The story of the Acadians was part of the history of the place where I grew up. French settlers on the Bay of Fundy shore of Nova Scotia were expelled from the province in the mid 1700s when they refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain. The French settlers ended up scattered all along the eastern seaboard of the US, particularly in the rural areas of Louisiana, where many French-owned plantations made the settlers feel at home.
While many Acadians eventually returned to Acadie (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI) enough stayed in the Louisiana low country and adapted to the life there that the Cajun culture was born. Food, in particular, was still based around the rustic French food they knew and cooked up north, but began to encompass local ingredients and cooking techniques.
Recently opened in Toronto, Acadia Restaurant (50C Clinton Street) offers up a menu that is a history lesson in Acadian/Cajun culture. Chef Matt Blondin’s dishes trace the coastline from French Canada, down the eastern seaboard to the Louisiana low country, sampling the best local ingredients along the way.
Blondin and front-of-house partner Scott Selland have stated that they wanted to do something new in opening Acadia, to jazz up Toronto’s complacent culinary scene, and particularly to expand our knowledge of Southern food beyond fried chicken.
Their premiere menu already does that, with dishes such as etoufee, Chesapeake Bay crab and chicory salad. Hailing from Acadia, and with Acadian in-laws, I’m keenly interested to see what they do as the weather changes. Will Blondin serve rapure (Acadian meat pie), and will it be as good as my husband’s Grandmother’s? Will he tackle catfish or will he avoid the cliche? What about gator?
We dined at Acadia on opening night so I could get photos to run a piece for Toronto.com. The space is bright and airy, and feels like it could be in New Orleans or overlooking the Fundy shore in Nova Scotia. The food is good. Unique enough to be interesting, but also still accessible enough as comfort food that it won’t scare anybody off. Laissez les bons temps, mes amies.
Above: Acadia’s amuse bouche is a darling tray of pickled eggs, confit fingerling potatoes, okra, redskin peanuts and sea asparagus.
Anson Mills grits and shrimp with oyster mushrooms, pimento cheese, sherry and ham hock consomme.
Northumberland Strait scallops served with chicken crackling, parmesan, pickled watermelon rind and arugula.
Corn bread and sweet potato butter.
Collard greens garnished with pancetta and licorice cream.
Red grouper topped with gulf prawn etoufee, Sea Island red peas, andouille sausage.
Nagano pork side ribs with smoked syrup, sorghum salad, tobacco onions, amaranth seeds and sprouts.
The chocolate bar – a fudgy chocolate cake with crushed salted peanuts and roasted banana ice cream.
And finally, possibly the best sugar pie we’ve ever had, topped with raisins and caramelized dairy.