Montreal: How to get there, where to stay, what to do and more
One roasted duck, two more forms of pork and a pot of beans (with more duck) later, it was clear: This place can make even the pros feel like rookies. And that was before dessert hit, and hit big, with maple syrup in so many forms we lost count. By the end of the meal, when locals were ordering up takeout containers by the bagful for all their uneaten food, we decided that rather than waste our bounty, we’d donate it to the couple sitting next to us. They planned to do the sensible thing and ring up a bunch of friends to come over the following day for a party.
The wild chef behind these festive mountains of food is Martin Picard, whose Au Pied de Cochon in the city has been a sensation for its unsubtle dishes, such as pig’s trotters stuffed with foie gras. As a defender of Quebecois cuisine, Picard bought a place in St-Benoit de Mirabel a few years ago and turned it into his own version of a cabane a sucre, or sugar shack, where syrup producers mark the season with maple-drenched meals. And his is no fake: On-site production of maple syrup is supervised by his uncle, Marc, and the liquid gold works its way into just about every dish, as does Picard’s sense of playfulness — and unbridled excess. (If you think that this man knows, or cares, about the meaning of “over the top,” consider the fact that he piles his fried-sturgeon sushi with pork rinds, and he sprinkles those with flecks of gold leaf.)
Picard’s sugar shack sells out its entire season within hours of taking reservations the previous Dec. 1, but there’s always next year. And it’s far from the only way to experience the region’s favorite obsession of late winter and early spring. Quebec, which produces 75 percent of the world’s maple syrup, is dripping with the stuff, and not just here in the countryside, where carloads of families pack into hundreds of cabanes a sucre for maple everything.
In Montreal, the season was quickly coming to an end because of the early arrival of warm weather; when the nights stop freezing and the trees start blooming, the sap stops running. Nonetheless, even a short season sparks pop-up shacks on busy plazas and outside subway stations such as Mont-Royal, where signs reading“Le nouveau sirop d’erable est arrive!” announce the arrival of the season’s syrup and the vendors sell Quebecois specialties such as barbe a papa a l’erable (maple cotton candy, or “papa’s beard”) and tire d’erable (maple taffy).