In early August I received an email from Ivy Ho of the Downtown Halifax Business Comission.
'Hello! My name is Ivy Ho and I'm the Director of Communications and Marketing with Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC). We’re about to launch the 5th Annual Big Day Downtown and we’d like to invite you to participate.'
Ummmm - YES!!!
'We identified 30 bloggers who we felt were a good fit for Downtown – food, fashion, lifestyle, fitness, family, humour, opinion or just generally urban. We will give each blogger $150 in pre-paid Visa gift cards to spend anywhere in Downtown Halifax.
This year, we’ve added our annual TWIST with the theme being 'People’s Choice'. What does this mean? We’re asking each blogger to crowdsource their Big Day Downtown – as in – ask your blog followers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends and fans to tell you what to do – to give you creative, fun ideas.'
Isn't this just the coolest thing ever?
This past Friday, September 5, I ventured out for my #BigDayDowntown, and what a day it was!! As you will see, food was a common thread throughout my travels.
Bluenose II Restaurant and Grill - 1824 Hollis Street
What more do I really need to say than 'all day breakfast'? When I arrived at The Bluenose around 11am, the first thing I noticed was that almost every booth in the restaurant was full. People of all types - singles, couples, families, tourists, locals. One table would finish their meal, pay the bill and vacate, to be replaced with new customers a couple of minutes later. As I was sipping my coffee, waiting for my lovely server Eleni to deliver my Eggs Benny, one of my favourite songs, Babylon by David Gray came on the radio. I felt instantly welcome and comfortable at The Bluenose, and, though there aren't any huge surprises on the menu, the food is good and the service is friendly. Plus, it's CLEAN - even the washrooms are sparkling. Plus, just LOOK at that perfect medium-poached egg. You know you want one.
Boutique Joliette - 1870 Hollis Street
A few doors down from The Bluenose is Boutique Joliette, which I had been meaning to visit for ages, and @SAPL suggested I go. Boutique Joliette is a cute little shop filled with a mix of new and vintage clothing, jewelry and accesories. I practically swooned when I saw the gorgeous Italian silk lampshade pictured above and, if the German Amber earrings pictured below weren't clip on I would have snapped them up in a heartbeat. Owner Alexis Mahoney was on site to give me a closer look inside the locked curio cabinet located in the back of the shop filled with stunning, one of a kind, vintage estate jewelry like the exquisite pearl ring pictured below. I bought myself a cute pair of black rose stud earrings ($14) and in the one evening I've worn them, got three compliments.
Sawadee Tea House - 1871 Granville Street
One thing I knew for certain when I started planning my #BigDayDowntown, was that I wanted to visit Sawadee Tea House. A while back I had sampled some of their Earl Grey Cream Tea at a friend's house and was on a mission to buy some for myself. Owner Mie Mie Sein, originally from Thailand, was in the shop while I was visiting and, in between taking pictures and smelling various jars of tea that she would bring me, she gave me some background information about Sawadee. Turns out, Mie Mie and her family own a farm in Hantsport where they grow spearmint, peppermint, catnip, lavender, chammomile and other herbs and flowers that they then use to create custom tea blends for the shop. Mie Mie also told me that every year, on December 24th, they close the shop to go on a tea buying trip to China, Thailand, India and England. While travelling, she and her family often stay at the tea plantations with the farmers whose tea they purchase and then they import the tea to Halifax directly on a container ship. I asked Mie Mie which of the hundreds of tea blends was her favourite. With a small wry smile, she said 'The Earl Grey Cream. I drink it every morning. I cannot start the day without it'. Sold.
The Flower Shop - 1887 Granville Street
I visited The Flower Shop for #BigDayDowntown on Friday September 5. The next day, Saturday September 6, was Sean and I's wedding anniversary. The SAME DAY I visited for #BigDayDowntown, Sean ALSO visited The Flower Shop to buy me a single, boxed red rose for our anniversary. Five years ago, on September 6 all of our wedding flowers, bouquets, boutonierres, centerpieces, were created by The Flower Shop. Is that not totally weird that we both visited the shop that did our wedding flowers on the SAME DAY, the day before our anniversary?!? I thought so, and if I haven't confused the crap out of you, then you may think so too...
It was too early in the day for these beautiful little succulents to survive the heat of my car so I'll be making a return visit. I am smitten with these teeny plump plants.
