in a corner of Astoria, a neighborhood that’s grown increasingly trendy in recent years. Throughout the changing times, this compact operation has cranked out the same exquisite baklava every day. Native to both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries like Greece, these treats are dense layers of filo dough and nuts soaked in a delicate rosewater-spiked honey syrup, making them at once rich and ethereal. The baklava comes in four flavors—pistachio, almond, cashew, and walnut—as well as different shapes and sizes. They’re all made in-house in massive batches to accommodate the steady stream of customers throughout the day. Al Sham is also a destination for kunafeh, a dessert said to have originated in Palestine. Prepared in a flat pan, with a syrup-soaked thin dough spread with sweet cheese, it's like pizza's sweeter cousin, and a delicacy unlike any other in NYC.
6. Breads Bakery
(Courtesy Breads Bakery)
When you walk into Breads Bakery in Union Square or Lincoln Center (breadsbakery.com), the smell of butter is so think, you can almost taste it in the air. That's because of the loaves of fresh babka that frequently emerge from the oven throughout the day. Babka, a traditional Eastern European hybrid of cake and half yeasted bread, is not new to New York, what with immigrants coming from those countries for generations. What is new is its ubiquity, and we have Breads largely to thank for that. (Or to blame, if you’re watching your calorie intake.) These rich loaves, woven through with ribbons of Nutella and chocolate chips, are habit-forming, to say the least. Not surprising, then, that you save $2.50 per loaf when you buy two. (PS: There's a year-round Breads kiosk in Bryant Park near the New York Public Library. A little too convenient, if you ask us.)
Here in the U.S., most of us know green tea as the staple hot drink in Japanese restaurants, but in Japan, it’s a common flavor of all kinds of desserts. Little surprise, then, that the green tea mousse cake is a popular pick at Harbs (harbsnyc.com), a 37-year-old Tokyo-based chain that opened its first restaurant outside of Japan in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 2014, followed by outposts in Soho and on the Upper East Side. There are French accents all over the place at these posh, handsome eateries: Tiled walls and wood accents give them a Parisian bistro vibe, and classic French baking techniques inform many of the cakes. But it’s the native ingredients, most imported from Japan, that make the desserts so intriguing. That aforementioned green tea cake incorporates earthy matcha in the sponge cake and specks of red bean in its green-tea mousse. Freshly whipped cream makes an appearance here and in several other desserts, including Harbs’s version of a French tart, where the cream is flecked with red bean.
8. Andre's Bakery
Never mind apple strudel. At Andre's Bakery (andresbakery.com), poppy seed, cherry, sweet cheese, and even savory options like cabbage, spinach, and feta run a tight race when it comes to most popular. The buttery, flaky strudels are made in-house daily with owner Andres's mother’s original recipe. In 1976, the Hungarian expat opened the first shop in in Forest Hills, a quiet, family-centric neighborhood in Queens, about five miles south of LaGuardia Airport. Since then, her son has carried out her legacy and opened two more shops, both on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (The 2nd Avenue location is also a restaurant-café that serves hearty, traditional dishes and Hungarian wines.) Other Hungarian desserts on offer include palacsinta, a crepe-like indulgence, and dobos torte, a fluffy, caramel-topped sponge cake layered with chocolate butter cream. All the desserts are made fresh daily in the original store.
9. La Gran Uruguaya
Dulce de leche, a caramel custard, is easy to find around New York City, especially in bakeries and restaurants in the many Spanish neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. A little less common is a flaky pastry filled with the stuff eclair-style. That’s just one of the highlights at La Gran Uruguaya (la-gran-uruguaya.com), a no-frills bakery-cafe in Jackson Heights, arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Queens, and possibly the whole city. Spongy tres leches cakes, banana tarts, flan, mousse, and tortitas negra, an Argentinian specialty, fill the expansive cases. This eatery also serves savory dishes, but when it comes to Latin American desserts, it’s tough to find a selection as varied as the one here.
