Back in 2003, when Hurricane Juan left Nova Scotians stranded for a few days, Lil MacPherson grew concerned about food. She noticed that there were few local options in their relative isolation, and that much of their food was both shipped from far away and treated with additives. This discovery inspired her to start supporting nearby farmers and purveyors in the hopes of strengthening Nova Scotia's foodscape. But she didn't want to stop there?she wanted the rest of her home province to embrace sustainability, too.
The Wooden Monkey, a restaurant devoted to the local culinary culture, was the next step in her journey. Under the guidance of partners Christine Bower and Matthew Gass, The Wooden Monkey in Halifax and Dartmouth shine a spotlight on the work of farmers and fishermen. The menu rejects artificially enhanced ingredients and cutlery grown in a lab in favor of homegrown meals. In fact, every meat in the kitchen has been sourced from Nova Scotia: lamb from Nothumberlamb is used for the lamb burger, and the rustic chicken dinner is made from Pasture Hills poultry.
The Monkey isn't just for meat-eaters, however. The staff also prepares an abundance of vegan and vegetarian options, including plates of gingered tofu served over organic quinoa-rice noodles. In fact, the menu is conscious of several dietary restrictions, including Celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and nut allergies.
Chef Hans at The Vines Pasta Grill pushes the boundaries of traditional Italian cuisine by incorporating regional influences from the American Southwest. He adheres to some Old World traditions, though, such as baking bread fresh every day, using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, and coating thin-crust pizzas with house-made sauce and a paint roller. The menu gets inventive when outlining pasta dishes, such as linguine with a spicy Thai sauce and fettuccine with blackened chicken, corn, and a twist of lime. The chefs also demonstrate their mastery of saccharine confections by baking gluten-free chocolate cake and weaving fresh napkins out of cotton candy. Guests settle in for luxurious brunches each Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., or test their luck with one of the restaurant's many social media contests through its Twitter and Facebook pages.
Staying true to its name, the restaurant features leafy vines along its dining room's walls and pillars. In addition to adding splashes of green to the rustic wood tones, the tendrils help to replenish the room's oxygen supply between waves of the dinner rush.
It’s hard to know where to look first upon walking into one of Jungle Jim’s two-dozen locations. Nearly every inch of wall space overflows with such safari-themed accoutrements as palm fronts, bamboo poles, colored lights, and a tiki bar. Although the restaurant aims to transport families to an exotic tropical wonderland, the huge menu is stuffed with familiar favorites designed to appeal to nearly every kind of diner. Chicken panini wraps and zesty buffalo wings swing quickly from the kitchen, but for more ceremonious occasions there are also a number of upscale, steakhouse-style options. A favorite is the St. Louis-style Rhino Ribs, a heft half-rack made sticky with honey garlic or barbecue sauce. Alongside such decadence, the special Slim Jim menu showcases entrees with 550 calories or fewer, such as pan-seared tiger shrimp and grilled chicken salad. Kids can dig into smaller portions on their own menu—which, once they’ve decided between alfredo pasta and animal-shaped chicken nuggets, they can fold into a tiki-style mask.
Joe's Food Emporium boasts on its website that its menu has "everything you'll ever want to eat," and it's hardly an exaggeration. The menu spans countries as well as continents—though the kitchen prizes locally grown vegetables as well as healthful doses of extra-virgin olive oil and pure canola oil. North American starters of Cajun chicken and cheese quesadillas work their way up in longitude, eventually settling on poutines that can incorporate cheese curds, chili, or donair meat. Mediterranean recipes yield plates of falafel, pesto pizza, and seafood penne, and stir-fries toss veggies and curry tiger shrimp in flavorful Asian sauces. The selection of oven-baked subs is an atlas all its own, ranging from the hawaiian to the Old English, whose turkey, ham, mozzarella, and vegetables are served atop a page of the Charter of Cnut. Adults belly up to the old-fashioned wood bar to watch the game, whereas diners of all ages enjoy cheesecake and banana splits on the open patio.
Through the steam rising off slabs of all-you-can-eat garlic home loaf, families all across Canada sit down to feast on East Side Mario's heaping plates of classic Italian fare. The chain's chefs ladle spicy arrabbiata, rich alfredo, and meaty bolognese sauces across foundations of toothsome De Cecco pasta, which they import from Italy to ensure each entree has an authentic jet-lagged flavour. They also slide cheesy baked pastas and hand-pressed pizzas into ovens, toast up loaded sandwiches, and dress crisp salads in their signature dressing. East Side Mario's strives to make every meal a pleasant, relaxing experience. It helps eliminate potential ordering jitters by designating vegetarian and spicy items on the menu for diners with dietary restrictions, and taps into guests' joy reserves with a selection of signature cocktails, spiked lemonades, and ice-cream shakes.
In 1976, Glen and May Young established the first May Garden Restaurant?a tiny take-out restaurant fixed along Beaverbank Road in Lower Sackville. Just under two decades later, Glen and May's nephew, Eric, bought the restaurant, and has since reproduced the success of the original mom-and-pop shop at two other locations.
Eric quickly expanded May Garden to a second location in Bedford, then a third in Dartmouth. Even with that continued growth, the original restaurant sticks to its roots. When Eric bought the first May Garden in 1993, he retained the original open-kitchen policy so diners could watch chefs tangle with dancing flames as they fry Dop Woey Almond Ding or do the moonwalk after they form the perfect eggroll. Guests get a front-row seat as the varied menu blooms into colourful dishes, including curries, Szechuan offerings, and chef specialties.