THE STUBBORN GOAT: Downtown's New Favourite Watering Hole
I last shared a meal with Geir Simensen about a year ago at Saege, where we had a chat over brunch. As he regaled me with stories of growing up in a family-run restaurant business, The Stubborn Goat was not just a mere twinkle in his eye but well underway. He’s in his element here, you can tell. This is the place he wants to be, both working and hanging out, and his new business partners feel the same way.
Four men came together and sealed their fate over the adoption of a goat at Ran-Cher Acres Farm. With a flurry of photos over social media and their own Facebook page likes soaring past thirteen thousand, they created an iconic mascot, and a new pub was born. Geir Simensen, Joe McGuinness, Kyle Drake and Ryan Dubois share overall management and can often be found at the bar themselves, hosting the pub’s clientele and good friends, especially Joe McGuinness who Geir feels deserves the official title of Mr. Hospitality since he’s always making people feel welcome and is quick to crack a joke.
They’ve pretty much created a culture of goat; they are inundated with messages, pictures and videos from fans of goats dancing, yelling like humans and singing. They sometimes even see a bit of themselves in these goats. The mascot itself is quickly becoming one of the most photographed bar statues in town, and people have tried to make off with it on many occasions but it’s never made it past the front door.
With this much hype before opening, I asked Geir how much added pressure he felt, to which he replied, “If you’re not nervous, then it doesn’t matter enough to you.” They were flooded with over four hundred résumés and conducted two hundred interviews, and now they have a solid staff in place, including Chef Tyler Smith and front of house manager Evan MacEachern. The pub officially opened in October, and the customers are a real mix of all ages. Geir thinks people were hungry for a pub environment but not with the usual cheap, fried food.
The concept of a gastropub with fresh, seasonal small plates is a good one for Halifax, and although Geir admits it’s been a bit of an education for their customers and staff, they now appear to embrace it wholeheartedly. When you order, you order for the whole table. All items are meant to be shared. The food comes out of the kitchen when it’s ready, not all together. The bulk of the menu is sourced locally, and when they are out of certain ingredients, they are unapologetically so; thus reinforcing the idea that that was all the farmer had, so you can draw your own connection back to the idea of fresh. There’s no shortage of Nova Scotia producers on this menu.
Geir likens the dining experience to being at a good friend’s house where you eat, drink and share food all night but never formally sit down. Why would you order just one plate and have twenty-five bites of the same thing when you can try a broader spectrum? I have to admit, I like to eat this way myself.
This is one big menu, and on this visit there were over twenty small plates, including many cheese options: from a whole Dutchman’s Dragon’s Breath Blue to burrata to a couple of cheese and charcuterie platters. There were also twelve different mac ‘n’ cheeses—from lobster to braised short rib to truffled mushroom to “put an egg on it”—and twelve wood-fired pizza combinations with an even split of white to red. And Geir laughs as it took him a little while to crack the Cadbury secret to make the deep-fried devilled egg on offer. This is also one of the only places in the city where you can get a whole roasted fish with head and tail still on, people. Deal with it.
First we try the shisito peppers with olive oil and sea salt (apparently one in every eight is the hot surprise) and the roasted Brussels sprouts with Oulton’s double-smoked bacon and sriracha mayo; both arrive to the table in small cast iron pans after having been fired up to 580 degrees in the woodstone pizza oven for a few minutes. Geir explains that they are striving for uncomplicated food, shining a spotlight on the main ingredient in each dish.
Next up, it’s their house-made pierogies. I’m happy to see them as it’s spring in Nova Scotia, which still means winter. They’re delicious—blanched then pan-fried with more of that double-smoked bacon and topped with green onions and a buttermilk and sour cream drizzle. Did I mention that they went through 350 pounds of this bacon in the month of March alone? Everyone must love these perogies because you can add 2,800 pounds of potatoes to that month’s tab as well, though I suspect this may have something to do with another popular menu item: their highly addictive truffle fries.
Why stop now? Charbroiled skewers of chicken thighs marinated in coconut, ginger, lemongrass and lime served on a bed of house-made kimchi and Greek yoghurt. And finally, one of their runaway bestsellers: cherry wood-smoked meatloaf with roasted carrots, a crunchy kale, creamy mashed potatoes and an onion pale ale jus. With the perfect amount of smoke and moisture to the meat, it’s the ultimate in comfort food in my books.
With seating for one-twenty and a capacity of one-seventy, it’s easy to see how the place swells into a late night, music-fuelled hangout with a lineup out the door on weekend nights. And it is at this time of night that a very different sharing takes place, with folks crowded around the high-top tables where pizzas and mac ’n’ cheese are served up until midnight. It gives pizza corner a run for its money.
At this point I have to laugh and let you know that the Hell Fire Pizza, which comes by its name quite honestly, hits the table featuring whatever available combination of hotness du jour. On this particular day, we had banana peppers, poblano peppers, red Thai chili peppers and jalapeño peppers. I love heat and grabbed a piece, as did Geir, and the next several minutes of the interview erupted into hilarity. He broke into a sweat, and my nose began to run, followed by a numbed tongue. Order a side of that Greek yoghurt.
It’s time to talk beer, or rather the craft beer revival that we are currently experiencing. The pub features sixteen local beers (and one local cider) on tap, alongside some select big brands and over eighty bottles from around the world. Every Friday at 4 pm they crack open a new one-off cask and offer a cellar program with some pretty exclusive bottles that go for $25 and up. One bottle of Sam Adams Utopia recently went for $480 and was gingerly split between three guys. There is a group of regulars who are currently drinking their way through every beer on the list—and they certainly have their work cut out. Geir laughs as a few potent IPAs have gotten the best of them on more than one evening.
Sitting here in this pub, sunlight streaming in through what were once the two fire truck bays in the original station back when fire trucks were horse-drawn carriages, it feels good. They’ve captured all the elements of a comfortable pub with a modern-crossed-the-Atlantic-Ocean feel: exposed brick, wooden floors, lots of banquettes, high-top tables and leather stools that were actually crafted in Ireland. An open kitchen with a view of the woodstone pizza oven really warms up the space as well. The renovation was a big undertaking, and Geir smiles as he won’t divulge what they uncovered in the one-hundred-year-old building during the process.
There’s a lot to be excited about coming up. The menu continues to morph, and they are thinking about making their own beer and cheese. You may even see an over-the-top Bourdain-inspired meatloaf sandwich hit the table soon, too. There are some behind-the-scenes plans in the works that I must now smile at and not divulge. But trust me; you’re going to like them. Until then, grab a crowd and get eating. You never know what exciting things will show up on that menu next.