Travel News: 8 Beautiful Places to See Spring Flowers
Can you feel it in the air? Spring is on its way, and with it, the exquisite flowers that we've been waiting for all winter. It turns out some of our favorite travel destinations in the U.S. and Western Europe happen to be home to some of the most beautiful explosions of spring flowers on Earth. Here, eight places to see the gorgeous spectacle. 1. TULIP TIME IN AMSTERDAM Step into a Technicolor wonderland. Keukenhof Gardens (keukenhof.nl/en) outside Amsterdam is one of the world's most spectacular flower gardens in April when the tulips are in bloom. Take a guided tour, or rent a bike to go exploring. Or if you really want to indulge, book an Avalon Waterways (avalonwaterways.com) Tulip Time river cruises. The Netherlands is tulip-crazy all spring long, and Budget Travel loves Amsterdam for museums filled with Van Goghs and Vermeers, its charming canals, and affordable hotels. 2 CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. (Pigprox/Dreamstime)Washington, D.C., decked out in cherry trees could melt the heart of even a politician. The trees were given to Washington in 1912 by the city of Tokyo and they attract about a half-million visitors each spring to blossom hotspots like the Tidal Basin. The National Cherry Blossom Festival (nationalcherryblossomfestival.org) traditionally runs through mid-April, with a grand parade this year on Saturday April 13. Your best bet for viewing the trees crowd-free is to visit before the parade weekend and hit the Mall before dawn to catch the blossoms as they're caressed by the dawn's early light. 3. EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FLOWER & GARDEN FESTIVAL IN ORLANDO Walt Disney World is not just for kids, and the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (disneyworld.disney.go.com) will delight grownups! March 6 through June 3, you'll find gorgeous blooming gardens, topiaries featuring plants in the shape of Disney characters, and outdoor kitchens cooking up seasonal treats, plus live entertainment. 4. ROSE FESTIVAL IN PORTLAND, OREGON Portland, Oregon, the "Rose City" is heaven on earth for flower lovers in May and June. The Portland Rose Festival (rosefestival.org) includes parades and CityFair, with rides, concerts, and food along the waterfront. The festival also honors outstanding young women from local high schools with scholarships and mentoring from community leaders. 5. PARIS AND VERSAILLES (Anna Guryeva/Dreamstime)If you visit Paris in springtime, don't stay cooped up inside, no matter how beautiful museums like the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay may be. After all, the Louvre's collection includes not only paintings, drawings, and sculptures, but also the Carrousel gardens and Tuileries, which offer explosions of spring color, fragrant paths, and inviting landscaping. And for a real dose of spring flowers, don't miss the Luxembourg Gardens and a day trip to Versailles! 6. GIVERNY, FRANCE One of our favorite quotes about flowers comes from Claude Monet: "I work at my garden all the time and with love. What I need most are flowers, always. My heart is forever in Giverny." A trip to Giverny, about an hour outside Paris, will get you up close and personal with the ponds covered in water that inspired the artist, the tiny village where the important Impressionist lived and worked from 1883 to 1926. 7. DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN, PHOENIX, ARIZONA Ready for something a little different? Get succulent! That's right, the Desert Botanical Garden (dbg.org) in Phoenix includes over 4,000 species of desert plants, including flowering cacti. Visitors to the Southwest during its flower season marvel at the beauty of these amazing prickly plants.The garden is one of the world's premier centers for the study of desert plants and aims to promote education, conservation, and protection of the plants of the Sonoran Desert as well as other desert plants around the world. 8. HAMPTON COURT, LONDON We love the sometimes overlooked Hampton Court Palace (hrp.org.uk), reachable by boat from central London and arguably the most beautiful of the U.K.'s royal palaces. When visiting this site, substantially redesigned and rebuilt by Christopher Wren in the 17th century and heavily associated in earlier times with Henry VIII (of the six wives), you may very well lose your head over the palace's flower gardens and garden maze.
