Mussel bound: Following the trail of NYC seafood to PEI
By Richard Frisbie
I love to eat mussels steamed in white wine, with sautéed garlic and chopped parsley. They’re heaven served over pasta! Easily farmed, mussels are environmentally friendly and the most sustainable seafood you can eat. They are also called “power food” because they are packed with vitamins and minerals essential to our diets. What’s not to like?
I’ve heard for years that the best mussels come from Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada, but until recently, never got up there to taste them for myself. That all changed when I dined at Flex Mussels in Manhattan last year.
Flex Mussels is not a gym, it is a restaurant that specializes in Canadian Maritime seafood prepared with the exotic flavors of the world to create true fusion dining. Located on quiet 13th Street, just a half block east of the 7th Avenue Subway, Flex Mussels is a small and crisply modern space, a bit on the loud side with a stylish crowd and walls decorated with paintings and photos of the beautifully spare farmlands and barren beaches of PEI.
Flex Mussels menu lists 21 varieties of mussels in sauce, several types of fresh oysters and 12 different artisanal beers. There’s also a decent wine list and other seafood offerings, but as the name makes clear, you’re there for the mussels. And for the total immersion into the PEI landscape. Flex Mussels, which offers an inspired recreation of the food served at a Charlottetown, PEI, seafood shack, is open evenings everyday and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. (See their website at http://www.flexmussels.com/menu/ for more information.)
If you happen to be less Village and more Upper East Side, 70 blocks north on 82nd Street is their uptown twin, but I can’t tell you about it because I haven’t found my way there… yet. I did, however, head farther north on a flight to PEI and found myself in Charlottetown shortly after my Flex Mussels dinner. Let me tell you, if the food didn’t get me there, the scenery would!
I found the seafood shack, the original Flex Mussels – now called Brakish! – and plenty of other dining establishments offering the freshest seafood I’d ever tasted. Served with local wines and beers, each meal I ate was better than the last. I visited mussel farms to see how they were raised, cleaned and graded, ditto the oyster farms, tasting my way through all the varieties alfresco, right there on the shore, and dockside is where I picked my thrashing dinner lobster right out of the fisherman’s tank. I had a ball eating my way through some of the finest seafood available.
And when I wasn’t eating, I was soaking up the culture and natural beauty PEI is also famous for. Charlottetown is home to one of only two downtown historic districts in Canada. On Great George Street you’ll see the stone Saint Dunstan’s Basilica and the Province House. There are also old clapboard and brick houses nicely maintained and looking like any Maine seaside village, just so far ‘Down East’ that it’s in the neighboring country of Canada!
The historic buildings are clustered around a beautiful harbor formed by three rivers, with all manner of vessels, from sailboats to ocean liners, filling the docks. It is a picturesque setting in which to drink the local brews while nibbling on the local potato chips and French fries, trying to decide which local seafood to dine on that day. That is a summer holiday dilemma I wish you all could share.
If you can tear yourself away from the food, get out of the city into the beautiful countryside and wend your way through the farmlands and fishing villages to some National Parks. Cavendish, the smaller but arguably more popular one, stretches approximately 20 miles along the north shore of the island and features some spectacular sand dunes.
The other is Prince Edward Island National Park, the site of every girl’s childhood favorite, the farm from Anne of Green Gables. PEI native and author Lucy Maud Montgomery often visited this farm as a young girl. It is believed to have been the primary influence on the setting for her world-famous Green Gables’ series. You’ll also find her home, now a museum, located nearby.
When you’re touring the bucolic rolling farmland building an appreciation of all PEI has to offer, as well as a powerful appetite, make a foodie pilgrimage to The Table Culinary Studio, a small restaurant cum culinary school in a converted church in New London. There, Chef’s Derrick, Roark and Bradley will deliver the bounty of PEI to your plate in a most charming and delicious way. My dinner there was amazing!
This year, Charlottetown and all of Canada is celebrating the 1867 Canadian Confederation, the political process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick eventually united to become Canada. There will be non-stop events all summer long to commemorate the 150th anniversary, so this summer is a great time to visit Prince Edward Island.
For further details, visit https://www.tourismpei.com/