When the hot days of summer beckon, our family predictably takes to the road. Food trails that invite you to cruise the back country, breathe in the scenery and fill your stomach (while emptying your wallet but don’t they seem to go together) count among my favourite summer activities. And my men are kind enough to indulge me, even if Monsieur has been known to complain bitterly about the amount of little jars piling on the back seat from one stop to the next. You know, devoted foodie here.
So when the invitation came to tour Circuit du Paysan, one of Québec’s best food trails exploring the Montérégie region south-east of Montreal, I convinced my eight-year-old foodie apprentice to tag along one whole Saturday. So off we went on the media tour bus to visit some of the new destinations for 2014.
Created 25 years ago or so, the Circuit du paysan food trail offers 137 stops where you can eat, drink, explore, learn or just relax. As well as many farms and producers, the Circuit features B&Bs, historical sites, antique shops, etc. In other words you’ll need a few days if you even attempt to visit all. There are no actual guided tours on the programme; the idea is to let the road and scenery guide you according to your personal interests.
At one of my favourite stops, Au gré des champs Cheesemaker and Farm in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, you are free to visit the farm, meet the happy cows and taste many of the spectacular cheeses which I already knew and liked. Cheese fans may want to note that I left with Péningouin, a fresh cow milk cheese with the texture of goat cheese, sold only on the premises.
I was also quite thrilled to discover La chèvre gourmande Goat Farm in St-Philippe, which has been open to the public starting this very spring. We were able to play with the kids… then eat the homemade goat sausages mere minutes later. You need to be at ease with the farm-to-table concept for that one, I’ll concede.
Finally, you may want to stop at La Cabine Rouge in Saint-Paul-de-l’île-aux-Noix, where kids will devour the really good fish sticks and popcorn shrimp. The kind of fast-food stop that spells summer to me, calories be darn.
Expect kids to drag you next door to Les Trésors de l’Île, a candy shop that has lost most of its celebrated décor when the previous owners sold the premises but kept their vintage treasures. That said, kiddo went crazy at the thought of filling up his little brown bag, much like I did as a child. It’s worth noting that kids are allowed to make their own cotton candy on the premises…!
Adults on the other hand definitely want to explore further down the road, where the La cigogne gourmande Alsatian pastry shop sells amazing Flammekueche tarts. My men went crazy over the one I brought home, to the extent that Monsieur asked when I’m planning to go back. That’s what I call picky-husband approval of the highest order, given the obligatory road trip.
I did discover many other gourmet products, including one which will be starring in my next New Year celebrations and which I decided to reserve for the winter issue of Véro Magazine maybe. Exceptionally, this mom would like to publicly thank her son who kept smiling throughout and agreed to taste a bit of everything (ahem, when not asking for seconds!). He charmed our adult travel companions with his eagerness to please and discover. Now it’s your turn to take to the road and explore this ambitious food trail and its many treasures, where this city girl and her son found much to enjoy. No doubt we’ll be hitting the road again, privately this time, for many more gourmet stops.
I confess: If I have to choose between pie and cake, I always clamour for a piece of the pie. I love custard pies with fresh fruit; coconut pie has been a favourite since childhood (although I never actually tasted a good one, come to think of it), and lemon pie in whatever guise wins the day everytime. Yes, yes, even the meringue-free ones with lemon so bitter it curdles the inside of your cheeks…
For the past few weeks, I’ve added one, hum, make that multiple, treats from Rustique Pies to my CSA-like Lufa basket. No pie in sight, so my family happily settles for biscottis by the dozen, caramel popcorn and any-nut-goes brittle: peanut, cashews, pistachios, name it, they brittle it. Recently, I discovered their dried apple and cinnamon chips which have to be healthy, right? Enquiring minds don’t want to know.
So I took advantage of a recent business meeting in Montreal to drag kiddo to the original digs of the little pastry shop that could, in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood, more or less across from Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier Park. When looking for our first home over 10 years ago, Monsieur and I had explored the area from top to bottom, on the strength of experts declaring it Montreal’s next trendy quarters. The gentrification took its sweet time, but the successive openings of gourmet addresses suggests the much-advertised boom is happening at last.
The moment you step over the threshold, you can tell Rustique Pies is no ordinary pastry shop. If this were an American cartoon circa 1950, you would see whisps of evanescent aroma swirl and engulf you, here a whiff of buttered pie crust, there a brume of caramelized sugar. Kiddo’s eyes opened wide, my nostrils followed suit. Like the menu, the whole décor harks to a different era with its Cape Cod tainted and painted wall panelling, its giant blackboards covered in white chalk, its long banquette with cushions almost begging you to settle in. Innumerable mini-pastries cover every counter: bars, scones, squares in all flavours, tartlets, old-fashioned marshmallow, brittle, homemade granola, etc.
Given its three owners, including a pastry chef from Vancouver, Rustique also draws its food inspiration from a very anglo North-American tradition, far from cream-centric French pastry for example. Here, pastry crust doesn’t lend support, it steals the show. The berry cheesecake square, for one, rests on a thick crust, buttered and flaky; the kind our calorie-obsessed society tends to limit or avoid altogether with its no-crust cheesecakes.
In the chilled pastry case, only three large pies have found room among the tartlet multitude. On this week day, one pie of each flavour is available. Once sold, you’re outta luck. Guess I’ll have to come back for THE apple pie of my dreams (unless chef Tamera Clark reads this and takes pity on this coconut-pie fiend. My contact info’s in the right corner…)
We had our box full of treats under one arm and a foot over the threshold when kiddo begged to sit at the banquette to nibble on a lemon bar while he played on his iPad, buried under the beckoning cushions. He was hard to drag out of there, one can only sympathize…
Where? When? How?
Where: Rustique Pies
When: Tuesday thru Sunday only
How: 4615 Notre-Dame St. West, Montreal, H4C 1S5, (514) 439-5970