Live Like a Local in Kentucky
When it comes to a room with a view, an array of cultural offerings that includes folk art and bluegrass music, and a culinary legacy that dates back centuries, we love all that Kentucky has to offer. Consider this a taste of your next great vacation. Cultural Heritage Say the words culture and Kentucky and, of course, Louisville springs to mind, with its justly renowned Louisville Ballet and Actors Theatre of Louisville each drawing devoted audiences for its world-class performances. But in Kentucky, culture is as varied and welcoming as the state itself. When it comes to folk art, travelers must include a stop in Berea, the “arts and crafts capital of Kentucky,” for exceptional pottery, weaving, art galleries, and even hand-made musical instruments (more about Kentucky music a little later). The vibrant city of Paducah, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a City of Crafts and Folk Art, is another must see. Speaking of crafts, no trip to Kentucky would be complete without exploring the craft of distilling distinctive, local bourbon, not to mention sipping a traditional Old Fashioned cocktail, invented in Louisville. Stop by some (or all!) of Kentucky’s thirteen major distilleries by taking the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Road Trip. Or dive into Louisville’s own special distilling scene on the Urban Bourbon Trail®, or get to know small-batch distillers along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®. Whichever bourbon experience (and Budget Travel’s editors recommend exploring at least a bit of each while visiting Bourbon Country), you’ll return home with a sense of history, craft, and, almost certainly, a taste for Kentucky’s famous libation. Kentucky’s history doesn’t stop at art and spirits, of course. After all, this is where Abraham Lincoln was born, and you can visit the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, in Hodgenville. The state is also home to significant Civil War forts and battlefields, sites dedicated to African American and Native American history and culture, and opportunities to learn about Kentucky’s importance to the coal industry, both past and present. Wherever you happen to be on your Kentucky trip, you’re never far from vibrant small towns where U.S. history rubs elbows with cutting-edge imagination and creativity. The horse lovers in your brood (and that certainly includes all of us at Budget Travel) will want to spend some time getting to know the equine side of Kentucky. Make a “pilgrimage” to Keeneland, in Lexington, or Churchill Downs, in Louisville, or visit one of the state’s many horse farms open to visitors. The Kentucky Horse Park may be the best place to immerse yourself in Horse Country, where you can tour the Hall of Champions, visit the International Museum of the Horse and attend various events and shows. Music While Kentucky was nicknamed the Bluegrass State for the lush, thick grass that grows in its north central regions, the name bluegrass naturally also calls to mind music, and this is one state where you’ll find toe-tapping music traditions alive and well anywhere you turn. Bluegrass music is an incredible musical melting pot of European folk, gospel, and jazz traditions, and you can revel in the music and its history at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, in Owensboro, and visit the birthplace of the “father of bluegrass,” Bill Monroe, who first gave the music its name and helped bring it to a nationwide audience. Drive the Country Music Highway, along U.S. 23 in eastern Kentucky, to visit the birthplaces of several significant musical luminaries, including Loretta Lynn, the Judds, and Ricky Scaggs; and don’t forget to stop at the Country Music Highway Museum, in Paintsville, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, in Renfro Valley. While we’re on the subject of music, Kentucky’s nightlife extends far beyond bluegrass and country music. If you’re looking for up-and-coming musical acts, drop by a college town like Lexington. For live theater, classical, and jazz, spend an evening out on the town in Louisville, Paducah, or Bowling Green. Eat You know Kentucky will feed you well, and the latest season of Top Chef, “Better in the Bluegrass,” confirms it, with the popular TV cooking contest held right here in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky food varies from region to region, and, in our experience, taking a food tour of as many regions as possible is the best way to savor it all. Kentucky’s Bluegrass, Blues & Barbecue region is home to a thriving BBQ scene, including the International BBQ Bar-B-Q Festival each May in Owensboro, the “BBQ Capital of the World.” Treat yourself to “beer cheese” while visiting legendary horse farms in the Bluegrass, Horses, Bourbon & Boone region; this region’s combination of beer and cheese is a tasty dip for chips or crackers, and we’ve even seen locals eat it with a spoon. When visiting Daniel Boone Country, named for the famous pioneer who inspired the Disney TV show, you must try Apple Stack Cake, one of the best-known and best-loved desserts in the Appalachians. Play Thought you may never tire of exploring culture, music, and food in Kentucky, we also recommend that you spend plenty of time outdoors. The Bluegrass State boasts some of America’s finest parkland and other natural attractions, including: Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest cave system in the world, with more than 400 explored miles; Cumberland Falls State Park with its jaw-dropping waterfalls and the incredible “moon-bow” that inspires nighttime visits when the moon is full and the sky is clear; Daniel Boone National Forest, the Red River Gorge, and a vast array of lakes and trails make for nearly infinite opportunities for unforgettable outdoor recreation. Stay Whether your “lodging personality” tends toward a super-comfortable hotel stay with all your needs seen to, a rustic cabin by a secluded lake, an apartment rental in a cool small town, or resort living that makes balancing outdoor adventures with great food and drink as easy as possible, Kentucky has something to fit the bill. Learn more about Kentucky’s cultural heritage, music, food, natural wonders, and lodging at kentuckytourism.com.
5 Fun Ways to Enjoy an Offseason Weekend in Wilmington, NC
With average temps hovering around 50 degrees from December to March, an offseason escape to Wilmington, North Carolina, won’t necessarily get you a tan, but there’s more to this coastal enclave than its beachy reputation would have you believe. Though it's still dealing with the damage wrought by Hurricane Florence in the fall, the community is well on its way to recovery, and now's a great time to visit. From riverside walks to history lessons to artsy outings to five-star dining, here’s how to while away a winter weekend in the Port City. 1. Get Outside Airlie Gardens. (Maya Stanton) It might not be warm enough for sunbathing, but even at less-than-optimal temperatures, Wrightsville Beach is a prime destination for seashell collecting and long walks in the sand, especially at sunrise. Plus, parking is free from November 1 to March 1. (To take full advantage of those ocean breezes, book a room at the Blockade Runner, a water-facing Hotel We Love that recently reopened after the hurricane; accommodations there are a steal during the winter months.) Just over the causeway, the vast Airlie Gardens (airliegardens.org) are an oasis of calm, with ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss and a sculpture garden paying tribute to the fascinating work of Minnie Evans, a prolific, self-taught African-American visionary artist who didn’t begin drawing or painting until age 43. Don’t miss the Bottle Chapel, a a 3D representation of Minnie’s paintings, built with cement, metal, and colorful glass bottles. Downtown, pop into Pineapple Studios (lovepineapplestudios.com) for a pottery lesson or a yoga class, pause for a pint at Front Street Brewery (frontstreetbrewery.com) or the local outpost of Pour Taphouse (pourtaproom.com), and wander along the Riverwalk, 1.75 miles of walking paths along the Cape Fear River comprising shops, restaurants, and water views. 2. Take a History Lesson Incorporated in 1739, the city of Wilmington has seen its fair share of action, from Revolutionary War battles to Civil War blockades to World War II shipbuilding. A trio of historic homes, each open for walk-throughs, showcases what the 18th and mid-19th centuries were like for moneyed white folks and the slaves they kept. Dating to 1770, the Burgwin-Wright (bwhg.memberclicks.net), for one, is a Georgian home built directly on top of the former jail, and the only colonial-era building in the city that’s accessible to the public. Peek inside the original kitchen and the old cells, then take a breather in the terraced garden, which are free to explore. Completed in 1852, the Latimer House (latimerhouse.org) was the Victorian-era estate of a wealthy merchant's family—and, before emancipation, the 11 enslaved people who served them. A guided tour offers a vivid sense of life at the time, while a tour of the circa-1861 Bellamy Mansion (bellamymansion.org), built primarily by enslaved laborers, reveals a restored carriage house and the original slave quarters. A few minutes outside of town, across the causeway in Wrightsville Beach, is the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History (wbmuseumofhistory.com), housed in a cottage built in 1909, with displays outlining the swimsuit’s backstory and a model of the beach, complete with a miniature working trolley. (One caveat: The offseason is a popular time for maintenance, repairs, and private events, so be sure to call ahead or check opening times online for all of the above.) 