La Cabane brings the sugar shack experience to the Old Port
Sugar shacks require a trek out into the countryside, where there are groves of maples. But for those who don’t want to brave the marauding bears that surely lurk beyond the highway, there’s an urban sugar shack restaurant set up for the season on a quay of Old Montreal. Sit by the campfire in front to get into the spirit, and gaze out at the skyline of the port’s buildings.
Inside, rural kitsch has taken over the Scena dining room. An enormous stuffed moose head presides over the rows of communal tables. Above are clusters of grandmotherly crocheted lampshades dangling from the ceiling like keys from a janitor’s belt. A chill-out corner has long wooden benches plus a few hammock chairs for good measure. The back wall is clad with a fairytale forest image, spooky spindly pre-dawn trees and plaid-clad bodies with animal heads, like a Québécois Into the Woods production.
Catering to the urban palate this year is Martin Juneau, who used to be the chef at La Montée de lait, Newtown and now Pastaga. He devised a menu that could be served to over a hundred at once, starting with pulled pork in a small bun, a sort of salmon creton, and smoked bison slices, which was by far my favourite.
Then came duck bouillon (intense, but not quite ducky enough somehow) poured over wagon wheel pasta. On the side were lovely homemade duck-fat soda crackers. This was followed by a pot of white beans stewed with molasses, with beautiful squares of fatty pork belly with crispy skin. Slices of slightly bland blood pudding tart were also offered, as well as roasted parsnips and carrots.
A shot of hot chocolate topped with mint whipped cream created a Norman hole to make room for the dessert trio of a tasty whippet cookie, a not-mapley-enough doughnut hole and an intriguing iced nougat topped with plumped raisins and candied orange peel.
The setting is great, and fulfils that itch to be transported somewhere new, but I feel Juneau’s cooking didn’t go quite far enough. The please-all mass format’s constraints probably made it tough for him to consistently shine as I know he can. But for the price, it’s fair.
I walked out into the dark night, to a long, long train rumbling and creaking and squeaking by in front of me. The dome of the Marché Bonsecours was lit up, and I was reminded of the romance and vitality of Montreal as a port city. A treat of an ending to the night.
Scena, Jacques-Cartier Quay; 514-288-0914
Price per adult meal, not including tax or tip: $59