Urban Cottage Antiques and Collectibles - 1819 Granville Street
I'm a treasure hunter by nature so a shop like Urban Cottage is right up my alley. It's a large space in the heart of downtown with a few different rooms just brimming with trinkets and treasures to be oohed and ahhed over. And come on - miniature cats $1.00 each?!? That's a STEAL of a deal!
Urban30 Blowdry Bar - 1727 Barrington Street
I popped into Urban30 Blowdry Bar to inquire about services because I had heard from a friend, and had seen on Twitter, that it was a happening spot. Stylist Zipora Hunter was really sweet and super helpful, taking the time to give me the rundown on how the boutique works, what services they offer and how to book for a private group. It's such a pretty and fresh looking space I can see why people are talking!
World Tea House - 1592 Argyle Street
As I was walking down Argyle Street, a sign outside of World Tea House caught my eye - 'Readings - Tea, Tarot, Animal Totems, Crystals/Stones, Palm'. As I glanced through the window I could see a woman laying out decks of Tarot cards on a table lined with a bright amethyst-coloured cloth so, on a whim, I popped in. 'I need something cold to drink', I announced to the man behind the counter (who it turns out was owner Phil Holmans). 'Great.', he said, without missing a beat, 'How about a fresh brewed iced tea?' After I chose my tea flavour (Blueberry Cheesecake!), I casually asked him, 'Is the woman in the window doing Tarot readings?' She, being Karen Mombourquette of Mystic Parties and Readings, overheard my question and invited me over.
Karen told me she's been reading people since the age of 16 and it shows. She is one of the most intuitive and eloquent people I've met. I won't go into detail about my reading but I will tell you this - near the end I was almost in tears. Upon our goodbye I said to Karen, 'I don't know if my reading was creepily accurate or impressively accurate. I think it was a bit of both'. She just smiled.
You can find Karen at World Tea House on Fridays between 2:30-6:30pm (call 902-422-8327 for an appointment, although walk-ins are also welcome - $15 tea leaf reading (with purchase of tea); $18 tarot; cash only).
Scanway Bakery + Café - 1567 Grafton Street
After the weird exhilaration I felt after my Tarot card reading, I knew one thing for certain. I needed a drink. All I could think about was a cold peach cider on the rooftop patio of the Scanway Café. Scanway, as a company, is a catering legend in Halifax and beyond, owned and operated by the Simensen family since 1981. Scanway Bakery + Café on Grafton Street is the newest addition to the Scanway roster. The service is quick and freindly, the patio is awesome and the FOOD. IS. DELICIOUS. Sandwiches, pizzas, a showcase full of baked goods, homemade gelato and of course, Unni's famous Florentines. It's a total win on all fronts.
Inkwell Boutique - 1658 Market Street
It is absoutely no secret that I love Inkwell Boutique and I know I'm not alone. I have a few framed prints hanging in my house and I buy almost all of my special occasion cards at inkwell because they always seem to have exactly what I'm looking for. If you don't find owner Andrea Rahal behind the counter, you will probably find her super nice mum holding down the fort.
Obladee Wine Bar - 1600 Barrington Street
@ashley_burke tweeted to me - 'You simply MUST go to Obladee for the goat's milk fudge!' I arrived at 4pm on Friday, and as I was settling into one of the small, cozy front window sections, Stefan, my waiter, came over. Before he can say anything I blurt out, 'I'm here for the goat's milk fudge'. His eyes light up. 'Have you had it before?', he asks. 'No', I say. He smiles knowingly and says, 'It's made by Little Red Kitsch'n and it's incredible. It's turned some of my customers day's around'. 'That sounds perfect.', I say. 'I'd also love to try a glass of the Benjamin Bridge Sauvignon Blanc'.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes are notoriously difficult to grow in Nova Scotia, and 2013 'marks (Benjamin Bridge's) inaugural release. With less than 200 cases available, this wine was handcrafted using the most respectful artisan methodologies, including indigenous yeasts. It is a perfect embodiment of our terroir’s unique twin abilities to combine brightness and opulence'.
