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Nite moves 

Renée Lavallée’s Family Dinners and TIBS At Nite series have wooed the community, but she’s got another trick up sleeve---The Canteen.

Flank steak and white bean salad done right at TIBS at Nite.
  • Flank steak and white bean salad done right at TIBS at Nite.

"Wouldn't it be great to do a dinner here after hours?"

When Renée Lavallée posed that simple question to Tara MacDonald and Zane Kelsall, owners of Two If By Sea Cafe three years ago, little did she know the path she was setting out for herself: a path with a lot of stops, but one that always leads back home, to downtown Dartmouth.

"We came up with the 'family' style concept, communal seating, and it worked," says Lavallée. The dinners, dubbed the TIBS Family Dinners happen monthly. They feature thematic and ingredient-inspired set menus for $50, including tax and tip.

"We have lots of regulars, but lots of new faces too. It's fun and it's great for the community."

The close-knit community of downtown Dartmouth is a big part of the success of both Two If By Sea and all of the offshoot events and dinners. "I have lived in Dartmouth for over eight years now," says Lavallée, "And the sense of family that I feel is overwhelming."

And so it was only natural that the Family Dinners inspired more interaction with that community.

"Zane and I talked over wine, thought 'what could we do on a weekly basis that was cheap, yet really good?'---a meal that was accessible to everyone where you didn't need to buy tickets."

The result: TIBS at Nite.

"These bi-weekly meals started back in June and have been picking up steam every week. I usually prepare between 40 to 50 portions of something---jerk chicken with rice and beans, pork ribs with baked beans and coleslaw, grilled flank steak with white bean salad and salsa verde. Zane makes a homemade soda and I do a dessert of sorts; this summer it was popsicles and now I am doing brownies or carrot cake."

The response to TIBS at Nite has been just as positive as the Family Dinners. The same regulars who snatch up the limited tickets to the dinners have been hanging out in lines for the Thursday and Sunday suppers, which sees just as many small groups convene at Two If By Sea's shareable tables over carefully plated dishes as it does stroller-pushing drop-ins picking up a handful of take-out boxes to bring home for dinner.

"The neighbourhood patrons and those from the building itself have been awesome. These nights are a great way for me to be able to interact with the guest, which is what I often miss about working in kitchens," says Lavallée. "I love seeing people from the community popping in and grabbing 4 or 5 take-out meals to take home to eat with their family."

Lavallée's relationship with Two If By Sea continues to grow with the upcoming addition of a new endeavour, The Canteen, to her roster of restaurant responsibilities.

"The Canteen has been an idea for a few years now," she says. "It wasn't until recently, after Two If By Sea purchased the space upstairs and my oldest child, Zoe, started going to school, that it was time to make this a reality. The Canteen isn't anything new or crazy, but just a natural progression for me; serving up solid, seasonal and as much local as possible---which is super easy with Noggins Farm and Evan's Seafood just a two minute walk away---to people that I know, who already frequent TIBS but are looking for something more."

Lavallée promises "killer soups, salads and sandwiches," on an ever-changing menu that will also have a dinner special. The Canteen will also end up home to the TIBS at Nite dinners and it will be a permanent home for her Feisty Chef Cooking Classes.

"There is a little piece of me in all of these projects, but The Canteen will be my full blown baby. It will look and act like me," she says. "With one child off at school now, this is my new baby that I can focus on."

Lavallée expects The Canteen to open for business this winter.

TIBS At Nite
66 Ochterloney Street, Dartmouth
Thursdays and Sundays, 6-8pm

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