“Men don’t go to the butcher to look at the bones.”
That’s Nonna Pia, and her favorite saying resonated in my mind as we drove towards the outskirts of Montreal. With only two days notice, I prepared as best I could: stretchy pants, hydration, several small, protein-filled meals throughout the day. Game face. But walking into the rustic log cabin for the first time, I was nervous. The bright lights. The lively chatter. The smell of lard and sugary syrup. Panicked excitement hung over the Au Pied de Cochon Cabane à Sucre. Vestiges of a once possible bikini-bod quickly faded from my imagination. But the men in this room were only focused on one kind of meat: the type that comes in Creuset cookware, fork-tender and soaked in a maple-infused sauce.
Raising a beer mug, Scotty, the outings coordinator, birthday boy and resident doubter of my food eating abilities, enthusiastically proclaimed: “tonight we eat like kings!” and was met with cheers, followed by the clang of glasses hitting the hard, wood table.
We were off and there was no looking back. Canisters of supplies – knives, forks, plates, napkins, maple mustard- arrived and were passed around in a hurry. Pitchers of ice-water were slammed down aggressively by the waiter and instinctively I lunged to pour myself a glass.
“DON’T!” shouted Scotty, “it’ll make your stomach swell, you’ll never make it”.
I couldn’t help but suspect a sabotage attempt. As I gulped it down, I looked him square in the eyes.
1st Round: Appetizers
Veal brain, sweetbreads, tongue, foie gras and blood sausage terrine with creton, buckwheat pancakes, goat cheese and a fennel-pecan salad
Maple-pickled herring with a maple mayonnaise and pickled onions
Fried turgeon pressed-sushi with avocado, tomato and “oreilles de crisse”
There’s one thing here that goes without saying: it’s ALL good. And by “good,” I mean outstanding. To critique would be an exercise in futility. Martin Picard’s creations are the fruit of experiments celebrating the uniqueness and diverse application of Québec’s most iconic ingredient: Maple Syrup. The Sugar Shack experience is traditionally synonymous with all-you-can-eat communal buffets – but PDC promotes a different kind of excess: decadent indulgence.
Every plate is delicious, it tantalizes the taste buds and arouses the mind. It’s artfully playful. It’s the divine expression of a culinary mastermind with a weakness for the outrageous. The variable that must be delicately maneuvered is not the quality of the food, rather, the quantitative limit that can physically be consumed in one seating. For as any wait-listed diner will tell you, missing a bite would be a sin and an embarrassment.
2nd Round: Faux mains
Tourtière with homemade ketchup (optional)
Lobster and smoked meat omelette “soufflée”
Vol-au-vent filled with a whole lobe foie gras, béchamel, Victor & Berthold cheese, topped with a watercress-apple salad with maple dressing and “oreilles de crisse”
At the risk of getting too personal here (it is after all only our third date) I feel it’s important that I share some background on my relationship with food and how it has shaped me into a Championed Eater.
The first thing you need to know is that I was trained by my Nonna and that there is only one cardinal rule: food is never left on you plate. EVER. To enforce this rule, from the time I was old enough to say “Basta!”, my grandmother used two completely opposite strategies. On good days, Encouraging Nonna would shout: “LA FORZA VIENE DELLE BUDELLE!” (strength comes from the guts). This italian aphorism was confusing to me as a child, but if it saved me from having to endure strategy #2, that was motivation enough.
On bad days, Guilt-trip Nonna would employ strategy #2; she would pull the plate away and then, in a very solemn and soft voice, she would tell The Food Purgatory Story. It goes something like this :
Once upon a time there was a girl named Dolly (she wasn’t one for subtlety). One day Dolly’s grandmother made her all her favorite things to eat like pasta e fagioli, polpettone, verdura e insalata. But Dolly was in a foul mood and made her Nonna very, very, vvvveerrrry sad because she wouldn’t finish eating all this beautiful food. Poor Nonna spent all day cooking but Dolly simply would not eat, so she was sent to bed. Not long afterwards, Dolly got very sick and died. Instead of going to heaven where all the good little children were, Dolly found herself in a dark, cold, foggy place. Dolly began to cry because she was scared and didn’t know what to do. She asked God how to get to heaven and he answered: “You must first eat all the meals that you left unfinished.” A little light appeared on the tip on her right index finger and she walked into the darkness, searching for the discarded food. Day in and day out Dolly roamed the dark wasteland guided only by the little light …
That’s where the story ends because by this point we’ve snatched the plate back, shoveling it’s remains furiously into our mouths; the prospect of a never-ending food quest was just too much to bear.
The effects of being told this Struwwelpeter-esque story have stayed with me my whole life and to this day, I do not leave any food on the plate. EVER. The outcome at the Sugar Shack couldn’t be any different. Game on Scotty, game on.
3rd Round: Entrées
Whole duck with sweet maple glaze and onion rings
Maple glazed Gaspor pork belly, dumplings and cabbage
“Fêves au lard” with duck confit and cottage cheese
Despite the food sweats, cramps, blurred vision and intermittent deafness, I soldiered on. With the finish line in sight and a change of pace on the horizon, victory was so close I could taste it. And taste it I did, it was sweet.
As we approached the blissful ending to what can only be described as an EPIC meal, I began to experience a bit of pre-postpartum depression. We were one of the last visitors of the season, which ended earlier in May. But with news of a special re-opening in late August through the end of October for apple-picking season and a fall-themed menu, things are looking up. We snagged a reservation and by that time my tummy should shrink back to it’s normal size and we’ll be ready to do this all over again… BRING ON THE POMMES!
4th Round: Dessert
Skor ice cream sundae topped with la tire d’érable, miniature maple and chocolate marshmallow covered maple sugar foam cones
Pancakes fried in duck fat with maple syrup (not pictured)
Maple eclairs with maple cotton candy
Sticky maple cinnamon buns
Set menu – 57$
Optional tourtière – 20$
Drinks and tip – not included