In winter, Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl was all about the lobster. Lobster in all forms. Lobster, as is typical, was represented in chowder, rolls, and a no-holds-barred-lobster boil, followed by the artistic representation of lobster in beer, gelato, pizza, and nachos.
And to be honest, I loved it all.
Before the festival, I’d eaten lobster tail in conjunction with a steak dinner or a celebratory lobster boil after a friend’s return home from Maine. But nothing compared to what I experienced in Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl.
Lobster season in Nova Scotia’s south shore starts the last week in November and runs through the last week in May, with those caught in Districts 33 and 34 accounting for about 40 percent of all lobsters trapped in Canada annually. Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl runs the entire month of February to celebrate that particularly succulent cold-water lobster.
First, let me dispel any misinformation out there about the odor of lobster. Lobster is seafood, and should NOT smell fishy. Seafood in general, and lobster specifically, smells briny like the ocean. The lobsters taste slightly sweet and are a high source of Omega-3 fatty acids, making it a nutritious protein.
While I was on the receiving end of many envious comments from friends and family about eating non-stop lobster for a week, in the early twentieth century, prisons considered that much lobster cruel and unusual punishment. A bill passed to prevent prisons from feeding inmates lobster more than three times a week.
Follow me on my Nova Scotia sea-to-table lobster adventure, as I learn more about Nova Scotia and everything lobster.
Also- when you're not busy working your way through my list of all things lobster check out this guide to the 101 Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia!
Chester: The Fo’c’sle Tavern—Home of the Lobster Chowder Chowdown Showdown
42 Queen Street || 902-275-1408
From Halifax, we headed south on the Lighthouse Route for Chester, an enchanting coastal village.
During the Lobster Crawl, Chester is home to the “Lobster Chowder Chowdown Showdown.” In 2019, the Fo’c’sleTavern won the first-ever Lobster Chowder Chowdown Showdown, receiving the Golden Ladle Trophy.
The chowder starts with onions and celery sautéed in butter. In addition to lobster, the chowder had tri-colored potatoes and charred corn for added flavor.
All of this was cooked in a combination of whole milk and heavy cream to create a creamy, award-winning lobster chowder. A lobster-claw garnish added to the beauty of the dish.
The lobster croissant was Chef Scott Youden’s take on a lobster roll. The buttery croissant made for a perfect base for the lobster filling.
I ate many lobster rolls on my visit to Nova Scotia, and surprisingly, this was the only place I found a lobster roll on a croissant, but it makes sense. Lobster and butter are classic, and so are croissants and butter.
The filling contained pieces of lobster knuckles and claws for a tender, sweet taste. The chef used only a bit of lemon and mayonnaise to let the lobster flavor stand out.
Then, the lobster mac and cheese had a quarter-pound of lobster, in addition to the claw garnish.
The cheese sauce began with a traditional roux and lobster stock. Then they added a mixture of Monterey Jack, cheddar, and Parmesan cheese. The cheese sauce combined with elbow macaroni and the quarter pound of lobster. Finally, panko breadcrumbs cooked with butter, shallots, and herbs blended with more Parmesan cheese topped the dish to make a crunchy topping.
Garnished with the lobster claw, it was irresistible comfort food.
Mahone Bay: Saltbox Brewing Company—Home of the Crustacean Elation
363 Main St, Mahone Bay || 902-624-0653
Our next stop is Mahone Bay, the picturesque town that the New York Times described as “pretty as a picture.”
After our stop for a photo of Mahone Bay’s three churches standing side-by-side along the waterfront, we continued on our lobster pursuit. Lobster beer that is!
When the South Shore Lobster Crawl started in 2018, Saltbox Brewing Company wanted to participate; so, they created and launched Crustacean Elation. This ale that celebrates Atlantic Canada’s lobster fishing industry sold out a week into the month-long festival.