3. Walk and Talk Wilmington offers a variety of walking tours to help you see the sights. Run by Beverly Tetterton, a former research librarian and long-serving member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, alongside tech guru Dan Camancho, Wilmington.tours (wilmington.tours) has four app tours, three of which focus on the city’s general past and the Civil War era, plus one pub crawl dishing the dirt on 13 watering holes—though covering the entire baker’s dozen in one night is not recommended. (The site warns: “Wilmington.tours is not responsible for hangovers or regrettable behavior. We also do not guarantee impressing your friends & dates. If they are not impressed, you did something wrong, or have dumb friends, or both.”) On the less scientific end of the spectrum, Haunted Wilmington (hauntedwilmington.com) leads one of our favorite ghost walks in the U.S., a spooky stroll through the historic downtown area. Gothy guides customize itineraries for each outing, but stops may include the graveyard at St. James Episcopal Church, where an unfortunate young man was reputedly buried alive, and the aforementioned Latimer House, where five of the family’s nine children didn’t make it to adulthood. The company also offers a Hollywood location walk of spots you'll likely recognize from movies and teen dramas. (Spoiler alert: Dawson’s Creek and Cape Fear were both filmed here.) 4. Eat Your Heart Out Manna's Homard Simpson, a buttered lobster tail with sugar-snap peas and shiitakes. (Maya Stanton) For a smaller city, Wilmington has some stellar dining options, and even the Food Network has taken note—last year, Guy Fieri shot an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives here, creating quite the stir. It confirmed what locals have known for ages: This is a town that loves to eat. With creative Southern-inspired takes on standard fare (think: hummus made with North Carolina butterbeans in lieu of chickpeas, topped with tangy green tomatoes), PinPoint (pinpointrestaurant.com) offers some of the best bites in town. Between the fun Latin fare at Savorez (savorez.com), the modern plates from Top Chef alum Keith Rhodes at Catch (catchwilmington.com), and the special-occasion, pun-loving menu at Manna (mannaavenue.com), seafood enthusiasts will find no shortage of options here. And what’s a day at the beach without an ice cream cone? At both of its locations, including one downtown, the family-run Boombalatti’s (boombalattis.com) serves homemade ice cream with milk from grass-fed cows, and the flavors are out of this world—the key-lime pie in particular. 5. Embrace Your Artistic Side (Maya Stanton) College towns often foster a creative environment, and with its first-rate galleries, studios, and performance spaces, Wilmington is no exception. On the fourth Friday of each month (artscouncilofwilmington.org/four-fridays), a selection of art spaces open their doors after hours, offering up drinks, snacks, entertainment, and opportunities to chat with the artists themselves. Art in Bloom Gallery (aibgallery.com) features a mix of fine photography, paintings, mobiles, and stunning blown-glass pieces, while New Elements Gallery (newelementsgallery.com) boasts canvases and crafts from local and regional talents. theArtWorks (theartworks.co), a warren of studios and galleries housed in a former factory, also participates in Fourth Fridays, but its 45-plus studios keep regular open hours as well, so you can pop in on a weekend and visit artists as they work. Performance-wise, Thalian Hall (thalianhall.org) has been in near-continuous use since it opened in 1858, hosting everyone from Buffalo Bill Cody to Beatles cover bands. Today it's a go-to for theatrical revivals, contemporary movies, and one-offs like the Bluegrass Bash and Mutts Gone Nuts, a “comedy dog spectacular” promoting rescue adoptions. And over at the Wilson Center (cfcc.edu/capefearstage), a soaring hall affiliated with the Cape Fear Community College, not only do touring Broadway shows, contemporary dance troupes, and musicians as varied as Air Supply and Chick Corea take center stage, an outreach initiative also provides free tickets to underserved communities, so kids from all backgrounds can experience the arts.
