Bay trippin’

Liz Feltham hits the road to visit the Innlet Cafe in Mahone Bay, where the goulash meets the sea.

Down by the bay Goulash and shellfish and strudel, oh my, at the Innlet Cafe.
illustration Moon Hee Nam

Since Mimi pulled up stakes and sold her Ocean Grill, dining out in Mahone Bay just hasn't been the same. I do enjoy the Mug and Anchor pub, but sometimes a stomach needs something a little more upscale. Several years ago I ate at the Innlet Cafe, but it was uninspired to say the least. Then I learned that the Innlet had new owners. A German family bought it about three years ago and I recently found myself there on a lovely summer evening, in the company of good friends and their uncommonly well-behaved toddler.

The Innlet boasts the best view in Mahone Bay: that iconic scene of the three churches. The inside of the cafe is simple, with wood-beam ceilings, a fireplace and walls featuring works by local artists. It's spotless. The washrooms are immaculate and the toddler's parents are impressed by the cleanliness of the high chair (apparently very rare). Attention to details like this at the front of the house bode well for what's coming out of the kitchen.

We're hungry and share four appetizers: mushroom caps ($4.25), scallops and shrimp ($8.10), chicken-liver pate ($4.95) and mussel soup ($5.50). The mushroom caps have been marinated and sauteed, and are delicious. The scallops and shrimp are well-seasoned and properly cooked, and could easily be a meal alone. The chicken-liver pate is warm and served with "toasties," toasted slices of miniature bread loaves. The only disappointment is the mussel soup: Laden with onions and finished with cream, it has an overwhelming mussel flavour that reminds me of the smell mussels have when spawning. It puts us off.

On to our main courses of "heavenly chicken" ($14.35), lamb goulash ($11.60) and a seafood platter ($16.75). The menu indicates that the chicken recipe has been around for over 20 years, whereas the lamb goulash is a "European favourite," introduced, I imagine, by the current owners. The chicken is breast meat braised in a brown sauce with plenty of wine. It's very rich and too salty for my taste. Alongside is a baked stuffed potato, the kind where the inside is scooped out, mixed with sour cream, returned to the peel and browned under the broiler: It's a fine potato indeed. There's also a scoop of carrot-and-cabbage slaw.

Lamb goulash is lamb stew served over egg noodles, stroganoff-style, and it's the best use of lamb I've tasted in a long time. Not overly thick but full of tender, braised meat, it's fabulous. Compared to the chicken, it's a case of new winning over old.

The seafood platter—sauteed shrimp, scallops, haddock, salmon and mussels—is an excellent representation of Nova Scotia's ocean bounty. It's simple and well executed.

We've just saved room for dessert and indulge in the homemade apple strudel ($4.85) and a seasonal special, strawberry shortcake ($4.75). The strudel is phenomenally good, with tart apples and raisins wrapped in a paper-thin, browned crust, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and real whipped cream. The shortcake is made with fluffy tea biscuits, sliced strawberries in a light syrup and topped with more real whipped cream.

By the time we're done, the place is full. Servers are fast, friendly, efficient and obviously used to such crowds. At no point did we feel rushed even though there were people lined up at the door.

We stroll out into the early evening sun, bellies full, and burp our way contentedly back to the city.

Innlet Cafe249 Edgewater StreetMahone Bay902-624-6363Daily 11:30am-9pm

More Liz Feltham, covering the city and beyond: www.foodcritic.ca.

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