Upon first taste, the Sauvignon Blanc is sweeter than I anticipate, albeit dry on the finish. It's very different from the characteristic mineral grassy notes of a French Sauvignon Blanc, or tropical fruitiness of the New Zealand style, but I like it. The goat's milk fudge arrives - two rich brown triangles stacked one on top of the other. I cut off a small sliver and let the creamy chocolate coat the inside of my mouth. I take a sip of wine. Paired with the fudge, the Sauvignon Blanc has changed completely. Balanced against the sweetness of the sugar and chocolate, the wine is now crisp, dry, refreshing and oh so good. I do my best not to gobble the fudge too fast, taking my time to sip the wine, but it is so hard. When the fudge is gone, I run my fingertip over the plate, collecting any last bits of chocolate I may have missed. I tilt the wine glass up to my mouth, draining every. last. drop. I sit back and sigh. I'm so happy.
Argyle Fine Art - 1559 Barrington Street
My decision to visit to Argyle Fine Art had a dual purpose - I could check out the latest installments at the gallery + say hello to owner Adriana Afford and fellow food blogger Crystal Ross (aka Gateaux Rose). Sadly, Crystal wasn't in, but on the flip side, Adriana was so gracious and welcoming that before I left, I felt as though we'd known each other for years (we bonded over our shared love of hotdogs). I just couldn't resist the handmade cherry pie clay earrings by Dan Bray ($35 - pictured below) - I knew as soon as I saw them that I had to have them!
da Maurizio - 1496 Lower Water Street (located inside the Keith's Brewery Market)
da Maurizio, located INSIDE the Keith's Brewery Market, is a stunning space loaded with character. With a menu ranging from prosciutto wrapped dates, warm radicchio salad, handmade pastas, perfectly cooked risotto, veal scallopine and a lobster-topped haddock dish that could bring you to your knees, the Spaghettini Alio e Olio ($12.95) is my FAVOURITE PASTA IN THE CITY. Don't be afraid of the 'fancy factor' - the owner and maitre'd, Tanya King, and the rest of the staff are kind and friendly and will make you feel at home right away. Do yourself a favour - go in, grab a seat at the bar, inside the elegant dining room, or out on the small patio and order a glass of wine and this simple classic Italian pasta . It will rock your world. (although, it must be said that the handmade gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce ($16.95) is what I like to call a 'game changer').
Bishop's Cellar - 1477 Lower Water Street (in the Bishop's Landing complex)
Bishop's Cellar is a forerunner in the independent wine shop market, incredibly supportive of their community (they sponsor and donate to so may events in Halifax and beyond!!), and an ambassador for Nova Scotia's emerging (many now thriving) wineries. They're open when you need them (until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and until 8pm on Sundays!!) and the staff actually care and will do their best to find you something that's just the right fit. For me, it was the Okanagan cider I'd had earlier on the Scanway patio. I grabbed a 6-pack of the Harvest Pear and, glowing with happiness from my #BigDayDowntown, had one more stop to make.
Lost Cod Clothing Co. - Halifax Boardwalk, in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
I love Lost Cod!! I've got Golden Glow on a royal blue tank, Sydney Steel on a blue hat, Sea Nymph on a red t-shirt and have given a few others as gifts (also - because I'm pretty sure my dad doesn't read my blog, I think it's safe to say that I recently got him a Lost Cod t-shirt for his upcoming birthday). Lost Cod specializes in reviving vintage Nova Scotia industry logos and designs - there are t-shirts, tanks, hats, hoodies, aprons and sweats to choose from. You pick your style, colour, size and logo and they put it all together for you in the shop in about 5 minutes.
I was sad that I didn't have time to stop into every place I wanted to so here are a few honourable mentions that I would have loved to visit:
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia - 1723 Hollis Street
Biscuit General Store - 1661 Argyle Street
Getaway Meat Mongers - 1208 Marginal Road (Halifax Seaport Market)
Gio Restaurant and Bar - 1725 Market Street
Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market - 1209 Marginal Road
J&R Grimsmo - 1533 Barrington Street
Mezza Lebanese Kitchen - 1558 Barrington Street
Morris East - 5212 Morris Street
Sugah! Confectionery and Ice Cream Emporium - 1479 Lower Water Street (on the water side of the Bishop's Landing complex)
The Stubborn Goat - 1579 Grafton Street
Trident Booksellers and Café - 1256 Hollis Street
Uncommon Grounds - 1237 Barrington Street