At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
One of the things most of us enjoy about travel is the opportunity to sample foods local to a region. It’s part of the charm of a place and makes for great vacation memories. At one time, vacationers went to a destination, did some sightseeing, took in some typical tourist attractions (amusement parks, museums, beaches, etc.), and ate at whatever restaurant they happened upon at meal time. Today’s travelers, generally speaking, are more interested in diversified travel experiences than they are simply going to a place so they can check it off their bucket list of places they have been. Many seek out adventures that allow them to participate in activities, experience the uniqueness and authenticity of a place, mingle with the locals, and learn more about local foods and ways to prepare them.
One of the best ways to learn about a place and its culture is through its local food. In fact, many travelers choose destinations based on the local food scene, food festivals and events, unique dining experiences, and opportunities to participate in culinary classes. Many, therefore, seek out experiences that allow them to connect more fully with a region and what better way to do that than through food, especially if it is experiential cuisine where you learn something about the foods you are eating.
I was recently a guest at the North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio which hosts themed communal-style dinners featuring Prince Edward Island foods throughout the summer months. Today, I am going to share my dining experience at The Table with you.
The Table Culinary Studio is the successor of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio which was started by Annie Leroux in 2012. You can click here for my story on Annie’s Table Culinary Studio. Current owner, Derrick Hoare (himself a trained chef), had been a long-time summer resident on PEI for many years, was retiring from his career in the health care profession, and was looking for his next adventure. He contemplated buying a traditional restaurant in PEI but decided that was not his style. When Annie’s Table became available for sale, Derrick liked the concept Annie had begun so he bought the business which he began operating in 2016. In addition to keeping the tradition of offering short culinary courses, he added themed evening dining to the menu and renamed the business to The Table Culinary Studio.
Set in the small rural community of New London, not far from the resort municipality of Cavendish (the hometown of the fictional Anne of Green Gables – you may have heard of her!), you will find The Table on Route 8 or, as the locals would simply say, the Grahams Road.
With a backdrop of green fertile rolling countryside, The Table is located in a repurposed former United Church that is tastefully furnished with quality antiques. Several of the elements of the decommissioned church have been incorporated into the décor, including the pulpit that now occupies a prominent position overlooking the dining hall.
The entire venue is open concept so diners can watch the culinary team prepare the meal. This unique dining experience will make you feel like you are more at an intimate dinner party with a private chef catering than at a restaurant.
Open seasonally, seven nights a week, for themed dinners that feature local Island foods that come from the land and the sea, The Table can accommodate up to 18 guests an evening, one seating only. Tickets for the dinner must be reserved in advance (by phone or email) and the menu for each evening is a set menu – you eat whatever is being prepared that night which takes the pressure off of studying a menu and trying to decide what to have. Drinks are at extra cost and are payable at the end of the evening along with the dinner.
The themed dinners range from the Traditional Island Feast to the Island Dinner Party to Isle and Fire to the North Shore Surf and Turf and all focus on fresh local foods harvested or fished nearby. Seating is at one long harvest table in the middle of the old church and food is served family style which is to say that the main meal, on large platters, arrives at the table and guests pass the platters around, serving themselves. There are no individual tables.
It seems only fitting that communal dining would be the style of dining at The Table given that it is in a decommissioned church. Communal dining dates back to biblical times – you know, the breaking of bread together. The concept of individual tables for dining did not start until a long time after these origins. Some may find it requires some stepping out of the comfort zone to attend a dinner with strangers all seated at the same table but, when you think about it, church and community potluck dinners have been around for ages and they are traditionally served at long communal tables where you don’t necessarily know the people seated around you. We do a lot of cruising and have never requested a table for two in the ship’s dining room simply because we like to meet new people and inject some new conversation into meal times when traveling. So, sitting down to a meal alongside people I have not met before is quite comfortable and familiar for me. After all, the chances are that they are all food enthusiasts, too!
One of the lovely parts of this type of experiential dining is that you get to interact with those preparing the meal. In contrast, if you go into a traditional style restaurant, you are seated, have limited contact with the wait staff, and most likely never see the chefs let alone have any direct contact with them. At The Table, there are lots of opportunities to communicate directly with the owner/chef Derrick, executive chef Michael Bradley, oyster shucker George Dowdle, and The Table’s event planner, Christine Morgan. Together, this is the culinary team at The Table.
The Table benefits from having a talented and enthusiastic young chef. With over ten years of experience in professional kitchens, Chef Michael Bradley is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown. Chef Michael has been at The Table from the beginning, starting as an intern and working his way up to become the executive chef.
