Monday, May 7, 2012

My Sugar Shack Dreams Come True - Montreal

I had first heard about Sucrerie de la Montagne in a New York Times article from 2009. I have held onto the foodie dream of visiting a real Cabane a Sucre (sugar shack) since then and the idea of home-cooked comfort food served up with fresh maple syrup on a maple farm. So when a client called and asked if I could come to Montreal, I bypassed the plane ticket and hopped straight into my car so I could hit this sugar shack on the way in. I deduced that it would be lame if I rented a car and drove all the way there by myself. So hip + urban husband, Paul came along for the six-hour road trip (he already thinks I'm crazy).
Walking in, the staff was just setting up for dinner and for a touring teenage show choir from Boston. We sat ourselves at the back away from the party but in front of a huge wood-burning fireplace. The gorgeous 'shack' was decorated in warm twinkle lights that were shining down on the old rustic farm tables and benches. My mouth dropped at the exposed wood beams and high ceilings. The main dining room seats up to 350 people. A smaller private room on the other side accommodates small groups up to 100. Since we were a big group that night, a singing guitarist provided live entertainment until the Glee club from Boston got up there and blew us all away with an impromptu performance. Which made for sort of a strange and hilariously entertaining night, because really - I would just be sitting at home in my condo in Toronto.
What dreams are made of - the feast to come...

When we arrived, we took a complimentary ride in horse-drawn wagon from the parking lot to the sugar shack (runs during busy hours or when there is a big group booking). Yes, I was giddy like a small child and Paul looked at me and gave me the, "Are you serious?" look. And no - I never did this field trip when I was a kid...I must've been sick that day. I couldn't believe I was riding in a wagon, somewhere in the woods of Quebec on my way to a maple syrup feast! It was all sorts of awesome. I need to convince one of my friends to have their wedding here. 
Arrival up the hill at The Sucrerie de la Montagne
Keeping cozy outside with a wood-burning fire
After making our way in from the cold, the first course was a warm bowl of Soupe au Pois du Montagnard (mountain dweller's pea soup). It's served with Pain Croûté de la Paysanne (farm-style crusty bread) which came warm and fresh from the oven from their on-site boulangerie (bakery). Surprisingly, we had some restraint and did not put maple syrup all over this. I have to say, I really despise Split Pea Soup, but this was just perfect for me - not too lumpy or salty with soft crusty bread for dipping. I had a bad all-you-can-eat pea soup experience in California last summer *shudder*.
Homemade Pickles, Fruit Ketchup and Pickled Beets sit at each table setting. It was such a lovely touch. I crunched away on the sour dills and beets until the feast arrived. Save some of that amazing ketchup for your tourtiere to come...
So what were we met with? Pretty much every food you would ever want to eat with maple syrup! Slices of maple-smoked ham, a bowl of wood-fired baked beans, omelette soufflée, country-style sausages, traditional meatball stew, crispy-fried pork rinds (the server said it was like bacon - but better), old-style mashed potatoes and a slice of tourtière meat pie. Paul, who is French Canadian, proclaimed that it was some of the best tourtiere he has ever had. I really loved the homemade meatballs, when you bit into it you could see the lumps of bread holding it all together and everything is so well seasoned. The prize from me went to those homemade sausages that got dunked in silky maple syrup. 
The question of the night was, "Are you going to put maple syrup on that?" Well, when you have a one litre bottle at your disposal, the unequivocal answer to that is YES. Sure I did hesitate slathering it on my mashed potatoes and omelette souffle - but when was I going to have such free license again? Pour it on I SAY! When the server came around and asked if we wanted to seconds, I think that's when my body went into sugar shock. Dinner is all-you-can-eat for those who dare another round. I was tapping out and possibly going vegetarian for a week.
I had been dreaming about pancakes and maple syrup all day. I didn't see any come with our main course, but when the thin and eggy Pancakes showed up for dessert I started to do the clappy dance (ok I did it in my head). They came accompanied with a slice of Tarte au Sucre (sugar pie) and did I put my maple syrup on that? You bet I did and I think Paul snuck a shot of it his coffee too, which came in a rustic looking silver tin. I was in Maple Sugar Disneyland and I recommend making the stop next time you're driving into Montreal. Do it. It feels oh-so-Canadian too.
Sucrerie de la Montagne is located just 60 minutes from Downtown Montreal and is open year-round. To book the 'Sugaring Off Feast' menu, call ahead to ensure availability and service times.
Pricing: Adults - $31, children under 12 - $18, children under 6 - $12 with prices slightly discounted on weekdays and before 3pm.
Have you been to a Cabane a Sucre before? Which one is your favourite?

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