Review—The Canteen on Portland
I love a boat ride. Combine that with the promise of brunch at the end and I'm in. That's what brought us to the Canteen on Portland in Dartmouth.
Especially when the bridge is closed, Dartmouth can feel like a whole different world. But there's just something really quintessentially Halifax about taking the ferry across the harbour. Do yourself a favour and make a morning of it. We hopped on the ferry, did a round through the Alderney Landing Farmers' Market, browsed the wares at Kept, and flipped through the stacks at Taz inside New Scotland Yard before making our way across the street for brunch.
From its humble beginnings as a sandwich shop above TIBS, the Canteen has grown to become a full-on sit down restaurant. Pro tip: make a reservation. We called the day before and the earliest we could get in with four people was 11:45am and the entire time we were there the place was PACKED with a lineup of people waiting for tables to boot.
The space is bright and cherry if a bit forced—there's all kinds of cute junk to look at, but it has the feeling of it being artfully arranged vs loving collected over time. It makes sense. The place has only been open for a few weeks so I get it. The space is also really loud because there's not really much for the sound to be absorbed by. When you go to brunch with a bunch of musicians, these are the things that you are made aware of.
The menu is small and at first glance I was kind of "meh". But once I started to dig in and read the descriptions, there's actually a lot happening for such a tightly-curated selection. I opted to go with the classic Hangover Breakfast Sandwich—even though I was not hungover—which is made with Oulton's bacon, a fried egg, avocado cream, havarti cheese and greens on a house made everything bagel. My dining companions opted for the Smokie (smoked salmon bagel), the Challah French Toast with bacon (which.... isn't that a little sacrilegious?!), and the Hot Noodle Bowl.
The food came really fast. Like, ridiculously, extraordinarily, you-must-have-the-wrong-table fast. Which, don't get me wrong, was great especially given our late reservation, but it also felt a little rushed. I feel like this is a leftover of the Canteen's origins as a sandwich shop maybe? Sit down restaurants are meant to have a bit of a different pacing, especially when you're dining with other people. The wait is part of the experience. It's when you catch up and talk to each other before you're busy shoving food into your face. (I know, I know. Who complains about not waiting long enough for their food?! Know it's not a complaint, but rather an observation.)
So, as you can see I ordered the Hangover Breakfast Sandwich, and I got the Hangover Breakfast Sandwich. Nothing more, nothing less. I realize it doesn't promise it comes with anything else on the menu, but like... not a few greens in a light dressing on the side? A few potatoes? Hell, even a slice of cantaloupe and a grape?! $11 for a breakfast sandwich on it's own is a little steep, even for one that is made with really high quality ingredients. I don't know, I just feel like there could have been a little something else happening on the tray.
The sandwich itself was pretty tasty—but be warned: There's no ladylike way to eat it. It's messy. I cut mine in half and still managed to make a disgusting mess of things. The house-made everything bagel was really nice. You can't go wrong with Oulton's bacon. There were pickles which I normally don't love, but I actually didn't mind in this case. The cheese was gooey. At first I was disappointed the egg didn't have a runny yolk but then I quickly realized that was really for the better otherwise things would have been about 10 times messier than they already were.
I sampled the Challah French Toast and it was tasty, but I'm glad I didn't order it because I think it would have been a lot—very sweet, very rich. The noodle bowl looked great (and was thoroughly enjoyed), and the smoked salmon bagel was just ok according to its consumer.
Overall, the experience was ok. The food was tasty. Service wasn't super warm, but it wasn't bad either. I've gotta say though, I didn't love the feeling of being rushed. The speed with which the food was delivered, the speed we were presented our bills and payment collected, the ever-growing lineup at the front, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm super happy this place is as busy as it is. They use great local ingredients that are simply prepared in un-fussy and accessible dishes. Yes. More of that please. But I feel like maybe there's some growing pains given their provenance as a sandwich shop and their transition to a sit-down restaurant is still ongoing.
I'd go back again, if only for the boat ride and the excuse to check out the Farmers' market.