Saint John | 45 Grannan St. | 506-631-3714 | portcityroyal.com
Time plays tricks on you at Port City Royal. Duck in off a steep side street in the uptown of Canada’s oldest incorporated city, and your footfalls echo over worn floorboards. Peeling plaster reveals exposed lath and brick, part of Acre Architects’ intentionally unfinished restoration that suggests an archeological excavation. Locals in herringbone blazers sip barman Eric Scouten’s stirred manhattans on a sprawling leather chesterfield, beneath a photo of Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.
Time is also the wheelhouse of chef and owner Jakob Lutes, a Frederictonian who collected antique mallets while training under Marc Lépine at Atelier in Ottawa. He slow-cooks pork and onion in milk with Christmas spices, then rolls the resulting creton in ploye (a Brayon buckwheat pancake) and drizzles it with mayo-laced molasses. His buttery sturgeon mousse, made from Bay of Fundy off-cuts, ground and painstakingly softened stove-top with bay leaf and lemon zest, has a jellied top layer made from turnip-pickling juices. Does that trapdoor lead to a trove of Lutes family recipes, perfected over generations? Nope: They’re aging craft beers in the cellar.
Lutes pushes hearty Maritime cooking into the future by adding brightness and energy to the plate. A beet salad is punched up by foraged pineapple weed and crisp melon-balled spheres of Ida Red apple, given a quick soak in lemon and grapefruit juice so that they taste like a G&T. It’s the cue for Lutes’ sister Rebekka to swap records on the turntable, trading out Gladys Knight for the Roots.
To find this faithful culinary reinvention happening in a place long known as Loyalist City makes perfect sense. Dessert is day-old sponge cake reanimated with rhubarb consommé and topped with a pink dusting of foraged rose petals. The waitress offers a humble “Is it any good?” and you start shouting hosannas. “We’re nearing the end of last year’s roses,” says Lutes, stepping behind the bar to help polish glassware. He may have one foot in the past, but this chef is thinking ahead.