Best Mussels 2008 | Five Fishermen | Editors' Picks

Best of Halifax

Best Mussels

Five Fishermen

Editor's note: With its latest Best Mussels win in 2008, Five Fishermen was elevated to the Best of Halifax Hall of Fame.

General Manager Gary McDonald is very proud of every one of the Best of Food awards his restaurant has won. And it's won many. So many, in fact, that this year The Coast is inducting The Five Fishermen into the BOF Hall of Fame, and officially retiring the Best Mussels category from competition. “It's a particularly special thing,” says McDonald of the recognition, “because it comes from the customer. It's the local people telling us how we're doing.” And judging by the piles of empty shells, they're doing something right. So just what is it that drives the bivalve-crazy locals to eat 200 to 250 pounds of the critters a day?

According to McDonald, it's the taste, pure and simple. “They're fresh, fresh, fresh. Then we steam them and let the flavours speak for themselves.” That means no fancy Thai coconut curry or wine and fennel broth to dip your bread in. Diners can choose between four dipping sauces, from the old faithful drawn butter to the more experimental spicy marinara, but the real star here is the mussel itself, basking in its nakedness, and tasting of the sea.

Originally, the mussel bar---all-you-can-eat and complimentary with any entree---came with steamed clams as well. They were still sharing space when McDonald signed on as GM seven years ago, but by then it was clear which was the crowd favourite, and the clams soon retreated to the kitchen. In the years since, the restaurant---also perennial winners of the Best Seafood plaque---has risen to meet increasing demands for freshness and creativity from the local palate with great success, which has helped it to shed its reputation as a tourist haunt. “We've worked very hard to bring The Five Fishermen back to its former glory as a great local restaurant,” says McDonald. “We try to give people what they want. And Haligonians are definitely more particular about what they want now than they were a decade ago, preferring fresh and simply prepared over breaded and deep-fried.”

Today, The Five Fishermen menu reflects the work of a creative kitchen that treats its customers and its seafood with the respect---and the light hand---they deserve. The local community is clearly responding. At the mussel bar, the demand alone ensures a daily, just-off-the-boat delivery. Add to that a chef who does her research, taking great care to source in season and from the best of a very good crop of farmers throughout the province, and you've got a recipe that cannot be beat. Literally.

We're proud of this,” says McDonald of the Hall of Fame mantle. “It's the recognition we'd hoped for. Recognition from our community.” The Best Mussels category may be going into retirement, but that doesn't mean you have to. If you haven't already, get yourself down to The Five Fishermen, and toast this year's inductee as local diners have been for years---with a great big steaming bowl of glorious mussel goodness.

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