The brewing process is a double-infusion method. Saltbox Brewing Company uses fire-roasted shells and whole lobsters to impart the taste and aroma of lobster. It results in a lightly colored and hopped beer with a hint of citrus, a slightly sweet taste and a briny finish that is the essence of lobster and the sea. Drink it with anything lobster to enhance that lobster flavor.
Lunenburg: Ironworks Distillery—Home to Around the World Rum
The Blacksmith’s Shop, 2 Kempt Street || 902-640-2424
We continued along the Lighthouse Route to the port town of Lunenburg, where Old Town Lunenburg is a designated UNESCO World Heritage. After a tour of Old Town Lunenburg, complete with stories about haunting spirits, we finished our tour at Ironworks Distillery, where we sampled another kind of spirit.
Ironworks is an artisanal micro-distillery located in the historic town of Lunenburg. The name Ironworks comes from the 1893 heritage building, a marine blacksmith’s shop, that once produced ironworks, such as anchors, for the shipbuilding trade. Today they craft spirits, distilling by hand, using only natural ingredients as fresh and local as possible.
First, we warmed up with some delicious cocktails paired with traditional Lunenburg appetizers.
The appetizers included old-fashioned German fares, like a beef and pork sausage known as Lunenburg sausage. Lunenburg pudding, also beef and pork, morphed into a pate that included onions.
We sampled pickled herring with a sweet onion flavor. Finally, we made a side-by-side comparison of two types of locally-made sauerkraut—Krispy Kraut and Tancook.
My favorite was the Krispy Kraut. To me, it was crisper and more tart than the Tancook, but everyone had their favorite.
Along with our appetizers, we learned more about the variety of spirits offered at Ironworks Distillery. Their signature spirits include vodka made from apples grown in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, and liqueurs made from local berries, like blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries.
Initially, owners Lynn MacKay and Pierre Guevremont had no intention of offering rum. After all, there wasn’t a local sugar cane, and they were committed to staying with local ingredients. The problem was Lunenburg was a rum-running town, and people kept asking about their rum. After a lot of problem-solving, the result is their house-made rum, distilled from Canada’s Crosby’s molasses.
After our tasting paired with hors d’oeuvres, we sat down among the casks for a catered dinner in the warm ambiance of the distillery.
Lobster chowder with brown bread and butter was the evening’s entrée. And we finished the evening with a rum raisin cake, featuring the distillery’s Blue Nose Rum with a caramel rum sauce.
After a night at the Mariner King Inn, we continued our journey to Shag Harbour, where we learned what would happen to our lobster catch before it landed on our plate.
Shag Harbour: Fisher Direct—Home to Live Lobster
5163 Route 3, Shag Harbour || 902-635-2681
Before we trapped the lobster, we visited a lobster pound to see where our bounty of the sea would end up. We helped with sorting, tubing, and shipping.
We toured Fisher Direct with Wesley Nickerson, the owner’s grandson.
Fisher Direct is a modern facility, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, allows them to hold efficiently, sort, grade, and export live lobster to anywhere in the world.
Once a fisherman drops off their catch, the lobsters stay in the first tank, the Purge Tank, for 48 hours, so it has time to clean itself out.
After we had a look at the saltwater tanks that have a total capacity for 650,000 pounds of lobster, Wesley put us to work. First, we sorted and graded the lobsters. Typically, a line of twenty workers weighs and sort each lobster by hand.
Lobsters take between six and eight years to reach a market weight, which is approximately a pound and a quarter to a pound and a half. The biggest lobster ever recorded was caught in Nova Scotia in 1977 and weighed 44 pounds.
Fisher Direct supplies lobster all over the world, as far away as Asia, and as near as the United States, where it is often rebranded as Maine lobster to help fill the gap in the demand.
Finally, workers tube each size grouping into crates, and the containers either go back to the tanks for storage for up to six months or continue through the packing process for immediate shipment. The crustaceans I helped pack were headed on a 72-hour journey to Japan.
After all that lobster work, it was time for lunch.
