The secret has two parts. The first part is to do with the location of this secret. It is in Newfoundland. This is a must visit province of Canada that has lately received notable awards and press in the foodie world. One of the more notable awards is to Raymond's, a non-descript (from the outside) downtown St. John's restaurant that won the best new restaurant in Canada award from Enroute in 2011. This upscale wharfside restaurant takes local fare to the french cuisine level. Another example is award winning chef and Newfoundlander Roary MacPherson taking on the world stage and expanding Canada's food reputation to include a born and raised Newfoundlander's unique culinary experience. Chef Roary is the youngest of over a dozen children and credits this experience and the food he was brought up with as informing a lot of his culinary creations.
The second part of the secret is the actual restaurant. From the outside you might not think much of the cheery but low key signage of the Rocky Harbour Newfoundland restaurant called Java Jack's. Rocky Harbour is adjacent to Gros Morne and it is a thriving tourist and conference destination from May thru October annually.
If you read the small print on this sign you might take a moment to pause and reconsider what this restaurant might offer your palate. "Recommended by Frommer's, The Lonely Planet, Fodor's, and Where to Eat in Canada." Not too shabby a recommendation list eh?
The restaurant prides itself by using many locally grown ingredients. In fact, some of the ingredients are more than just local, they are grown right outside the actual restaurant and the garden is what you first take note of when you pull into the parking area. There is a beautiful organic vegetable and flower garden immediately in front of the restaurant. When I first pulled into Java Jack's one of the cooks, Monica, was snipping lettuce greens for the evening's dinner salads. She is pictured below amongst the colourful bounty.
Owner Jacqui Hunter had all the time in the world for a chat with this food warrior the morning I went in for breakfast (the restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Tuesday's..they offer breakfast and a tasty and delicious packed lunch service for the hiker's that abound in these parts during the tourist season).
Jacqui had catered a 60 person conference event the previous night and hadn't got home until 11:30 p.m. and was taking a morning coffee breather before planning her attack on the brand new day. She told me that when she arrived in Rocky Harbour in the 1990s she nearly starved as a vegetarian. Back then she was a newly placed park interpreter that had lived throughout Canada (her father was an RCMP officer so between her childhood and her park interpreter career she has lived everywhere in Canada). As a hat tip to her sentiments regarding typical Newfoundland restaurant food, her restaurant has a large chalkboard sign stating that it is a "Deep Fryer Free Zone". This sign gave me a huge chuckle at the entrance way since it is well known regionally that the typical Newfoundland eatery is notorious for featuring a huge vat of boiling 'crisco' as the starting point for every meal throughout the province. This makes healthy eating out virtually impossible whilst travelling in the province. The downstairs portion of the restaurant has cafe type seating and a small deli counter where baked goods and prepared lunches are on display. The upstairs part is fancier with seating for over 40 people. Spectacular Atlantic based artisan work is liberally sprinkled throughout the facility and is available for purchase.
Jacqui talked openly about her success and the fact that sales were up 14% over last year. This is her thirteenth year of operation and she is now being called on across Canada to participate in best practice consultations. She remarked that she considers her restaurant venture a social enterprise because of the transformative nature that her food and her workplace has brought to the region. She has educated an entire region about not only the nature and composition of good food but also put this learning into cold hard practice by putting an organic food garden right on the property itself where customers and Rocky Harbour residents can directly observe the source of some of their food. The dinner and lunch menu contains as much local food as feasible and that means including plenty of fish courses and, of course, a few tasty vegetarian/vegan options too.
For my breakfast I had a delicious arctic char scramble with fresh onions and red pepper. It was scrumptious and reminded me that eggs do mix nicely with fish for a tasty protein dish. The coffee that accompanied it was well deserving of the Java Jack's moniker and I could have had an espresso if the mood had struck me. Yes, you read that correctly. Espresso.
I had met up with a high school friend that morning at the restaurant who also happens to be the owner of the only upscale Inn in the area (her king sized bed suites each have balconies overlooking the harbour in Norris Point!). I especially enjoyed listening to the two of them sharing shop talk about the season and the intricacies of operating a seasonally based business in the Gros Morne area. My high school friend is in her fourth year of operation and she told Jacqui that most people that arrived to stay at her inn already knew of Java Jack's as a go-to restaurant in the area.
It is heartening to know that Gros Morne National Park is not only a world heritage site with 20 well marked day trails, but is also the location of a trail blazing eatery that the rest of Newfoundland and the world is taking note of.
Pretty good secret eh? Go ahead. Share it. You know you want to.