“People are probably wondering what the hell I’m doing,” says Chef Bryan Picard of The Bite House. “Even to the average person from Nova Scotia, this seems like the middle of nowhere.”
In the spirit of small restaurants in extreme parts of the world, Picard has a 12-seat restaurant in a century-old farmhouse at the head of the renowned Cabot Trail, in the wilds of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The place is nothing short of extraordinary. Upon arrival, my cell service drops as if on cue, and I am transported to another time and place. A warm kitchen steeped in enticing aromas; an excited farm dog on the stoop. Tubs of wild ingredients hugging the countertops from pickled chive blossoms to spruce tips to Spring flowers. A what’s-old-is-new-again soundtrack that the chef is singing along to as he preps – from Elvis Presley to The Band, underscores it all.
Cooking with the seasons is what we’ll call this. But, you have to remember that on this rustic island, the season varies an hour in every single direction. It’s a delicate balance when you’re building a fixed multiple-course tasting menu for a month; additions to the dishes fluctuate day-to-day and plate-to-plate. Wild, foraged and farmed, Picard’s dishes are created with sedulous care with a little help from the community around him. His main vegetable producer moonlights as a waiter here, farm hands on a date gasp at how the radishes they picked that morning have been transformed and the small dining room is abuzz with folks who have driven in for the experience.
Originally from French-speaking rural New Brunswick, Picard has cooked his way through Montréal, Denmark and, just this past winter (when his restaurant was closed for the season) he had a stint at Daniel Berlin. It’s in a remote part of Southern Sweden, a place like his own. Bryan grew up in the countryside, foraging and gardening with his mother and hunting and fishing with his father, so it’s not too hard to see how he came to find himself where he is today. Before opening the restaurant, the only place he had worked in Nova Scotia was the not too far away, the Chanterelle Inn in Baddeck.
The Bite House name originated from a food blog where Bryan’s photos and recipes quickly got him noticed by the New York Times, Vice, Huffington Post, amongst others. More recently, Cape Breton Island made CNN’s list of Top 10 “Dare To Go”. This is actually my second visit. I was here once about two years ago and this month’s spring menu makes for a ‘wildly’ different set of dishes. You’ll be eating ingredients like sea chickweed, sunflower shoots, woodruff, lemon balm and no shortage of beautiful fresh local seafood. It’s a well-balanced, well paced menu with many highlights.
A Sample of the June 2016 Menu
• snacks to start
• lobster, basil mayo, dulse
• coldwater shrimp, spinach, chives
• buckwheat pancake, garden herbs
• radishes, sesame, mint, sea chickweed
• hot-smoked trout, pickled pumpkin, crispy rye
• goat dumpling, bacon thyme broth, sunflower shoots
• fiddleheads, chicken, green sauce, hakurai turnips
• grilled rhubarb, lemon balm ice cream, woodruff
The Bite House is open May through December four nights a week by reservation only (email@example.com). It’s a 5-course tasting menu that changes monthly for just $60, with wine and beer available. www.thebitehouse.com