Barrington Passage: Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack—Home to the Lobster Capital of Canada
3723 Highway 3, Barrington Passage || 902-637-3728
Barrington Passage is home to Lucy the Lobster, Nova Scotia’s weather forecaster. While the other provinces of Canada recognize Groundhog Day, Nova Scotia turns to Lucy the Lobster to determine when spring arrives.
Located in Barrington Passage, the heart of the Lobster Capital of Canada, Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack serves some of the most delightful lobster dishes in Sou’West Nova Scotia.
We had the option to choose a fresh live lobster from the tank for a whole boiled lobster dinner, but we had to try Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack’s signature dishes—creamed lobster, lobster fondue, and lobster nachos.
Creamed lobster is a sou’west Nova Scotia favorite with milk, heavy cream, butter, and a splash of vinegar. At Capt. Kat’s they serve the creamed lobster on toast with mashed potatoes, or the Fisherman’s Delight by putting some inside the large onion ring on top of the haddock fish sandwich.
Hunts Point: White Point Beach Resort—Home of the Great Canadian Lobster Fishing Excursion
75 White Point Beach Resort Road || 902-354-2711
White Point Beach Resort offers a unique package aboard a lobster fishing boat on Blueberry Bay, leaving from a dock in West Berlin.
I experienced first-hand what it’s like to be a lobster fisherman in winter, as I became a crew member onboard the 37-foot lobster fishing boat, the JKC, with Captain Brad Crouse and his crew, consisting of his sons David and Robert and skipper Joey Oickle.
The sun shined bright on this February morning. The air was crisp but warmer than I expected this time of year in Nova Scotia. Knowing it’s cooler on the open water than on land, I dressed in layers. First, I layered a short-sleeved cotton shirt, next a collared cotton button down, then my most substantial sweater, and finally, my most heavy jacket.
On the bottom, I only had two layers, a pair of jeans topped with heavy leggings. Then there was an infinity scarf, hat with ear flaps, hood up, secured in place with yet another scarf; my extremities would barely bend, which was fine until I needed to make my way down the metal ladder onto the boat.
I couldn’t turn to see my footing as a backed down the ladder. But the crew encouraged me, “Only two more inches to the next rung.” I was onboard. They assured me when we returned; it would be high tide and much easier to climb up to the dock.
I immediately noticed the salt on the floor of the boat. It prevented the water from freezing and making the deck slippery. Finally, I donned the life vest. We didn’t need the overalls or bright yellow slickers, as we most likely weren’t getting wet. We loaded up and headed out on the Atlantic Ocean to go lobster fishing.
Marked by buoys, this crew’s lobster traps are 12 fathoms deep. This crew used the newer wire traps, rather than the traditional wooden traps. They pull the traps out of the water, and one fisherman efficiently removes their catch, measures them, and puts them in buckets.
If the lobster isn’t big enough or it’s a berried female (egg-bearing), the fishermen returned them to the sea. A female lobster could contain eight to ten thousand eggs. When a fisher traps an egg carrying female lobster, they place a V-notch in her tail, letting other fishermen know she’s a breeding female and must be returned to the ocean. If you encounter bright red material while eating lobster, that’s roe.
The remaining lobsters are quickly rubber-banded with a banding tool, ready to take ashore. The catch may be kept in pens at the dock waiting for the right price, sold to lobster pounds, or sold directly to chefs at the pier.
At the other end of the trap, another crew member removed the skeletal remains of the used bait and threw it in a bin, and then re-baited the trap with fresh haddock.
The crew will throw the remains of the bait back to the sea as they head to shore. They don’t want to leave it near their traps as there is still enough meat on the bones that it would prevent a lobster from taking bait inside the trap.
In addition to lobsters, other sea creatures like sculpin came up in the lobster traps. They keep these new creatures as bait. Once the traps were re-baited, they were returned to the sea and marked with a buoy.
As we pulled up the trap, you could see that the lobsters aren’t the red color you see on your plate. Typically, as you pull lobsters out of the ocean, they’re brown to olive-green; but, have been known to be yellow or even blue. They all turn red when you cook them.
