I found paradise. It wasn’t on a beach in Cuba, or a resort in Bali, although it felt a little like the latter. I found it in the most unlikely place, at The Dunes Café in Brackley Beach.
I didn’t really want to go. I had hit that point in our travels where I was at my max. It was our last day in PEI, I had already met so many great people and been to so many beautiful places and all I wanted was to pull on some comfy clothes and hibernate in our cabin at nearby beautiful Dalvay Resort with a book.
But we had already made plans to visit The Dunes. I had been emailing with Chef Emily for weeks, and tired as I was I knew I would regret cancelling. I am so glad that I went.
I had read about The Dunes before our visit, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience. Inside the main doors is a shop filled with the work of Maritime artisans. There are handcrafted benches, colourful abstract paintings, woven mats, carved statues and so much more. We were told to head to the back and down the stairs to access the café.
As we turned the corner and the restaurant and garden came into view, my breath literally caught in my chest. Light wood and carefully crafted stairs led to a sun flooded main floor, where tables topped with artisan cutlery and glassware shared the table with hand-picked bouquets, each one unique. As with the shop, bright paintings covered the walls, or at least what walls there were – most of the back wall was made of glass.
Through that glass you can see the zen garden bursting with every shade of green and filled with lily covered ponds, fountains, flowers, statues and benches caved of driftwood or made of stone.
There are actually three dining areas on the extensive Dunes property. We were in the main dining area, but there is also a large deck overlooking the gardens and a lounge. I was happy that the main dining area had a door that led right out into the garden, and took advantage of it several times throughout my meal.
And what a meal. Drew ordered a PEI Brewing Company Island Red Ale. I was wandering the garden, so he kindly chose a cocktail for me, a Rhubarb-arita, a mix of fresh juiced rhubarb, PEI Straight Shine, triple sec, lime and soda water. (for all of you looking for recipes for your excess rhubarb, this is the way to go!)
We started with Ginger Mussels, a bowl of fresh mussels in a cloudy ginger soup. The broth was savory and just a bit spicy, a mix of fresh shredded ginger, fresh cilantro, onion and garlic. That taste had infused through each mussel, one of the most unique shellfish appetizers I have ever had. We unabashedly ate up the remaining broth, which was too good to waste.
Next came the Grazers Platter. When I think of paradise, this would be the food that I would imagine dining on. Thick sliced fresh cucumber, ripe juicy cherry tomatoes sweet as candy, thick chunks of sharp cheese, fat green olives mixed with just slightly preserved carrots and onions, almonds encrusted with parsley and garlic, spicy pieces of salami and rich spreads. Tapas are one of my favourite ways to eat, and this tapas plate came right out of my dreams. Despite growing closer to full, we couldn’t resist taking in every last bite.
By the third course I was getting tempted to undo my belt. Luckily it was a soup this time, a tomato based seafood chowder. For long-time readers of the blog (and those who follow me on Twitter) you’ll know that last summer we ate 29 bowls of seafood chowder last September, and I only just broke my chowder hiatus last week. This was a welcome departure from cream based chowders, a savory tomato base topped with a rich tomato pate and large pieces of salmon, scallops and mussels.
Course four was lamb ribs, a well-sized portion of generously spiced lamb on a bed of garlic sauce. I have to be honest, I am not a big fan of lamb, I see too many of the darling little babies on our travels, but I did try a small bite. It came with a small salad similar to a greek salad but with ultra-fresh veggies, a slightly milder cheese and a lighter dressing.
And finally, we reached the end of our eating marathon with a fresh lobster Pad Thai. The dish was made with thick rice noodles, fresh veggies and whole lobster claws with a spicy Sirracha sauce on the side. It was topped with crumbled peanuts and herbs and had a few large pieces of tofu mixed in.
By the time dinner was through I wanted to stand and applaud the chef for a stunning performance.
After dinner, we rolled out of our seats for a final walk in the garden. Next time we visit, I am going to plan to make a day of it. It is the kind of place where you could show up at lunchtime, have a meal, wander the gardens, do some shopping, some writing, and a bit of relaxing, a drink or two on the patio and then settle in for dinner. The one problem with my ‘day at The Dunes’ fantasy is that the place is always packed! They are only open from June until September and you’d be very lucky to be able to just walk in. Make a reservation for this gem, you will need it!
Note: As you can probably tell from our bio, title, and blog content, we are fierce supporters of the maritime provinces. We love our little corner of the world dearly, and we want to show you as many amazing things to see and do here as we can. We approached The Dunes because we thought they would be a great fit for our content with all of their local art and locally sourced food. They selected our menu and covered the cost of this meal, a huge help in enabling us to continue providing posts on amazing places close to home. The opinions in this post are our own.