We had planned on visiting Prince Edward Island at the end of the trip if time allowed, but as my good friend Liz says, “Life happens while making other plans”. Serena’s suspension went haywire and her control gauge was flashing red continually: a very disconcerting situation. After numerous calls, Manny found that Bluenose RV in Bridgewater, NS could help us. Unfortunately, they were booked solid through September. After more calls to Firestone corporate headquarters, we were referred to B&J Truck Centre in PEI. So off to PEI.
I quickly studied my Prince Edward Island guidebook. Good news! PEI is known for seafood, oysters, mussels and potatoes —some of our favorite foods. We drove back to the Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and PEI, a 13-kilometer (8-mile) two-lane highway —with only one lane each way and a too narrow shoulder in case of an emergency. We couldn’t imagine what would happen if someone broke down.
It was late in the day when we arrived in PEI and we were ravenous, having saved ourselves for those luscious raw oysters we had been dreaming about. We stopped at the first Visitors Center in Summerside to find a good place for seafood. Only two restaurants were open and neither had the menu I had hoped for. Multiple versions of fish and chips seemed to be the only seafood available. Otherwise the menu was standard tavern fare of French dips, burgers and salads, food we could find anywhere. Apparently we would have to wait for another day to sample those famous raw PEI oysters.
We waited and waited. PEI is divided into three sections. We started touring the coastal road of the western portion, where we discovered that restaurants are few and far between. I would have settled for a McDonald’s McLobster roll, but even the Golden Arches are nonexistent on this part of the island.
We were told that most people buy their own oysters, clams and lobsters at one of the local retail fish markets we noticed along the highway. I was reminded of a show on the Food network where the chef wore a steel meshed glove while prying open an oyster. It convinced me that there is an art to shucking and we decided that vacation wasn’t the right time to begin to learn. We didn’t want a trip to the local hospital to be part of the itinerary.
We told our plight to some local PEI residents we met at Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. Bud was a salty professional fisherman, who had fished these waters for years and was an expert oyster shucker. We spent a lovely morning chatting with him and his daughter Carla, who were readying to go clamming. Bud popped into his trailer and returned bearing gifts: an oyster knife to open those feisty buggers —and a 16 oz. sealed mason jar of clams he had dug up and prepared himself! I have big plans for those clams
Desperate to find the coveted fresh raw oysters, we stopped at another Visitors Center in O’Leary to ask for a recommendation, explaining that we would prefer a local, out of the way eatery as opposed to fancy white tablecloth restaurants which cater to the tourists and are often expensive and mediocre.
Finally, one of the girls pulled out a photocopied menu from Milligan’s Wharf —a little fishermen’s joint several miles off the main highway right on the water in Poplar Grove— where Dave and Mel bake their own bread, serve organic greens, and most importantly, have oysters in season.
We couldn’t wait. We arrived at about 3 pm and had the tiny picturesque place all to ourselves.
Before we even sat down, we gave Dave our order of a dozen large oysters and a dozen small ones. With a big grin, he disappeared saying, “I’d better get to shucking”. When he reappeared and proudly placed a huge plate with twelve succulent oysters, we knew we had arrived at the right place.
Delicious with just a squeeze of lemon and a touch of Tabasco, we were in oyster heaven. The small ones arrived just as we had polished off their big brothers. These were even better, tender with a sweet flavor needing almost no seasoning.
Still hungry enough to try another dish and wanting to take advantage of this island restaurant gem, I ordered the scallop burger, expecting a hamburger-like patty made with chopped scallops.
Much to my delight when I opened the bun, staring up at me were six juicy scallops topped with a bright red tomato slice and homemade tartar sauce.
Manny got fish and chips graced with two slices of homemade rye bread.
After tasting the delicious bread, we asked Mel if we could purchase some more. She kindly gave us two plump whole wheat buns and a couple huge slices of rye, baked that very morning.
Our visit was complete when Dave “shucked” us into the PEI Oyster Society with the following pledge:
Cradled on the waves
I swear to honour
On this borrowed day
the PEI Oyster Society
by the grace
of this Salty Kiss.
How could we resist the red box on the side of the road that said, “Self Serve PEI potatoes, $4.00 for 5 lbs.” ? I hefted out the huge bag and dropped my two toonies into the honor-system slot.
I thought we bought them so I could have the bag as a souvenir, but Manny had other plans. He wanted a to have a potato marathon, starting with my fabulous garlic mashed potatoes. “Just think how good they will be with PEI potatoes,” Manny prompted. I despaired thinking about the boxes of Edward & Sons organic instant potatoes I ordered from Amazon to make my life on the road simpler, but wanting to be a good sport, I figured, “why not!” I washed off the thick layer of red dirt (caused by a high concentration of iron in the soil) and got to boiling them.
I whipped out my camper-sized blender, chicken broth and milk and went to work. An hour later we had hot turkey sandwiches, with Campbell’s gravy and homemade PEI mashed potatoes.
On the agenda the next day were Manny’s spectacular French fries. In his cute —sometimes maddening— Virgo way, Manny methodically cuts the spuds into thin strips each almost exactly the same size. He rinses them to wash out the excess starch and then soaks them in salted water for ten minutes to flavor them to perfection.
Sure that his canola oil is piping hot, he lays the finely cut potatoes in and fries them until they are golden brown and crunchy crisp. Divine! Along with the fresh grass fed PEI hamburgers served on Mel’s homemade buns, and washed down with the Island’s own Beach Chair beer, we were in PEI paradise.
Were the PEI potatoes better than Idaho’s? You’ll have to come to Prince Edward Island and be your own judge.