Get a Taste of Nova Scotia's South Shore Lobster Crawl
It’s barely 9:00 in the morning, and I’m already worried about losing a toe. Possibly three. I’m on a lobster boat off the coast of West Berlin, Nova Scotia, Canada, and my weather app says it’s in the low 20s—which doesn’t sound so bad, until you factor in the bone-chilling winds coming off the North Atlantic. Those gusts are no joke. The view from the stern. (Maya Stanton) If we'd started earlier, it would’ve been even colder, the locals nonchalantly told me. But even now, with the sun beaming down, the fishing crew is bundled from head to toe in heavy-duty gear: thick, waterproof coats and pants, substantial boots, insulated gloves, hats, hoods, and, on the men, full beards. I, on the other hand, thought my thickest pair of socks would make up for a decidedly non-winterized pair of boots. I was mistaken. As it turns out, lobster is expensive for good reason. In this corner of southwestern Nova Scotia, the fishing season runs from the last Monday in November through the end of May, but it peaks in the winter months, the frigid Atlantic providing the ideal environment for North American lobsters. The boats don’t go out every day, especially in January and February—sometimes the winds are prohibitive, sometimes it’s just way too cold—but when they do, it’s tough work. The payoff is worth it, though: Catches in this fishing sector account for some 40 percent of Canada’s annual lobster haul. And now travelers can be there to take it all in. Currently in its second year, Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl (lobstercrawl.ca) invites the hardy to brave the February elements for three weeks of activities, events, and, of course, good eating up and down the coast—everything from concerts and crafts to art and sculpture shows to a beer festival and a lobster-roll contest—all in the name of that sweet, sweet lobster meat. Day 1: Peggy's Cove, Lunenburg, and Summerville My journey started in Halifax, the province’s capital. I had come to join the crawl—to lean into winter, if you will. We set off on Route 3, aka the Lighthouse Route, a winding, seaside drive that took us first to Peggy’s Cove, a picturesque fishing hamlet on St. Margaret’s Bay, some 25 miles southwest of the city. It’s one of the country’s most photographed spots, thanks in no small part to its iconic lighthouse, built in 1914 and not showing its age in the slightest. The icy shoals and brightly colored boats of Peggy's Cove. (Maya Stanton) The winds were vicious out on the point, but the weathered wooden fishing shacks and vibrantly colored boats and hillside homes were none the worse for wear. Requisite photos acquired, we headed to Lunenburg: a colorful port town with a colorful history, some 60 miles further south on the Lighthouse Route. Established in 1753 and forged on the back of the Atlantic cod–fishing industry, not to mention ship-building and rum-running, Old Town Lunenburg was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, when the organization declared it “the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America." And with its mix of stunning 18th-century Victorians, wooden churches, and Cape Cod-style homes, it’s clear that preservation takes priority here. Lunenburg's oldest house, built around 1753. (Maya Stanton) Snow was beginning to fall when we met our guide for a walking tour (lunenburgwalkingtours.com). We checked out the oldest house in Lunenburg, a navy Cape Cod dating to the town’s founding in 1753. It's such a living museum that there are plexiglass-covered cutouts in the walls to show off the building's rough-cut, hand-hewn timber construction. Also on the agenda: a pale pink Victorian that featured in a 1973 horror flick starring a young Ron Howard, and a circa-1753 Anglican church that was painstakingly reconstructed, beam by original beam, to the tune of $6.7 million after a gut-wrenching fire in 2001. From there, it was a quick jaunt down to the working waterfront, where scallop draggers and deep-sea fishing boats ply their trade. As flurries continued to fall, we made our way to the Grand Banker Bar & Grill (grandbanker.com), a small dining room with a menu overflowing with local seafood and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sparkling