“That’s really deeply satisfying.”
I dig in for a second bite, curling the house made duck egg pasta around the fork, making sure to get some of the house cured pancetta and creamy duck yolk in the mix. We’re at the Saint John Ale House, a place we always like to visit when in Saint John. A place where I never thought I’d be dining on duck egg carbonara.
It’s been more than a year since our last visit, and the space and the menu have both been
refreshed. It’s maintained the cozy casual atmosphere and fun, knowledgable staff that welcomed us to the Saint John beer bar a few years ago, but the decor and the menu have been refined.
The once dim bar has been replaced with a wall of distressed light wood panels that are backlit to show off their extensive line-up of taps. Benches covered in soft, light brown cushions form a cozy nook at the front of the bar. The area is accented with throw pillows of bears and vintage scenes of people enjoying a beer.
But the biggest change is the menu.
We start with two sample trays of beer, and, after a lengthy discussion, order the full small plates menu, our best bet of trying a range of the tempting offerings.
We try fresh bread with Newfoundland sea salt and butter churned in-house, and lobster croquettes with lobster legs first. An unassuming but delicious start to the dinner.
Next, comes an old cheddar cheese from Sussex, a delicious, creamy, slightly sharp cheddar served with walnuts and local honey. With it, arrive smelts fished out of the Saint John River, pickled and served with lemon and onion.
Then, Spring Meadow pig tail and a plate of Porchetta De Testa, a literal take on head-to-tail dining. I won’t lie, the sight of the tail turns my stomach just a touch, but after braving the first bite my mouth waters for more. It’s marinated in Crosbys molasses, sriracha and pickled carrots. The experience reminds me of turkey neck, but with richer, more tender meat.
“The dining scene in Saint John has changed a lot in the past six years.”
Jesse Vergen is the head chef at Saint John Ale House, the man behind the new menu. He pops by our table to geek out with us over the food. He is as excited about the pig tail and snout as we are.
“The porchetta is made from a full pig’s head, de-boned, cured and sliced. In the summer we serve a ton of pork shoulder, which gives us a lot of pigs tail. We keep that part of the clientele happy while also using the whole animal.”
The decision to incorporate head-to-tail dining hasn’t come without push back from some who don’t like seeing tail on the menu, but Jesse is careful to provide a good balance of traditional pub fare like ribs, burgers, and fish and chips.
He also incorporates many other local items into the menu, like 65 degree duck egg and toast. The duck eggs are not just local, they’re sourced from the mother of one of the staff who raises ducks on her farm.
Duck eggs may be my new favourite thing, and despite all the good things we taste, the duck egg with toast is hands-down my favourite. A simple, comforting dish made with quality ingredients. The yolk of the duck egg is richer and creamier than a regular egg and set against a mild garlic aioli, it is so, so good.
Keeping a focus on local products means the menu changes frequently. Jesse is always seeking out new and unique local products to include in his dishes, like sea buck thornberries, a fruit I’d never heard of, let alone tasted.
“I bought these from a woman in Fredericton,” he explains. “They’re huge in the culinary world right now but she’s been having trouble selling them at the local market. We bought 100 pounds.”
Saint John Ale House is also the best place to get a pint of one from New Brunswick’s great nanobreweries, Hammond River from nearby Quispamsis. The taps regularly change, and this time we got to try the tasty Winter Warmer.
We’re looking forward to returning in the summer when the snow is gone. It won’t be Winter Warmer season, but it will be patio season for not only us, but for our dog, too!
1 Market Square
Saint John, New Brunswick
Sunday – Thursday: 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM
Friday – Saturday: 11:30 AM – 2:00 AM
Our trip was made possible through financial support from New Brunswick Tourism. We chose our final itinerary, and are excited to share our favourite New Brunswick adventures from our recent trip with you here on The Local Traveler.