A tale of two cities

Can Halifax’s new brewpub Gahan House stack up to its Charlottetown predecessor?

Gahan House
1869 Upper Water Street, 902-444-3060
Sun-Tue 11am-11pm Wed-Sat 11am-midnight

The Gahan House has been in Charlottetown for over 10 years. It's been in Halifax for over 10 weeks. So why not compare the two?

Let me get this out of the way: I find the beer at the Gahan House pretty samey, hoppy and bitter across the board. The tiny sampler tray ($10.99) flight in Halifax—six ounces each of pumpkin spice, gingerbread, peach wheat, and hippie cousin on this visit—are all fine, but nothing I'm in a rush to drink again. The flight in Charlottetown is practically trans-Atlantic with 10 tiny glasses ($12.99) of pretty basic beer. If nothing else, that buzz is impressive.

The ampersand in the "pretzels & beer" ($9.99), which I try at both locations, is a bit misleading as the beer is an ingredient in the twists of bread that make up this appetizer. It's also misleading in that these are basically just breadsticks. The inside of the rolls are soft and have a yeasty chew, but it lacks the crackling brown skin of a really great soft pretzel since no lye or baking soda solution was used. A sprinkling of coarse salt does add a nice brackish pop that is very good with the sugary cinnamon butter.

Halifax's lobster and mushroom pizza ($13.99)—unique to that location—is served on a crisp, cracker-thin crust. The mushrooms aren't quite cooked through, so they are a little spongy, but the slightly woodsy element they bring to what is a delicate sweetness of luscious, if sparingly used, lobster meat, tart goat cheese and bright explosions of cherry tomato is conceptually nice.

The veggie bean sandwich ($12.99) is nutty and savory. The patty, made of chickpeas, black bean and white nava bean, has a paste-like texture overall, but also has a nice bit of brown crispness around the edges which gives needed texture. Off-season tomato is a bit mealy and flaccid, sprouts—the menu says pea shoots, but they look more like alfalfa sprouts—and spinach give a bit of a watery crunch, but it's perked up by feta. The salad it's served with is unremarkable.

The prime rib in the shaved sandwich ($13.99) is very tender. The demi-glace is a bit sharp, slightly oversalted, so the flavour of the mushrooms and even the cheese is swamped. The poppyseed bread that serves as the base for the open-face sandwich is soppy, but crisp onion rings give a needed crunch. The potatoes are incredible, a smooth super garlicky mash.

I repeat the dish in Charlottetown. Each component—especially the demi-glace—is a bit more refined. The potatoes, as they should, blow Halifax's out of the field. The flavour dances between peppery and garlicky, and they are intensely buttery. I suspect they use Yukon gold while Halifax uses russet.

In PEI we also order a bottomlessly cheesy mac and cheese ($13.99), gooey with cheddar and Cheeselady's gouda, rippling with smoky bacon. It's a different variation than Halifax's mac. We also get the halibut tacos ($13.99), which are a kaleidoscopic cluster of lettuce, tomato, and cheese sitting underneath a trio of tortillas with crisp, golden halibut and a fan of avocado, brightened with a jalapeno lime vinaigrette. They are also on the Halifax menu.

The little differences in the restaurants feel like the personalities of the chefs making themselves known within the format of the burgeoning chain. I can't help but appreciate the individuality. There's a bit more charm in the nooks and crannies at the veteran Charlottetown location and I have to admit that service there put Halifax to shame in both its product knowledge and customer care, but Halifax is not short on whimsy in its plating or its brews. Whatever the postal code, whether a newcomer or a well-oiled machine, Gahan is good.

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