At the end of winter, the maple syrup begins to flow, and, according to Quebec wisdom, one of the best ways to greet the oncoming spring is with a huge meal covered in said maple syrup. This is traditionally done in large groups in rustic places called sugar shacks but thankfully Montreal knows how to add that rustic flavour to its urban ways…
While not marketed as all-you-can-eat, sugar shack menus usually are – in fact, they’re almost always more-than-you-can-eat. The traditional menu includes ham, pancakes, pea soup, omelettes, sausages, potatoes, baked beans, tortière (meat pie), sugar pie, and maple syrup over everything, but restaurants that have been getting into the sugary seasonal game have concocted all kinds of variations of the traditional.
A good bet is La Cabane, located right on the river in the Old Port of Montreal for the fourth year in a row, this year a temporary locale for Portuguese chef Helena Loureiro, who’s cooked up a menu that mixes modern with traditional, from cod fritters to potage.
At this time of year, many Montreal restaurants add some sugaring-off season dishes to their menu. Throughout April, Hotel Nelligan, located in a beautiful building that features a terrasse overlooking Old Montreal, creates a unique urban sugar shack environment and delicious dishes. And the neighbourhood of Verdun, along with some of its top restaurants, gets into the maple-syrup spirit March 23-24 with their L’Érablière Wellington, which turns Place Wellington into a maple grove and features sugar shack food that brings together the culinary talents of great chefs in the area.
The whole family can learn about where maple syrup comes from while also getting to try out the candied delicacy that is boiled maple syrup on snow at the Montreal Botanical Gardens until April 26. And for more outdoor activities, go to park Cap St-Jacques in the west end of the island of Montreal, where between visiting the organic farm (farm animals included!) and walking or cross-country skiing through the forest, take a tractor-carriage ride down to the humble, cosy Cap St-Jacques sugar shack to fill up on pea soup, ham, crepes and maple syrup taffy on snow (on weekends only).
Hundreds of sugar shacks can be found within 30 minutes of the city, on the way to the Laurentian mountains or the Eastern Townships and Montérégie: to name just a few, Chalet des Érables features a train, a petting zoo and more activities; Cabane à sucre Bouvrette in St-Jerome also has a train and traditional dancing; and Érablière Charbonneau in Mont St-Bruno and Érablière au Sous-Bois in Mont St. Grégoire both have live music, farm animals, walks through the woods and more, or go a little further out to Sucrerie de la Montagne for their Sugaring Off Feast. Sugar shacks are plentiful all across Quebec – consult Cabane à Sucre du Québec and La Route des Sucres for extensive lists in each of the province’s regions.