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LOBSTER DINNERS, CHURCH SUPPERS AND SEAFOOD OUTLETS IN PEI

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Drawn back to Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada's smallest province, by delicious memories of a lobster church supper many years ago, we made an interesting discovery: new chefs and graduates of Charlottetown's Culinary Institute of Canada have elevated the tasty crustacean to new levels above the traditional steamed lobster dipped in melted butter.

Steamed lobster with melted butter at MacKinnon's Lobster on the Wharf in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Steamed lobster with melted butter at MacKinnon's Lobster on the Wharf in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Lobster breakfasts, sandwiches and appetizers

We found lobster dishes for every meal, budget and interest. Golfers can enjoy a breakfast of lobster frittata (eggs baked with herbs and lobster, smothered with local Gouda cheese) at Rodd Crowbush Resort. The dining room serves delectable lobster and mascarpone cheese ravioli, with roasted red pepper, saffron and tarragon sauces, as a dinner appetizer.

Shoppers and art-lovers can enjoy lobster sandwiches, with lemon herb mayonnaise and alfalfa sprouts on a baguette with mesclun salad at The Dunes in Brackley Beach. Dazzling Balinese, Thai and Indonesian carvings, paintings, jewellery and pottery, by owner Peter Jansons and associate, Joel Mills, surround the café. Large windows overlook gardens and ponds, decorated with more art.

At Dalvay-by-the-Sea, we dined on an appetizer of butter-poached lobster, with warm spring asparagus velouté, scented with white truffles, lemon crème fraiche and asparagus sprouts. The Queen Anne Revival mansion, built in 1895, is a National Historic Site of Canada, located at the eastern end of Prince Edward Island National Park.

Also at the top of the culinary spectrum was our meal at The Inn at Bay Fortune, where Chef Warren Barr changes his menu daily, based on the freshest seafood, produce and herbs available from local fishermen, gardeners and foragers. An example? Grilled lobster on wilted spinach, with parsnip and lobster ravioli in an intense lobster broth, garnished with edible flowers.

Lobster on potato rosemary bread with melted brie and maple salad at The Dayboat Restaurant in Oyster Bed Bridge
Lobster on potato rosemary bread with melted brie and maple salad at The Dayboat Restaurant in Oyster Bed Bridge
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Inn at St. Peters' restaurant overlooks pretty gardens and St. Peters Bay, where fishermen collect blue mussels. Our butter-poached PEI lobster with sun-dried tomato and roasted garlic polenta, with leek sauté and lobster roe sabayon was as delicious as it looked.

Lobster salad, bisque, picnics and snacks

If you can't decide how to order your lobster at The Dayboat Restaurant in Oyster Bed Bridge, try a lobster three-ways dish: butter-poached claw, grilled tail and sautéed knuckles. For lunch, we enjoyed a lip-smacking lobster salad on potato rosemary bread with melted brie and maple salad.

Do you want lobster on the beach? Rodd Mill River Resort, in Woodstock, packs four chilled lobsters, potato salad, coleslaw, rolls and butter in a pretty woven picnic basket. It comes with plates, cutlery, a red gingham tablecloth and a list of beaches and nature trails in West Prince Edward Island.

If you're too busy to extract the succulent lobster morsels from the red shells, MacKinnon's Lobster on the Wharf, on Charlottetown's waterfront, serves lobster bisque, lobster mornay and lazyman's lobster (hand-picked meat, baked with butter, sherry and bread crumb topping). The outdoor deck offers views of the Hillsborough River, while the attached seafood market sells fresh lobster, clams, mussels, scallops and oysters.

What about snacks? In Prince Edward Island, McDonalds' sells McLobster Sandwiches. East Point Lighthouse's shop has lobster-flavoured potato chips.

All over the island, we saw signs advertising traditional church, community and festival lobster suppers. Summerside, for example, has an annual July Lobster Carnival with entertainment, lobster cooking classes and lobster suppers at Summerside Legion Hall.

St. Ann's in Hope River, near Cavendish National Park, boasts the oldest church supper. It began in 1963 as a fundraiser to pay off the mortgage.

Retired lobster fisherman, Norman Peters, in North Rustico
Retired lobster fisherman, Norman Peters, in North Rustico
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Lobster fishing

To learn more about the 20 million-pound annual Prince Edward Island lobster harvest, we visited the Rustico Harbour Fisheries Museum. We saw lobster canning equipment, a lobster boat and a video that brought us lobster fishing with Norman Peters, who founded the museum.

We met the now-retired "bearded skipper" by a pile of lobster pots on the wharf. "I started lobster fishing in '66," he said. "Lobster used to be a poor-man's food, selling for three cents a pound. It was even used as fertilizer on the fields. Now it's gourmet food."

Norm explained that after buying their boats, fishermen pay $40,000 a year for bait, gear, storage, licences, insurance, fuel, repairs and labour. "We used to pull up the 85-pound traps (weighed down with cement) by hand. Now lobster fishermen use winches."

To conserve the American lobster species (Homarus americanus) there's a minimum legal size and prohibitions on landing egg-bearing females. "There are also two seasons, spring on the north and south sides and fall on the west side of Prince County."

We forgot our concerns about buying fresh lobster between seasons when we viewed one of PEI's massive live lobster storage pounds at New Glasgow, famous for its lobster suppers since 1958.

Carl Nicholson removes a lobster from a storage tank at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.
Carl Nicholson removes a lobster
from a storage tank at
New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"These refrigerated tanks hold 20,000 pounds of live lobsters," says manager Carl Nicholson. "We flush them with 10,000 gallons of salt water, trucked in from Rustico, every week."

Meals, in the 500-seat building, begin with homemade rolls, seafood chowder or soup, steamed mussels, potato and garden salads and coleslaw. The hot or cold lobster arrives with dishes of melted butter. Dessert includes five varieties of home-baked pies, ice cream, frozen yogurt and strawberry shortcake (in season).

You shouldn't feel guilty about feasting on lobsters. The meat from a one-pound boiled lobster has 21 grams of protein and only 93 calories and one gram of fat. Besides, you're helping the island's economy. Lobsters comprise up to three-quarters of the annual Prince Edward Island fishing income.

If you want to share PEI's luscious lobsters with friends and family after you return, visit one of several seafood outlets. They will pack live or frozen cooked lobster in easy-to-carry boxes for your trip home or deliver them to your destination within 48 hours.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Tourism PEI: www.peiplay.com

More things to see and do in PEI:

Prince Edward Island Anne of Green Gables Tour

PEI Entices Meeting and Incentive Groups