A drive down the Lighthouse Route on the south shore is never a terrible way to spend an afternoon, so this weekend my friends Sarah, Megan and I wandered out to Chester Basin.
Our destination: a Maritime postcard of a restaurant, the Seaside Shanty. Sitting right on the edge of the Chester Basin, the Shanty is a bright red shack with yellow and blue trim, with a parking lot that blends onto a wharf with a yacht docked at the very end, in what is apparently the wettest parking spot.
The dining room is quaint, with a colourfully painted bar built in the shape of a fishing boat, mismatched wooden chairs painted sunny yellow and grassy green, and bright paintings of boats and fish and Nova Scotia landscapes. The back dining room is a screened-in porch that overlooks the water.
The menu heavily focuses on chowders—fish, lobster, seafood, corn—and other Nova Scotian favourites, like Solomon Gundy, fish cakes, pan-seared haddock and scallops. Our order ends up with a couple of bowls of seafood chowder—one a small soup on its own ($9), the other a part of the Shanty Combo ($22), which comes with a lobster roll—and both an appetizer portion ($8) and main course plating of fish cakes ($13). Every dish is thoughtfully plated, come-to-life photos from a tourism brochure.
A buttery, flaky biscuit is served alongside the chowder, which is served with a plump, pink shrimp. A curl of parsley tops the tiny, adorable bowl. The chowder's broth is not thick, but it's not too thin, either: it sits in that sweet spot of being substantial, but delicate. What it lacks in overt richness, it makes up for in riches: the little cup is practically overflowing with seafood—fat, tender mussels and clams, tiny, silky scallops and fragile strips of haddock. It's all killer, no filler, with nothing to get in the way of the seafood. The only weakness is a slight blandness to the broth, but with a sprinkle of pepper it's a satisfying base to showcase that bounty of seafood.
Sarah's Shanty Combo adds the lobster roll, which is a classic—it's served on a toasted hot-dog bun, the lobster tucked into a crisp leaf of romaine, simply dressed with mayo.
Crisply browned edges of the fish cakes give way to a creamy mash of potatoes and salt cod, flecked with dill. A pot of sweetly acidic, bright green chow adds a bright pop of flavour to the cakes. The appetizer has a small pile of greens in a balsamic dressing on the side, Megan's main course comes with a big, fresh Caesar.
As we finish up our meals, a big group leaves the porch, only to board that boat that was docked at the end of the wharf. They sail off into their wonderful lives. We enjoy dessert.
Megan and I order carrot cake and blueberry grunt. Not totally content with the serving size, Sarah orders mussels. Our server is momentarily confused, but rolls with the unconventional dessert order.
The mussels are plump and fresh, bursting with saline earthiness, garlic bread on the side to sop up the white wine sauce. Megan and I sneak a few in the moments before our dessert are delivered.
The blueberry grunt is soft and spongy, drowning in a too-runny blueberry sauce that is saved by the reverence for the natural flavour of the blueberry. The carrot cake is sublime; lush and warmly spiced. It's a bundt cake with a thick layer of smooth cream cheese icing lavishly slathered over the full arc of the cake.
A little piece of folk art come to life, whether you're just out for a drive or heading to Bayswater or Hubbards Beach, the home cooking at the Seaside Shanty is worth a stop.
Thu-Mon 11:30am-8pm (May-October)
5315 Highway 3, Chester Basin