I truly felt like I was at someone’s private dinner party. It was a perfect sunny summer evening as guests arrived for the event which started on the side lawn of the church. When I arrived, local aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, was busy shucking oysters that he had fished from the nearby Southwest River only hours before the dinner.
Guests soon became preoccupied with consuming the fresh raw oysters which were served with a choice of three sauces: Asian Thai, Lemon Herb, and Pomegranate Herb. It wasn’t long before everyone felt comfortable and at home with each other as the conversations quickly turned to discussions about the food.
Not quite into slurping raw oysters? Chef Michael also has a unique way of serving grilled oysters. He first puts the oysters on the open fire grill to warm them up, then shucks them and tops them with a black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam, then puts them back on the grill to re-heat them. Simply sublime!
While clams sometimes take a back seat in popularity to mussels and oysters, The Table includes them as part of the meal.
When we had our fill of oysters, out came the cheese and charcuterie trays.
On this evening, The Table served their own homemade black garlic crackers alongside an assortment of cheeses from Ferme Isle St Jean in Rustico and Glasgow Glen Farm in New Glasgow. This was rounded out by pickled beets, pickled carrots, pickled spruce tips, and rhubarb chutney (all made in-house at The Table).
While guests were busy noshing on the appetizers, Chef Michael was preparing the sirloin tip roast with a black garlic espresso rub. Cooked over an open fire, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was!
Then, Chef Michael demonstrated how they cook the mussels in a fire pit with seaweed and smoke. The mussels are placed in wet pillowcases which give the moisture the mussels need to open.
Guests leisurely made their way inside the church where the meal was served. The big 12-foot long handmade harvest table occupies much of the space that once would have been filled with church pews.
By this time, guests were very comfortable in the company of each other and, since there were three Islanders present, the conversation soon turned to various aspects of how local foods are produced and farming and fishing, in general. Food is such a commonality and ice breaker!
The meal began with a plated salad highlighted by the skirt steak from Atlantic Beef Products in Albany. The steak had been marinated in an onion garlic marinade.
The boards of housemade sourdough bread were served with a black garlic spread as well as honey butter.
Before each course was presented, Chef Michael came tableside to explain what the course consisted of and how it was prepared.
Next came huge platters of bountiful mixed seasonal vegetables with the fire-grilled sirloin tip roast.
The veggies (along with the salad greens) came from nearby Alexander Fresh Vegetables in Hope River. These were very attractively presented platters.
Then, the seafood platters arrived. All those mussels that had been cooking in the fire pit emerged from the pillowcases and formed the base for lobster claws and tails.
The lobster, fished from boats out of nearby French River Harbour, had been par-cooked with a garlic butter and then was finished on the grill outside.
The green sauce accompanying the mussels was a garden pesto cream sauce.
By this time, I was stuffed and thought I would just roll home but, wait, dessert was to come! Dessert was a blood orange infused carrot cake with orange cream cheese icing. I didn’t get a photo of it because I was too busy enjoying the gluten-free option that was a deconstructed strawberry pie made with a strawberry balsamic reduction and gluten-free pastry lattice, all topped with lactose-free ice cream.
The Table prides itself on using the best of what is fresh and local. Most foods for their themed dinners come from under 10 km away and are farmed and fished by friends and neighbours. So, you know that when you dine at The Table, food will not have traveled thousands of miles before it has reached your plate. In fact, you can seek out the same food suppliers to purchase high quality local PEI products.
I asked Christine if they ever get families for their dinners. She tells me, although 90% of their clientele are adults, parents are welcome to bring their children and they do often have families in attendance. Patrons should note, however, that there is no children’s menu offered so the wee folk eat the same food as the adults.
What I have described above is the meal for the Surf and Turf dinner. I inquired if the meal ingredients are identical for this particular dinner every night. Christine informs me that the appetizers, vegetables, and dessert do vary by what is seasonally available. So, if you are having the Surf and Turf dinner at The Table after having read this post, you’ll be aware that the meal ingredients may not be 100% identical to what I enjoyed in early July.
So, if you want to really immerse yourself in local PEI foods and have a totally relaxing evening in the beautiful countryside of Prince Edward Island while feasting on carefully prepared dishes in a unique setting, you should check out The Table Culinary Studio. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure to advise of that when making your reservation and, to the extent possible, the culinary team at The Table will do all they can to accommodate special dietary needs.
For more information on dining options at The Table, and to make reservations, check out their website at http://www.thetablepei.ca/dining .
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My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner and for the fine hospitality. My dinner at the The Table Culinary Studio was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the North Shore Surf and Turf dinner. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the dinner experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.