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Small space, big taste

These tiny eateries might lack elbow room but they boast an abundance of character

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Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

Most people never explore Halifax’s hole-in-the-wall eateries, and they’re missing out. At a tiny restaurant each plate and dinner receives personal attention, plus many of the recipes are tried and true family secrets. Here are three you can brag about to your friends.

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

AGORA CAFÉ BISTRO
2394 Agricola St.
902-404-7020

Kubi Gonul speaks to every single patron who comes through the door of his café. To some he suggests items from café’s petite menu, to others he points out the paintings on the wall, often unasked.

He’s best known locally as the founder of Turkish Delight on Spring Garden Road. In 2013, he sold the long-standing eatery to focus on his property-management business. But he missed the energy of a bustling restaurant. It took him two years to find the right spot, but the first time he visited the former Orphan Books location on Agricola Street he knew it was the one.

“This place sits on a very specific neighbourhood,” Gonul gestures at the street outside the floor to ceiling windows. “The people here really affected me.”

His goal was to open a lunch option that capitalized on the neighbourhood’s foot traffic. Thanks to a high ceiling, natural light fills the space. Six two-person tables and a counter with four colourful stools offers a view of Agricola Street. Local art decks the largest wall. Gonul says he sells it for the artists at no commission because it adds interest to the space.

The menu is largely foods from Turkey’s Aegean region: Borek, a phyllo pastry filled with vegetables, meat, or both; lacha paratha, a flat bread that requires 12 hours of resting time before baking; and moon cookies filled with raisins, chocolate, and walnuts.

In addition to the Turkish fare, Agora serves up a variety of side salads and sandwiches. Gonul says his most popular item so far is the Turkish breakfast: a mix of potatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, onion, and thyme mixed with scrambled egg and topped with beef and mozzarella cheese. The effect is a filling, yet healthy skillet that’s available all day for $7.95.

Gonul recently secured a liquor licence for the café, which he plans to start using in late September once he’s hired a second shift of staff and created a dinner menu. “I like to cook and I like to meet people,” he says. “In this business if you have a lot of sense you can do both.”

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

FREDIE’S FANTASTIC FISH HOUSE
8 Oland Cres., Halifax
902-450-3474

Seating only 12, Fredie’s Fantastic Fish House on Oland Crescent in Bayer’s Lake clocks in as one of the city’s smallest eat-in offerings. Most of those seats ring the tiny cooking area. The first counter seat features a sign commemorating Henry “The Fonz” Winkler’s visit in 2014.

Today locals and tourists call Fredie’s one of the city’s best fish and chips spots, but the idea to open it started on a whim.

In 2004, Tammy Frederick was driving through a snow storm from her job as a waitress in downtown Halifax to her home in Tantallon. As she passed the familiar summer hotdog and hamburger trailer on the highway she saw something new: a for sale sign.

“It wasn’t even on my mind to open a restaurant, swear to God,” Fredrick says of her original location. But by the time she got home, the idea had taken hold.

“Jesus Tammy, can’t you just come home from work like a regular person?” she recalls her husband asking as she told him her idea. She went to the bank the next day and secured a loan to buy the business.

“The second it was done I called my mom,” she says. “I told her, ‘I need your help here. I don’t know how to cook.’”

Frederick’s mother created a compact menu of Nova Scotia’s favourite comfort foods: fish and chips, clams and chips, lobster rolls, seafood chowder, and Newfie fries (hand-cut fries topped with stuffing and smothered in gravy).

Everything is fried is trans-fat-free oil. Unlike other fish-stops, Fredie’s batter substitutes water for beer or Sprite. You can taste the difference. The fish is flaky and tender inside, and crispy outside. The thick hand-cut fries are lightly seasoned, leaving room for salt fans to add as needed.

Nearly all Fredie’s ingredients are local, and fresh; the restaurant has only a small fridge to store seafood. Digby scallops, East Chezzetcook clams, and lobster from Indian Harbour are delivered several times per week.

The local connection means the food costs a bit more, but it’s worth it. A generous serving of fish with chips aplenty will run you $8.50. (And in case you’re wondering, Winkler had a one-piece fish and chips, a lobster roll, a Diet Pepsi, and a cup of tea.)

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

Photo: Kim Hart Macneill

KITSUNE FOOD CO.
5710 Young St., Halifax
902-406-5010

Ami Goto chops green onions on the other side of the counter while she talks. “Last night was crazy,” she says. “Takeout. Takeout. Takeout. It didn’t stop.”

Kitsune Food Co. opened Aug. 3 in the pint-sized space next to Mother’s Pizza on Agricola. Goto and her partner, Eric McIntyre, haven’t stopped since. The space seats only four and the menu is built for takeout, but Goto says many patrons want to watch their meal made. “I didn’t think people would sit, but instead they actual wait for the seats.”

The whole eatery is about 10 feet square, so dinners are at her elbow as she makes their meals. “As first I was anxious to have them watching,” she says. “But I like it. I make food, we talk. It’s exactly what we wanted.”

It’s a change for Goto. She started working at Dharma Sushi when she immigrated to Canada from Japan in 1998. In 2014, after a few years away from the restaurant, she returned with MacIntyre to purchase it from owner Hideki Yamamoto. “I didn’t build it,” she says of Dharma. “My focus was keeping it the same. [Yamamoto] is family to me. I had to impress him.”

But ownership had its downsides.

Administrative tasks became her main job, and the home-style cooking she loved fell by the wayside. Last December the couple decided to sell Dharma and found a new owner within weeks. In May, Goto and McIntyre visited Japan in part to see Goto’s family and in part for research. The couple visited many izakaya, Japanese pubs serving small plates of snack food, to find inspiration for their new venture.

Kitsune (which is the Japanese word for Fox) delivers a tight menu of izayaka favourites: seaweed salad, nigari and maki sushi, hand-folded pork and vegan dumplings, and kara-aghe, bite-sized pieces of deep fried chicken. Evening eat-in dinners can pair their plates with sake or Japanese beer.

“I’ve always wanted to do everything in the restaurant,” Goto says. “To focus on the food. That’s why we’re doing this.”

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