Cabane à Sucre chez Au Pied de Cochon

Cabane à Sucre

Like most Québeçois, when the days become longer and the snow starts to melt, we usher in Springtime with the celebratory tradition of paying a visit to a Cabane à Sucre.  Typically this excursion consists of driving far beyond the city limits, through winding roads and forests to a picturesque rural arboretum complete with a large wooden barn, (and sometimes a log cabin as well) and occasionally even a petting zoo for the children.  Tours are given to demonstrate the creation and production process of turning maple sap into syrup, and the whole afternoon is capped off by a massive meal of all-you-can-eat pancakes, bacon, ham, baked beans, sausages, eggs, pies and of course, maple syrup.  Maple taffy, or “tire sur la neige” (featured in one of my previous blog entries) is also served on fresh snow outside, and by the end of the day, your veins are pumping maple syrup and you’re on the verge of a food coma.

Now this of course is fine if experienced once annually, where excess typically trumps quality, but for someone who values a more refined and complex gustatory approach to a traditional experience, the Cabane à Sucre put on by Montreal’s famous Au Pied de Cochon restaurant was a welcome alternative.  You know they’re doing something right when the season sells out within a few days, months before anyone even knows the menu!

Hidden along a narrow road somewhere on the outskirts of Mirabel, Quebec, a massive log cabin stands, emitting mouth-watering aromas wafting from the industrial kitchen.  It’s best to experience this feast with a group of friends as the dishes are made to be shared, and portions are tailored to the group size.  Once seated, the waitress, wearing a red plaid lumberjack shirt and jorts (jeans cut off and turned into knee-length shorts), enthusiastically welcomed us and warned us to pace ourselves.  The meal in fact would consist of 10 courses, starting with a plethora of desserts, followed by four appetizers, two mains and ending with three final desserts.  Oh, and take-out containers would be provided so that nothing goes to waste and the leftovers can be savoured for days to come (trust me, you will have leftovers for days).

Starting the meal off with a bang, a veritable tower of desserts was placed on our table (pictured on the far left) with each layer separated by a section of wood and crowned with a cloud of maple cotton candy.  Each subsequent layer brimmed with an array of mini ice cream cones containing maple cream, almond croissants, maple glazed popcorn in paper cones, maple doughnuts, maple whippets, nougat, maple pudding and maple sponge toffee.  If that wasn’t enough maple already, the bottom layer of the tower was supported by shots of Jack Daniels with maple syrup.  Cheers to round one!

Thankfully we had a short reprieve before the appetizer round showed up, as the dessert tower could have easily been a standalone meal.  The appetizer round started with panko-encrusted duck drumsticks stuffed with a shrimp and salmon mousse accompanied with with a sweet maple barbecue sauce to be applied artistically with a brush (pictured on the bottom middle).  The lobe of foie gras perfection arrived next, topping a bed of baked beans over a pancake cooked in duck fat and garnished with cottage cheese, eggs and onions cooked in maple syrup (pictured on the top right).

The following dishes may turn up the noses of those who are not adventurous when it comes to sampling creations comprised of a variety of organs, but once experienced (prepared by the expert cooks at PDC), they offer an explosion of delicious flavours and textures, immediately dispelling any previous prejudice.  The head chef, Martin Picard, practices a “snout-to-tail” philosophy, where no part of the animal goes to waste, and heart or brain is just as pleasing as a perfectly prepared  filet mignon.  That being said, our next dish arrived: “oreilles de crisse”.  Basically an arugula salad topped with sauteed duck hearts, pigs ears, gizzards and fried pork rinds as light and crunchy “chips” on top.  The appetizer course was capped off with a dish of calf brain on a maple bacon omelet.  Not bad at all!  Then again, bacon has the ability to turn any dish stellar.  The only initial reservation I had towards sampling brain, was the mental image of high school biology, being creeped out by the rows of specimen preserved in formaldehyde-filled jars.  Ridiculous, I know, and a far cry from this culinary masterpiece.

With the appetizer round complete, and all leftovers portioned into takeaway containers, we eagerly awaited the mains (hoping that our stomachs would allow for a few more dishes).  A large smoked and maple glazed ham arrived, topped with pineapple and on a bed of green beans amandine.  The exquisit (whole) chicken followed (beak, feet and all), filled with foie gras and lobster meat, with lobster bisque pumped into the meat prior to cooking, making it deliciously juicy and flavourful.  It was quite honestly one of the best chicken dishes I’ve tasted.

The whole gastronomic experience was capped off with the final dessert round starting with a cabane à sucre staple: “tire sur la neige”, but with a clever twist of embedding the popsicle sticks of gooey maple goodness in a dish of rich and heavenly homemade maple ice cream (pictured bottom right).  A stained glass-like brick of jellied yoghurt dotted with squares of maple jello cleansed the palate for the final dish of the evening: a light and fluffy maple sponge cake iced in a delicate meringue.  This gastronomic experience was definitely on my top 5 list of one of the most lavish and delicious meals I’ve eaten.

With appetites satiated and take home containers in tow, we made the trek back home, eager to give in to a torpid slumber.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Montreal and surrounding communities: mark off the end of november/beginning of december on your calendars for the 2014 Cabane à Sucre as reservations for fill up early, or better yet, try to score a reservation for this autumn’s apple-themed feast!  Bon appétit!