bay. The Grand Banker's Lunenburger. (Maya Stanton) I tried a rich and tangy Acadian-style Cajun stew, a heaping pile of Nova Scotia mussels, and a handful of silver-dollar-sized scallops straight from the wharf, but the showstopper was the Lunenburger, a beef patty piled with smoked mozzarella, bacon, lobster knuckle and claw meat, plus garlic aioli and tarragon-butter sauce, set on a smattering of baby spinach and crowned with a bacon-wrapped scallop. A jaw-dropping creation. After a feast like that, a nip of brandy was in order, so we popped over a few blocks to Ironworks Distillery (ironworksdistillery.com). A micro-distillery housed in an 1893 blacksmith’s shop, Ironworks leans on the Maritime Provinces’ rum-loving heritage (the Rum Boat Rum is a standout, aged in bourbon barrels on the property and on the floating barge anchored a stone’s throw from the shop’s side door), but the line also encompasses gin, vodka, and fruit-based brandies and liqueurs. The apple brandy hit the post-prandial spot, and the raspberry liqueur tasted like it got up and walked straight off the pages of Anne of Green Gables. (Remember when Anne and Diana nicked that bottle of raspberry cordial and got scandalously drunk?) Next stop, the evening's accommodations: Quarterdeck Beachside Villas and Grill (quarterdeck.ca), a collection of condo-style rooms with contemporary beach decor (think: IKEA meets shabby chic) and, overlooking the ocean, private decks complete with Adirondack chairs, as well as a stand-alone restaurant cranking out great seafood. Before dinner, as a preview of a similar event slated for the Lobster Crawl’s closing weekend, we took a painting class led by celebrated local artist Andre Haines. Over glasses of sparkling Nova Scotian wine, the multi-talented theater alum introduced us to traditional provincial tunes and painterly techniques alike—a thoroughly enjoyable experience, though, suffice it to say, I will not be giving up my day job for an artist's studio anytime soon. Day 2: Cape Sable Island, Clark's Harbour, and Barrington Passage America has Punxsutawney Phil, Nova Scotia has Lucy the Lobster. We were up before dawn on Groundhog Day, bound for Barrington’s Cape Sable Island Causeway to see if the tough-shelled celebrity would amble out of her cage and see her shadow, or if spring was on its way. Lucy was feeling a bit drowsy, but her handlers gleefully pronounced that she’d caught a glimpse of her reflection, meaning six more weeks of lobster season was sure to follow. We cruised by Clark’s Harbour, a working wharf, and Cape Sable, Atlantic Canada’s most southerly point of land, before our visit to Fisher Direct (fisherdirect.ca), a family-owned and operated facility that delivers live lobsters to vendors all over the world, particularly China. With tanks and spray systems that can hold upwards of 400,000 pounds of live lobster at a time, the plant processes 10 million pounds annually—a mind-boggling number, though owner Tyler Nickerson is quick to point out it isn’t really that much, especially compared to his big-box competitors. A classic lobster dinner, courtesy of Capt. Kat's Lobster Shack. (Maya Stanton) Given the copious local bounty, it's no surprise that area restaurants take full advantage. In Barrington, the self-proclaimed lobster capital of Canada, Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack (captkatslobstershack.weebly.com) knows its way around a crustacean, with a menu boasting lobster fondue, lobster poutine, lobster-topped fish cakes, and 2018's champion lobster roll. But creamed lobster is a South Shore specialty, and the interpretation here is the next best thing to home-cooking—or so I’ve been told. With chunks of fresh meat sautéed in copious amounts of butter, finished off with heavy cream, and served atop a thick slab of toast, it’s not exactly a light starter, but you can’t leave the province without giving it a taste. That, along with an impeccably steamed whole lobster, might’ve been the best meal I had all week. The lodge at White Point Beach Resort. (Maya Stanton) White Point Beach Resort (whitepoint.com) was my next port of call, and its airy, light-filled lodge offered a warm welcome, with windows facing the Atlantic, a