The Shipwright’s Cafe in Margate, Prince Edward Island, is a culinary voice in the wilderness.
That statement can be taken quite literally, since the restaurant, on the outskirts of the town of Kensington, is almost lost amidst the potato fields and red dirt roads of rural PEI.
But on a different level, the Shipwright’s Cafe is also a solitary voice because it is one of the relatively rare places in PEI’s rural areas offering fine (or at least finer) dining.
The Cafe operates out of a farmhouse originally built in the 1880s, and fits right in with the scenery. You could easily assume it was somebody’s old residence. A vegetable garden next to the house further reinforces the impression of something homy and old.
Inside, the wooden interiors and traditional furnishings lead you to expect that this is a place where you can get a no-nonsense meal of steak and potatoes.
You would be partially right. You can indeed get a good steak, as we learned when we dined at the Cafe recently with friends who are PEI residents. But that steak (the $32 “Shipwright’s Tournedos of Beef”) was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a cut above the usual pub or family restaurant fare because of the excellent red wine sauce and the perfectly roasted potatoes and the not-overdone vegetables.
But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself. Meals properly start with an appetizer, and one of the specials of the day — a large portobello mushroom stuffed with lobster, shrimp, vegetables, and a mysteriously delicious sauce — turned out to be the most spectacular part of the meal. Sadly, this succulent appetizer does not appear to be part of the regular menu, but if it were, the mushroom alone would be worth revisiting the Cafe.
The giant mushroom cast a huge shadow over my main course — a $32 lamb special (again not part of the regular menu) that turned out to be not so special because the slices were rubbery. Also, while the lamb portions were generous, the meal was served on a plate that seemed too small. The food was in constant danger of spilling off the plate.
Other members of our party had much better luck with their choice: a $22 roast chicken special that came with gravy and a tasty, tangy rhubarb compote. Once again, the vegetables, potatoes, and other sidings were done to perfection.
My dinner ended with a Kahlua pudding that was good but had almost imperceptible Kahlua flavour — yet another indication that, while much is right with the Shipwright Cafe, some aspects could stand improving.
Despite the less-than-perfect ending to the meal, the Shipwright’s Cafe experience was a positive one — primarily because the restaurant clearly has flair with at least some of its dishes and because it is refreshing to have an alternative to the seafood shacks, family restaurants, diners, and pubs that are the normal fare on this island province.