Sunday, May 6, 2018

The sugar shack

The sugar shack
We turned off the country road and pulled into dirt parking lot. "We're here!" declared Julie, "the sugar shack!"

I stepped out of the van and scanned around me. The first thought in my mind was, "Ok, this is what I expected Canada to be like." I was standing on a sloping hill. To my right was a wooden cabin with several kegs on the sprawling front porch. Two meat smokers vented silver plumes out front. I could smell bacon and fresh air. Behind me, a stand of maple trees was entangled with bright blue tubing - a capillary network funneling their sap into a processing center. Sugar shack, indeed. 

Sap tubes strung between the maple trees near the sugar shack
The sugar shack was the reason I had come to Montréal. My friend, Julie, had raved about it to me when I saw her in November. Her vivid descriptions of the delicious and exotic food spoke to my inner foodie, so I knew I had to try it out. She invited me to join her group of friends in Canada for the weekend, and I was in for the adventure. 

The layer cake. Julie's face says it all.
We were seated at a long wooden table inside the cabin. The room was loud and busy, so it felt a bit like Oktoberfest - except that there were plaid shirts hanging on the wall and stuffed coyotes in the rafters. Bottles of homemade maple syrup stood open on the tables. Julie's boyfriend, Christian, poured some into a glass and handed it to me. "Newbie initiation," he explained. "Take a sip." 

Over the next three hours, we were served a series of 15 courses, each one more delicious than the last. Most of them included maple syrup - in fact, my cocktail was just champagne, gin, and syrup. 

Cheese souffle with maple-glazed bacon
Our first course was a layer cake with foie gras, maple butter, something with basil, and orange cream. We were instructed to put thin slices of the cake on toast and dab orange cream on top. I cannot for the life of me explain how it worked, but it absolutely worked. The toast-cake-cream dish is the single most delicious thing I have eaten in a long time. 

There were other more obvious dishes. Cheese souffle with maple-glazed bacon on top. Calamari stuffed with ground pork. Salmon meatballs with peas and avocado. Beef roast in clay pots with maple syrup, pineapple, and cranberry. 

"Eat it like nachos"
The waiters all walked around the cabin with pieces of bright blue tubing around their neck - the same tubing that was strung between the trees outside. I wondered why but found out between the appetizer round (which was 5 courses all by itself) and the main course. The tubes were filled with a brandy-and-maple-sap mixture that served as a digestif. I tried it, but of all the flavors I experienced at the sugar shack, I must admit it was my least favorite. I've just never been a brandy fan. 

Our meat-heavy main course was whisked away, and then dessert came out. In my opinion, dessert was the most creative round. We had deep-fried dumplings with maple paste inside. Maple toffee pops served in shaved ice decorated to look like snow. Maple ice cream sundaes. Then there was something on a wooden platter that I'm going to struggle to describe. It looked like a pile of tree bark, but it was really thin layers of fried batter alternating with maple cream. "Eat it like nachos," our waiter explained. It was unexpected and wonderful.  

This weekend was a Canadian cultural experience, to be sure. I got to experience North America's French-speaking island, and I have never eaten so much foie gras in my life. It was an amazing adventure! 

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