towering stone fireplace, and cozy armchairs and leather sofas practically begging guests to sink right in and stay while. (As an added bonus, its grounds are populated by bunnies that appear out of nowhere when you proffer treats, and who doesn't love bunnies?) Lobster-themed s’mores—chocolate-dipped, lobster-shaped sugar cookies in lieu of graham crackers, and marshmallows roasted on a roaring fire—capped off the night. Day 3: West Berlin and White Point It was lobster-boat day, and my alarm went off just as the sun was cresting over the horizon. Those fishermen who'd already been out for hours in the dark, cold morning deserve every penny they're earning—a feeling that only got stronger the more time we spent onboard, especially when my digits felt like they might be in danger. But Captain Brad Crouse was a gracious host, with an easy smile and a steady hand on the wheel, and his operation a well-oiled machine. The tiny crew worked quickly and efficiently to pull the traps and measure their catch, tossing back the too-small specimens and banding the larger ones’ claws, re-baiting the traps, and pushing them off the stern and back into the sea. A crew member shows off a keeper onboard Captain Crouse's lobster boat. (Maya Stanton) On the roster of festival activities this chilly Sunday was a Lobster 101 seminar with Atlantic Canada's tartan-clad culinary ambassador, Alain Bossé. A high-profile cookbook author, consultant, and educator known as the Kilted Chef, Alain took the small crowd through the ins and outs of lobster biology—unsettling mating habits and all—before detailing how best to store and prepare your catch for prime consumption. And then, finally, we were on to the main event: the lobster-roll contest. The winning lobster roll, from 27 South in Bridgewater. (Maya Stanton) Lobster rolls are one of my favorite things to eat, so I was beyond excited to sit on the panel of judges for this year's contest. The variety on display was remarkable: There were rolls with finely chopped meat and rolls with huge chunks of tail and claw, rolls with arugula and with plain old lettuce, rolls with too much celery and with just enough chives. There was one with an Asian-inspired slaw, and one dotted with mixed herbs. Ultimately, and in a surprise upset, our favorite (above) came from 27 South (facebook.com/twentysevensouth) at the Bridgewater Best Western. The chef claimed his secret was the lobster-infused mayo, but whatever it was, I wanted seconds. Sunset over the Atlantic. (Maya Stanton) In a fitting bookend to the day, the winner was announced and the contest wrapped up just as the sun was setting—I’d watched it come up, after all, and it’s not often I’m awake that early. I stepped out onto the property’s elevated deck to take in the show. Day 4: Port Medway and Mahone Bay On our final morning on the South Shore, we drove northeast, bound for The Port Grocer (theportgrocer.ca), a quaint, all-purpose café, market, post office, and gift shop in Port Medway. After coffee, salads, and seafood chowder, we got to the reason for our visit: a garlicky, cheesy, tender crust topped with chunks of lobster and sprinkled with finely chopped parsley. Most seafood pizzas overpromise and underdeliver, but this one holds up to the hype—and it’s developed such a loyal following that the proprietors can’t keep them in stock. The Port Grocer's lobster pizza, worth every bite. (Maya Stanton) We took the scenic route back to Halifax, checking out Port Medway’s circa-1899 lighthouse (a Registered Heritage Property), Mahone Bay’s colorful waterfront, known for its Three Churches, and Chester, an upscale community with breathtaking homes. It was a relaxing end to a jam-packed, lobster-filled trip, and I’m plotting a return for the seafood alone—but next time, I’ll bring the right boots. Nova Scotia's 2019 South Shore Lobster Crawl runs February 1-19; for more information, visit lobstercrawl.ca. The lobster-boat excursion is part of the Great Canadian Lobster Fishing Feast offered by White Point Beach Resort; packages start from around $525 (USD) per person for two nights and include a half-day fishing trip, a lobster lunch cooked over a bonfire, and oceanfront accommodations.
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