One thing that I look forward to when on the road, especially in Quebec, is having breakfast at a little, local restaurant. Typically, we look for the mom and pop place in a small town with a lot of cars in the parking lot. That’s a sure sign because the locals know best. I love walking into a lively room full of morning light and people, talking, laughing, and generally getting on with things. It’s that happy time when you are full of hope and energy before the day has a chance to complicate things and wear you down. It’s all about that first cup of coffee, filling that empty stomach, and getting your communication skills working. In Quebec, on a good day, these places are full of noise and merriment, and most often delicious food.
I like to go with the traditional Quebec big breakfast, a couple of eggs, sausage, toast, baked beans, and a little container full of Creton. What is Creton you may ask. Well it’s basically pork fat mixed with bread crumbs, and a little onion and spice, and it is delicious spread on toast. Just the thing if you are going to go out in sub- zero weather to cut down trees. Maybe a few more calories than you need to drive around and search out antiques, but a great way to start the day none the less. I know a lot of people at this point are crying out “cholesterol alert”, but I have a well-researched theory that a small amount of this type of heavy fat is actually good for you. The operative word being a “small” amount, and provided you are active enough to burn it off. Because you are satiated it cuts down on snacking, and your stomach recognizes the fat and puts out the proper enzymes to digest it. Something that doesn’t happen with “low fat” foods, most of which are filled with dangerous chemicals. But I digress.
I also love that a lot of these places, although clean, have not been professionally decorated or modernized. It is one of my greatest pleasures to sit, sipping my coffee, anticipating my food and just taking in the local scene. Randomly tuning in on conversations of people you do not know and will never see again makes me feel energized, and connected. At one with the world.
When on an antique hunt you are basically driving from place to place, and walking through barns with occasional moments of lifting and loading. So after a big breakfast we then go through the day snacking on things out of a cooler we bring along. This is not only cost saving but satisfying because even the little grocery stores in Quebec have a wonderful selection of fruits, bread, meats and cheese that can be munched on between stops, or if we feel like a break at a rest stop. Not to forget those little packages of delicious cheese curds left out on the counter of almost every little country variety so that they are the right temperature to get every little bit of “squeaky” texture and flavor out. This was then. I hear that now the powers that be have forced the store owners to refrigerate for fear of us becoming sick. Ridiculous. It takes days for curds to go bad. It’s like buttermilk. You can leave it out on the counter and it just continues to be buttermilk for days. The restrictions on raw milk cheese are also ridiculous, but don’t get me started.
Finally, at the end of the day it was our pleasure to drive around and seek out a simple meal at some place that looked good and not too expensive. Now days we do a little trip advisor research in advance. It works and saves some gas, but it takes some of the fun out of it. Over the years we have found our favourite spots and we look forward to revisiting them.
Eventually we took to carrying two coolers, one for the day to day use, and one for bringing back all the products that we discovered and came to love, and can find only in Quebec.
We always make our first stop at a little place on L’Isle Perrot when coming into Montreal on Highway 20. It used to be a dairy Freeze but then one happy day it became Smoke Meat Pete. Their slogan is “you can’t beat Pete’s meat” and I heartily agree. Pete smokes his own, and it is super delicious. Second only to Schwartz’s in Montreal and even that may be because Schwartz has the advantage of being the traditional favourite. We always arrive hungry. Have a huge sandwich, and leave super full with a big brisket in the cooler to take home. Yes, gratefully they sell full briskets to go.
Next on the tour near the picturesque town of Knowlton lies the giant Lac Brome duck producers. A great source for packaged duck confit legs. Duck confit is a traditional food from Jeanine’s home in the south/west of France and is one of our favourite things, so we usually buy ten or twelve packages containing two legs each, and put them in the freezer when we get home.
Then it’s a short drive over to the Abbaye De St-Benoit-Du-Lac, a picturesque monastery on the top of a hill which produces and sells many award winning cheeses. Nearby Magog has a couple of excellent bakeries and specialty shops. You can buy every kind of pate imaginable from rabbit and duck, to elk and you name it. In Magog you can buy over a dozen types of pates while here in rural Ontario you are lucky to find anything other than a basic pork pate with pepper corns. Why is this?
Once while doing the Eastman show we found out about a little bakery about six kilometers south of town on Rte 12 that is locally famous for making the most delicious tourtiere you will ever encounter, and the clincher is they sell them for between $12 to $16 each depending on the type. We put as many as we can cram into the cooler for freezing back home. Excellent.
When you think of Quebec food, you may think of meat pies, baked beans, poutine, sugar pie and those $2“vapor” hotdog stands with those funny little buns, but increasingly you must also think of world standard cheeses, meats and produce. All this talk is making me hungry. It’s time for me to wrap this baby up and go downstairs, and make myself a sandwich. Bon Appetit.