Four culinary-minded men attack massive amounts of meat in foodie Montreal.
by Nicholas Gill
“He’s a cook. You never trust a cook to pick the room,” explained Chris Eley, as we stood eyeing the rather run-down Hotel Le Roberval. “He’s going to pick the cheapest place he can find.”
The Roberval did indeed leave something to be desired, but none of us came to Montreal for a spa treatment. We were here to eat and drink. Period.
The story starts with my friend Sam, who might be the worst Jew in the world. He loves pork. He’s a chef. His bride-to-be is a chef. Most of his friends are chefs. And they all love pork, too. Before Sam walked down the aisle, we decided that instead of the traditional Vegas bachelor party with gambling and strip clubs, we’d go to Montreal on a meat and booze binge. The focal point would be a multicourse dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, the city’s famed meat temple, to be held on our final night.
There were four of us: Sam, chef at Whisknladle Hospitality in La Jolla, Calif.; Chris runs Goose the Market in Indianapolis; Sam’s uncle Glen from Florida; and myself. Two other chefs couldn’t get out of the kitchen and canceled at the last minute, even though one of them, it turned out, had booked the hotel.
We started off day one with a light dinner at Normand Laprise’s French bistro Brasserie T, the sister restaurant to the glitzy Toque!, where we snacked on head cheese, foie gras terrine and saucisson. We moved on to pints at Brasserie Artisanale Dieu Du Ciel, which is seedier than we imagined, though with a couple dozen brews on tap, it was hard to complain. The likelihood of heart disease increased at Resto La Banquise, a 24-hour greasy spoon that’s been around for 40-odd years and where from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. they make you pay first before eating for fear of dashing. The only reason anyone goes there is for the poutine, of which they have nearly 30 varieties. It’s a fatty, salty, messy, delicious snack where cheddar cheese curds are tossed over fries slathered in gravy. They’ll add bacon, onions, Merguez sausage, ground beef or just about anything else you’ll regret the next day.
Sure enough, we awoke the next morning in an apropos poutine funk and missed out on the Roberval’s hotel breakfast (luckily), so we grabbed bikes from the bike share and rode over to Schwartz’s Deli on Saint-Laurent Boulevard for smoked brisket, served on rye with a pickle. Time was already beginning to lose meaning: It became just the interval between meat. Via the bike share again, we rolled over to Marche Jean-Talon, a massive European-style produce-and-just-about-anything-else market. We skipped the maple syrup being drizzled over crushed ice and instead picked up a cheese and charcuterie spread and a few bottles of Unibroue Maudite and Trois Pistoles that we took back to the Roberval to keep us occupied until dinner. Joe Beef, an unconventional meat-and-foie-gras-centric gastropub that sounded ideal for our purposes, was out. An onslaught of media attention in the blogosphere the week before left tables filled for weeks, but Brasserie Reservoir, where the grilled cheese sandwich has an option for extra lard, fit like a hockey glove. The farm-to-table eatery served more as a snacking point. Its tiny brewery had a half- dozen brews including an oatmeal stout, Scotch ale, Flanders red, and a barleywine, but bottle after bottle of its 7.1% ABV fruity saison really hit the spot. The plan was to move on after one round, but when you find the right beer at the right time, it’s hard to leave until the bar closes.
The next morning we were sluggish. We hit up Snowden Deli for more smoked meat, which had a bit more spice and wasn’t as dry as at Schwartz’s. The lack of a line outside was also a plus. After wandering around Vieux-Montréal, the old port, we kept it light, because in a few hours we would be at Au Pied de Cochon, a dinner reserved months before, and the main reason we were in Montreal. They were expecting us.
“Let us take care of ordering,” the waiter said, knowing we were here for the full experience.
Bourbon loosened us up before the wine came. First was the foie gras poutine, which is as gluttonous as it sounds. Then the housemade boudin. They caught eels in the lake that morning; those came next. The pinnacle, or rather the tipping point, of both the evening and all time spent in Montreal was the pig’s head. It was served on a large cutting board. Mashed potatoes were smeared all around it with mussels stuck in them. Inside the pig’s mouth were sardines, wrapped in gold flakes. It was like some sort of mythological beast. More wine came. The beast’s head was slowly devoured. Slices of fatty cheek were barely going down. It took an hour, maybe longer. It was taken away. More bourbon came. Then Pouding chômeur.
“What’s Pouding chômeur?” we asked.
“Poor man’s pudding. First we add maple syrup, then butter. Then we add more syrup. Then we add more butter. And then, well, you get the idea.”
It was like some kind of test. I wondered what the bride-to-be, Kristen, was doing for the bachelorette party. Definitely not this.
Sam brought a bottle of whiskey for the kitchen, because he was so psyched about the meal. “It’s chef code,” he said. “That’s what you are supposed to do.”
After paying the bill, the entire kitchen came out into the main room and took a shot with us from the bottle. We could barely stomach it at this point, we were already in a food coma, but they insisted. We joined in for one, yet there was still more left in the bottle. They wanted us to take another. There were still people eating and waiting on their food. They had to have been pissed.
As we walked out, we could hear the kitchen saluting each other as they took more shots until the bottle was drained. We stopped by a bar around the corner for a gin fizz, primarily because we couldn’t walk or think anymore from nitrate intoxication.
We left Montreal the next day, luckily without the gout, though it was probably a close call. A week later at Sam’s wedding, two hogs were roasted in a Caja China. The head of one was served at the table of the wedding party. Worst. Jew. Ever. •
When in Montreal: Where to Eat & Drink
Au Pied de Cochon, 536 Avenue Duluth Est
Brasserie Artisanale Dieu Du Ciel, 29 Avenue Laurier Ouest
Brasserie Reservoir, 9 Rue Duluth Est
Brasserie T, 1425 Rue Jeanne-Mance
Marche Jean-Talon, 7070 Rue Henri-Julien
Resto La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel E
Schwartz’s Deli, 3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd.
Snowden Deli, 5265 Decarie Blvd.