From Fast Food to Fine
The new culinary scene in Caraquet ups the sophistication factor
Boulevard Saint-Pierre Ouest, the main drag in Caraquet, NB, is home to a variety of typical small-town shops that offer all the basics—groceries, gas, hardware, coffee. The street is essentially a service hub to the Acadian peninsula, but in recent years it has evolved into something more—one of the region’s top culinary destinations.
This strip, which runs along northern New Brunswick’s Chaleur Bay, is dotted with high-end restaurants, specialty cafes and restored classical hotels that are the equal of many in Atlantic Canada. That hasn’t always been the case, admits Caraquet’s long-time mayor, Antoine Landry. Twenty years ago, restaurants here were serving frozen fish, he recalls. “In the past four or five years, Caraquet has developed a reputation as a place where one can eat very, very well.”
Among the pioneers of the burgeoning scene are Claude Bergeron and Lorraine Haché, who opened their popular European-style café, Grains de Folie, in 2008. The shop, which is located in a restored century-old building overlooking the main street, features a patisserie, bakery and bookstore, and has an extensive selection of fine cheeses and charcuterie, plus premium coffees, soups, and sandwiches. The pair recruited a baker from France to prepare their artisanal breads (all made with organic flour), and employ a pastry chef to make the sweets.
Caraquet has long been defined by its strong cultural scene, says Bergeron, noting that good food is a logical extension of that. “The people who are interested in arts and culture are also interested in having services that are a little different—maybe a little more refined,” he says. “I think that’s a big factor.”
Bergeron’s shop regularly draws customers from more than an hour away—across the Acadian peninsula, from the Chaleur Region and from Miramichi.
Farther along Saint-Pierre Ouest, sommelier Robert Noël has opened a wine bar and restaurant, called déjà BU, in a renovated building that offers a stunning view of the bay. The food is an eclectic mix of conventional French bistro dishes, like steak frites and foie gras, with gourmet twists, such as macaroni and cheese with lobster and truffles.
Noël is originally from nearby Lamèque, NB; he has worked at top restaurants across the country, and says he tried to create a place where he would like to dine. “This was a restaurant I’d been thinking about for years,” he says. “It’s not fine cuisine, it’s fun cuisine. It’s high quality ingredients, presented in a fun way.” He says his long-term goal is to make his restaurant the premiere wine destination in Canada, east of Montreal; he currently offers a selection of more than 250 wines. On the menu, wine pairings are recommended for each dish. Like Bergeron, Noël says he has attracted foodies from across the region.
“We offer a fun, casual atmosphere with a big city feel,” he says. “It’s a combination of gastro-pub and fine dining.”
Still on Caraquet’s main drag, a fine dining restaurant at the Hôtel Paulin, a renovated classical hotel, offers more traditional French fare.
Claude Bergeron suggests that part of the reason for Caraquet’s success is the growing presence of Quebec tourists who want to stay close to home, but see another side of French Canada. “People from Quebec adore terraces and cafés,” he notes. “Even if they aren’t planning to stop, they’ll see the terrace and pull over.”
Mayor Landry says the growing culinary scene has become an important part of the town’s economy and identity. “Cuisine is part of the culture now.”