All that work and fresh sea air made us hungry, so it was perfect timing to judge a lobster roll contest.
Hunts Point: White Point Beach Resort: Lobster 101—A Crash Course
75 White Point Beach Resort Road || 902-354-2711
After a morning of hauling lobster traps, we were off to eat some lobster.
Before judging the Lobster Roll-Off Challenge, we met Chef Alain Bossé, aka The Kilted Chef, in White Point Beach Resort’s Founder’s Lounge for a crash course in Lobster 101.
Chef Alain took us through the life of the North American lobster – from conception to its fight for survival, to our plate. The colder the water, the sweeter and firmer the lobster flesh; that’s why February is the perfect time for Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl.
The Kilted Chef shared one critical tip, and that is keeping the head intact while cooking lobster. Cutting the head may result in toxins from the lobster’s brain contaminating the rest of the meat. Eating contaminated meat may result in a reaction that leads you to believe you are allergic to lobster.
Hunts Point: White Point Beach Resort: The Lobster Roll-Off Challenge
75 White Point Beach Resort Road || 902-354-2711
So we caught lobster, sorted and graded, tubed, and shipped them. But we still weren’t done. The afternoon mission was the most difficult of all. We were judging the Lobster Roll-Off Challenge.
The Kilted Chef emceed the event, as four judges ate their way through samples of twelve different lobster rolls, while approximately fifty on-lookers watched our reactions to each bite.
Each lobster roll represented a different restaurant from Nova Scotia’s South Shore. The number one criterion is that the lobster roll’s presentation must be exactly as it is served in the restaurant. Deviation from their restaurant presentation solely to impress the judges result in a points deduction.
We judged each one of the twelve entries on presentation, taste, and the wow factor.
The panel of judges was presented with a plated lobster roll as it is served in the restaurant. The total number of possible points was fifty. The presentation criteria involved the ratio of the bread component to the lobster meat, the visual appeal, and plate presentation. The total number of possible points for the presentation was fifteen.
Then a group of culinary students presented each judge with a piece of lobster roll equal to approximately one-quarter of a whole roll. We each ate as much as was necessary to determine our rating on taste.
Taste is above all other factors. It should be the perfect blend of flavors for everyone’s palate, balancing taste and seasonings. Thirty was the top number of points available for taste. Other considerations in this category were aroma, texture, and color.
Finally, the wow factor was anything that stands out above presentation and taste. Judges could award up to five points for the wow factor, for a total of fifty possible points.
This year, operators along the South Shore are offering lobster rolls during the Lobster Crawl. I was part of the panel of judges who got to select theSouth Shore’s best lobster roll. This challenge was a blind taste testing. I was surprised at how much variation can occur in a lobster roll. First is the bread component. I had traditional split-topped buns, a brioche bun colored black from squid ink, and croissants, to name a few.
We sampled classic lobster rolls, lobster Bahn mi, and even a deep-fried version that was reminiscent of a New Orleans shrimp Po’boy.
But with this variety, the top three, rated in a blind-tasting by four judges, were all the classic Nova Scotia-style variety—a toasted buttered bun with fresh chunks of lobster, a bit of chilled mayo, lemon, and seasoning.
Even the judges waited with bated breath to see where their favorite roll ranked. The Kilted Chef, Chef Alain Bossé, announced the first-place winner as Della Sears-Newell, owner of Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack. I was delighted to hear this, as this was also my personal favorite.
After all that food, it was time to recuperate from a long day before we began our return to Halifax in the morning.
Port Medway: The Port Grocer, Café & Art Space—Home to Lobster Pizza
1615 Port Medway Rd, Port Medway || 902-677-2884
Our journey back to Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital, came with a stop for lobster pizza.
The Port Grocer is a healthy, sustainable community gathering-place centered around food, music, art, and education. The fast-casual dining experience doesn’t offer full table service, but instead incorporates menu boards and counter service with high-quality food and a comfortable atmosphere.
