Thanksgiving may be a secular holiday, but we have discovered that is also a sacred holiday to most Americans. We discovered this when, to the dismay of our families, we decided to hop in our car and venture to one of our favorite cities, Montreal.
Mindi’s family understood the wanderlust pretty well. Daryl’s family not so much. However, this is price you pay if you want to keep the travel blog going, and Montreal is accessible enough to provide a great travel experience.
Since we have been to Montreal three of the past four years, it’s fair to say that we like this city a lot. For us, going to Montreal is like leaving the normalcy of home and transporting ourselves to a different world. Most people in Montreal speak French as their first language and the city has a French sensibility, albeit with a rugged Québécois twist, which is hard to find without getting on a plane.
The walkable city also possesses one of the greatest food scenes in the world. The city’s northern location places it in the heart of maple syrup country. Also, game items, such as duck, venison, and elk, play a central role in the region’s food traditions.
We hit the road at 9 am on Thanksgiving day – a bit later than expected due to a late Wednesday night of wine and snacks with friends. After a quick caffeine stop at a well-known national coffee chain, we dropped off a beautiful gingerbread pumpkin pie as penance to Daryl’s family for missing their holiday dinner. Daryl drove amazingly, as usual, and we arrived in Montreal with time to spare before our 8:00 dinner reservation at Au Pied de Cochon.
Au Pied de Cochon
Au Pied de Cochon is a non-hidden gem of a restaurant in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood. The popular restaurant helmed by eccentric Chef Martin Picard has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations tv show more than once, and the restaurant has become famous for its hearty take on Québécois food as well as its use of foie gras and maple products. Though we’ve eaten here three times previously, plus an additional time just for dessert, we could think of no better place for dinner on Thanksgiving.
The walk from our hotel, Hotel Zero1, was just 26 minutes. Since we arrived a few minutes late and the dining room was hopping, we had to wait a while for our table. Once seated, we waited again for menus and service, while enjoying the restaurant buzz at our advantageously placed table directly across from the frenetic, buzzing open kitchen. We eventually ordered a bottle of white Burgundy wine from Aligoté and ate some outstanding crusty bread that was baked at the restaurant’s sugar shack outside the city.
After indulging in lots of that bread during the long wait, our first courses arrived. We tried the special salad and the Plogue à Champlain, also on special. The salad was a nicely dressed mix of romaine lettuce and endive with crispy lardons and thin slices of salami. The Plogue à Champlain, which we had eaten in our previous visits, was just as good as we remembered. It’s a buckwheat pancake topped with bacon, mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese, eggs and a beautiful slab of foie gras. It may sound odd as a dinner dish, but the Plogue à Champlain literally melts and sings as the rich, luxurious foie intermingles with the nutty, wheaty pancake and sweet maple syrup. This dish is a true treasure and was well worth the wait.
After another long wait and a bit more bread, our main courses arrived. We decided to take a chance and order specials since we had previously enjoyed some of the classic entrees including the duck in the can and the melting pot. We had the meatloaf special – a savory mix of different meats in a red sauce with potatoes on the side and a slab of foie gras on top. We also had the fish of the day – eel wrapped in ham and potatoes with carmelized onions in an unctuous sauce. Daryl enjoyed a glass of syrah with the main courses, and Mindi had a pint of Griffin Rousse beer.
We were totally disappointed to find out that our favorite dessert ever, Pudding Chomeur, is no longer on the menu, apparently due to a disastrous maple harvest. (Luckily, we have the recipe and can make it at home, which we will do this winter.) We almost ordered the sugar pie for two, but we decided we were too full and ended up sharing the milkshake that was supposed to be topped with maple toffee. We waited quite a while again, and this was the one disappointing dish of the evening. It was good but not great, and there was hardly any toffee to be found.
We waited again for our check and change. The waiter asked how the dinner was. Since he asked, we told him that the food was excellent but the service was surprisingly slow. He seemed shocked by the feedback, which is funny since we had been at his table for close to three hours.
Despite minor service issues, the meal was a great way to kick off the Thanksgiving weekend in a city that we love. Although we missed the turkey, this meal was unabashedly North American. This dining experience, like the traditions of Thanksgiving, holds a sacred place in our hearts and minds.
Au Pied de Cochon is located at 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montreal, QC H2L 1A9, Canada.