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Restaurant Review: The Merchant Tavern

By Bethany Brenton

Newfoundland has a profound culture, rooted in generations of heritage. Known for its fishery and freshly prepared ingredients, Newfoundland’s food traditions are not to be missed. In June 2015, The Merchant Tavern opened its doors for the first time on 291 Water St. to bring this tradition to Fredericton.

The Merchant Tavern has been named to play homage to the merchants of England that would spend their days in taverns discussing their businesses over food and drinks. Fitting with this theme, the restaurant owner, Jeremy Bonia, and chef Jeremy Charles offer a culturally-rich dining experience.

During lunch hour one Wednesday, my mother, older sister and I visited The Merchant Tavern. The maître d’ greeted us with a smile while offering to take our coats — something I have never experienced in a restaurant. Pleasantly surprised by the service, we exchanged our coats for a number and were escorted to our reserved seating. Without a moment to spare, our waiter presented us with our menus and began filling our water glasses, leaving behind the glass decanter for our use.

We took our time perusing the clean-cut menu. Oysters, charcuterie boards, braised lamb, fresh cod and aged cheeses were some of the choices. My sister chose the lamb pie while my mother decided to test out the lumache pasta. As a vegetarian I had limited options, but Merchant’s menu offered a couple of meatless meals. I decided to try their grilled cheese.

The restaurant is surrounded by wood-panelled walls lined with plants and an exposed pipe ceiling. The center of the room is taken up by the wooden bar, which complimented the marble tables and earthy tones of the room. Because the restaurant has an open kitchen, diners have the opportunity to watch the chef prepare their meals with finesse and delicacy. And just adjacent to the kitchen we have a full view of the meat locker and a beautiful barista bar.

Music played in the background as the buzz of the kitchen, baristas and customers consumes the place. This could be one downside to the whole experience — it was fairly loud, making it difficult to concentrate. Overall, the atmosphere was comfortable and homey— something for which Newfoundlanders are well known.

Within 20 minutes, our waiter returned with a delicious platter of plates. He proceeded to refill our waters and coffees, always sure to serve properly with one hand behind his back. The presentation looked gorgeous and the portions seemed perfect for a filling meal.

The bread of my grilled cheese was toasted to perfection. The saltiness of the white cheddar complimented the sweetness of the caramelized onions and apples, with a succulent tomato sauce for dipping. The side of fries were deliciously crispy, a perfect balance of potato and batter. Calling this “comfort food” would be an understatement.

As we enjoyed our food, the restaurant owner checked in with his employees and ensured everything was running smoothly. Our waiter returned as we enjoyed the final bites of our meal. The Merchant Tavern brings together all things my province and I hold dear to our hearts — good food, hospitable people and rich culture.

Being able to enjoy a meal and feel taken care of by the staff is something that very few restaurants manage to do, but The Merchant Tavern provided them with grace. I recommend anyone visiting our province, or even just exploring our own city, to stop by The Merchant Tavern to get a glimpse into what being a Newfoundlander really means.

From their modern twist on the classic grilled cheese to their hot lamb pie with flaky pastry, Merchant’s food hit every mark. Using local ingredients and unique flavours, the restaurant is able to bring a piece of culture to the customers. I predict that this restaurant will continue to draw crowds to their bright dining room, catering for many years to come.

 

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