Surprises on the Road in New Brunswick

One of the reasons I love to travel is that I want to be surprised. When I walked into the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I was stunned to find Salvador Dali’s massive masterpiece, Santiago El Grande. The gallery was founded in 1959 by the Canadian media baron Max Aitken, who had received the title of Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. Fortunately, Beaverbrook didn’t forget his roots, endowing his home province with this gallery and many other treasures. The collection at the Beaverbrook is astounding for a gallery of its size. In addition to the Dali, the collection includes J.M.W. Turner’s The Fountain of Indolence, Botticelli’s The Resurrection, Lucien Freud’s Hotel Bedroom, and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Lucretia. (There is an ongoing legal dispute between the gallery and a UK-based foundation also established by Beaverbrook about the ownership of many of the most famous works; the gallery won a 2007 decision, but that decision is currently under appeal.)

Another surprise for me in Fredericton was a downtown restaurant called the The Blue Door. I was lured by its reputation for fusion-style cooking; its kitchen is well-known for blending Asian spices with Atlantic Canadian seafood. It wasn’t until I arrived there that I discovered the menu is annotated with celiacs in mind. Every appetizer and entrée that is gluten-free is highlighted with a crossed-out wheat sheaf (similar to the symbol that so many celiac societies in Europe use). Vegetarian offerings are also clearly highlighted. There is plenty of choice: the gluten-free appetizers include a house-smoked duck breast with arugula laced with a ginger-pomegranate-watermelon dressing (yum), and Prince Edward Island mussels dressed with sake and mango (which I almost ordered). The main-course choices range from a black-pepper-seared tuna steak with local potatoes and a mango salsa, to a plate of coconut-, pistachio-, and chipotle-pepper-flavored scallops.

The Blue Door is both a restaurant and a cocktail lounge, so it’s no surprise that the drinks are excellent. (I can recommend the Red Velvet, a mix of raspberry, cranberry, and lime with vodka.)

The Blue Door [address] 100 Regent Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada [tel] 506-455-2583 [fax] 506-455-2589 [web]

A Taste of History in Atlantic Canada

One reason I love to travel is because it helps me learn about history. A couple of summers ago I went to New Brunswick for the first time. Before that trip, I had little idea how much this corner of Atlantic Canada had been transformed by America’s War of Independence. The territory — part of Nova Scotia until 1784 — was sparsely populated until 15,000 Loyalists fled here in the aftermath of the war. Their sudden arrival led to the creation of the province.

A sense of history is pervasive in New Brunswick, and some of my most memorable lessons came from Kings Landing. Located in the St. John River valley, the “settlement” contains a beautifully restored collection of 70 historic buildings from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Many of the structures originated in other stretches of the river valley; they were brought to Kings Landing to prevent damage from flooding. Costumed actors depict the daily life in a small 19th-century town, but with a twist: All of the stories they tell are true. The families who lived in the original buildings have been thoroughly researched and their tales are retold in great detail. One of the most moving is recounted in a single-room cabin that housed a family that fled Ireland’s Great Famine.

Kings Landing also has a theater festival that runs from early July through Labor Day, presenting musical comedies and dramas appropriate for the whole family. Kids fall particularly hard for the site, since they can dress up in period costumes, help out the local blacksmith, and feed the farm animals. (For adults, there are workshops in rug hooking and braiding and in 19th-century medicine.)

For me, the biggest surprise was at the King’s Head Inn, an old-fashioned public house that serves as the main restaurant on the site. Several dishes on its short and historically accurate menu were celiac-safe. The staff explained that buckwheat has long been a favored crop in the region (in spite of its suspicious-sounding name, buckwheat is safe for the gluten intolerant). Not everything on the menu is safe, since barley, malt, and oats are also used (and because the menu changes frequently, call or e-mail in advance to ensure that there will be gluten-free options during your visit). The buckwheat is actually milled at Kings Landing, in a building that dates back to 1885 — and visitors can buy a pound at the gift shop to take home.

Kings Landing [address] 20 Kings Landing Road, Kings Landing (near Fredericton), New Brunswick, E6K 3W3 Canada [tel] 506-363-4999 [e-mail] [web]