This concept is still new to Canada; it’s a viable dining option set between fast food and casual dining.
The Cafe’s menu focuses on freshly prepared deli counter items, including made-to-order sandwiches, including lobster rolls, salads, and main courses as well as soups, fair-trade coffee and teas, and Deb Melanson’s house-made baked goods.
During Lobster Crawl, lobster pizza is their unique menu item.
The foundation is an oat flour crust, topped with a white wine garlic sauce, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Then comes the lobster, cut into one-inch pieces. They complete the pizza with a blend of swiss and cheddar cheese. Sometimes they add a bit of mozzarella. The taste? Think lobster linguini on a crust.
After lunch, we explored more of the south shore and the lighthouses lining the coast, arriving at Oceanstone Seaside Resort in time for dinner.
Indian Harbour: Oceanstone Seaside Resort—Home of the Lobster Boil
8650 Peggys Cove Road || 902-823-2160
Chef Michael Boragina of Rhubarb Restaurant at Oceanstone Resort cooked the grand finale to our Nova Scotia South Shore Lobster Crawl.
The dinner featured fish cakes with green tomato chow, steamed mussels, and a colorful lobster boil. The colors – red, green, and yellow – were spectacular, as we eat with our eyes first.
The fish cakes were a combination of salt cod, celery, onion, and red peppers held together with a bit of house-made mayonnaise. A bit of lime zest and lemon juice flavored the mixture.
Chef Michael then breaded the fish cakes in panko bread crumbs and fried them until golden brown. Green tomato chow topped the fish cake for added flavor and a pop of color. They were sweet and tart all at the same time.
Our second appetizer, the mussels, came steamed in white wine, garlic, and herbs. I wished I had eaten more of these, but I was saving room for the main course. Chopped tomatoes and finely chopped herbs added color.
The lobster boil was a kaleidoscope of color. Chef Michael infused flavor by lightly poaching the lobster in a court bouillon with celery and onions. The lobster has a subtle, sweet flavor that paired well with the sweetness of the corn.
Served with individual pots of melted butter, the chef had done the hard work of breaking down the lobster for us. We effortlessly enjoyed the lobster. Roasted potatoes and green beans rounded out the platter.
Finally, the perfect ending was a strawberry rhubarb crisp with vanilla bean gelato. After a peaceful night’s sleep at Oceanstone Seaside Resort, we headed back to Halifax as our journey ended.
Upper Tantallon: Acadian Maple Products—Home to Lobster Gelato
13578 Peggys Cove Road || 902-826-2312
On our way back to the airport, we stopped for a mid-morning snack at Acadian Maple Products.
While maple is the focus at Acadian Maple Products, they too wanted to get in on February lobster action during the South Shore Lobster Crawl. They have maple gelato year-round, so during the lobster festival, they created lobster gelato.
They blend a two-cup combination of knuckle and claw meat into four liters of vanilla gelato. The lobster flavor is subtle, yet there. The finely chopped lobster meat adds texture, yet it doesn’t overpower.
Although it’s in February, Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl is the perfect time to visit Nova Scotia. The ice-cold ocean makes the lobster particularly succulent at that time of year. Moreover, you’ll find lobster items available then that aren’t available at other times, like lobster beer and lobster gelato, so it’s the perfect time for a lobster aficionado to visit.
Which of these lobster experiences do you most want to try for yourself? Let us know in the comments section below!
Amy Piper is a freelance travel writer, photographer, and blogger. A native of Michigan USA, she has traveled to 41 countries and 42 states, most recently adding New Mexico to the list. She aspires to go to Antarctica and finally visit all seven continents. She specializes in food and multi-generational travel, frequently traveling with her husband, daughter, and two granddaughters. Follow her on Twitter @amythepiper.
Disclosure: We would like to thank the tourism board of Nova Scotia for hosting Amy during this trip. As always, all opinions remain her own.