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REVIEW: Crow’s Nest diner a hidden gem in Hillsburn

The inviting exterior of the Hillsburn eatery gives it a definite nautical flavour. WENDY ELLIOTT
The inviting exterior of the Hillsburn eatery gives it a definite nautical flavour. - Wendy Elliott
HILLSBURN, N.S. —

The Crow’s Nest is a diner, a take-out place, a market and something of a convenience store – all in one.

The notable thing is that this small, rural business lining the picturesque Shore Road West manages to pull off all its labels.

We went for the seafood and had no regrets. There were three couples from Louisiana sitting at the next table and they had heard of The Crow’s Nest’s reputation. Every plate was bare when they departed.

The seafood chowder was a meal in itself. Made with butter and topped with red lobster parts, the chowder was loaded with equal amounts of fish, including scallops and potato.

It’s not hard to tell why the seafood chowder is a fan-favourite dish
It’s not hard to tell why the seafood chowder is a fan-favourite dish

I ordered a lobster roll and it proved a classic of its kind, filled with juicy bites. The hand-cut fries were plentiful and crunchy.

My husband decided to try lobster sauce atop a breaded fillet of haddock. In a way that was like gilding the lily, but he savoured the fish. We both ended up too stuffed to try dessert.

The seats in the restaurant section are covered in various maritime fabrics. Some folks might call the nautical décor at the Crow’s Nest an experience in itself, but even the knitted Popeye doll wasn’t for sale. He, and the beautifully painted wooden mermaid, had been lovingly collected.

One nice touch is the shelves in the convenience section shaped like up-ended boats. I was delighted to spot a large abstract painting by local artist Wayne Boucher, valued at more than $3,500, hanging over the take-out ice cream freezer. You can even buy heavy-duty blue fisher gloves to use if you want to tackle your own lobster.

I complain about objects from China in our local gift shops, but this diner in Hillsburn is the real thing. Simple, fresh seafood on offer surrounded by a folk art atmosphere in an out-of-the-way part of our Bay of Fundy coastline. Can’t beat that.

Owner Jackie Longmire is dismissive of her achievement with The Crow’s Nest. “Oh, it’s just a little place,” she says when I ask why it’s become so popular.

When the Longmires lived out west for a time, Jackie took over operation of a bar and grill that had gone bankrupt and got it running again. Then the decision was made to return home to Annapolis County.

Jackie decided to reopen the unoccupied take-out known as The Crow’s Nest because she found herself bored not working. Her husband, Peter, is a busy lobster fisherman. She says she and her daughter, Emily, surmised that a place for the “locals and some old fishermen,” serving lobster and coffee, would probably prove worthwhile.

A lobster roll and battered fish, topped with creamy lobster sauce along with hand-cut fries, proved to be two filling meals at The Crow’s Nest diner.
A lobster roll and battered fish, topped with creamy lobster sauce along with hand-cut fries, proved to be two filling meals at The Crow’s Nest diner.

They set up the business in January 2015 and Jackie recalls that there was a snowstorm that day. She started out with one other staff member.

“The second day we had to hire more staff. You know there are no signs down on the highway, but people find you. In the summer we serve 300 to 400 plates a day. It’s crazy.”

Word of mouth apprising customers of fresh ingredients appears to have made the difference.

“We shake our heads,” Jackie says. Her intent has always been “to cook the way I would at home.”

Eventually, and with involvement from both her daughters, Jackie decided to take a second eatery. Number two Crow’s Nest is located on Water Street in Digby, and that is where she works in the kitchen.

One of her motivations was customers calling the Hillsburn diner and trying to reserve a table with a view of the water. She said that’s impossible, given the lay of the land at the roadside diner. She can, however, satisfy that desire in Digby, plus she finds more appetite for dishes outside the take-out realm there.

Between January and March business is pretty slow in Hillsburn, but Jackie likes to keep her staff employed all year.

“They want to work and we’re surprisingly busy,” she says. Living nearby, Jackie says occasionally her family will “see all the cars (at the diner) and wonder where they come from. We’ve laughed over the years.”

She employs nine full-time staff in Hillsburn and 14 in Digby. Soon, more summer staff will be required and Jackie looks to hire university students.

“We have a great staff,” she says. “I have no regrets.”

And neither did we! It was a bit of a drive over the mountain to Hillsburn – but worthwhile.

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