Manchester, NH is a funky little town. New Hampshire’s Queen City, it has a lot of character in some of its neighborhoods. Downtown is located in what used to be the mill district (indeed, most of the Millyard is still there, being converted into various offices, industrial lofts, and the like), and there are even a few ethnic neighborhoods. One of these is the West Side, where two of the larger neighborhoods (Notre Dame and Rimmon Heights) are actually Quebecois in heritage. The area had some tough years, with “urban renewal” between the 1960s and 1980s actually razing two decent neighborhoods and turning them into dismal strip malls, but the area has generally rebounded, diversified a bit, and, well, even gentrified a bit. But in addition to the notable large French Catholic Churches, the neighborhood still has a lot of Quebecois heritage, especially in the food scene. There’s probably no better place for this than Chez Vachon.
Carol’s employer has some pretty cool employee benefits programs. One of them tries to address the fact that the Upper Valley area of NH/VT isn’t exactly the most happening place, and offer a lot of programs for both local recreation, as well as travel. As part of this program, they offer up cheap trip (that’s how we went on last month’s trip to New York City for Grimaldi’s, for example). This month, they offered up a cheap day trip to Montreal, so at 5am, we hopped onto a bus at Dartmouth, and by 10:30 we were at Dorchester Square in downtown Montreal. After breakfast and some light shopping, we decided to head up to one of my favorite parts of town (the “Plateau”, where there are a lot of cool shops and restaurants on Boulevard St Laurent and Rue St Denis). To get up there, we availed ourselves of Montreal’s most excellent Bixi bike rental system. After an hour of riding Bixi bikes around Mont Royal park and the plateau, we decided a small lunch was in order. We ended up going to a place that’s been on my hit list for a while: Patati Patata, a small little diner featuring sliders and poutine.
After a second morning wandering about the various events of the Carnaval de Quebec, we were again hungry and in search of sustenance. Vieux Quebec has a lot of little restaurants representing all sorts of cuisines, but we decided that if we’re going to be spending an extended weekend in Quebec, we really should have at least one meal that featured Quebecois food. So we set off in search of poutine. Walking down rue du Tresor, a local alleyway stretching away from the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, La Nouvelle France is located in a little blind alley between several spots where where local artists are hawking their wares. Sporting the obligatory outdoor ice bar and some ice sculptures, they’ve also got a cozy little dining room, where we settled in for lunch…
As I talked about in my previous post, Quebec is known for it’s culinary heritage, particularly that resulting from the French fur trading heritage, so there are a lot of rich, hearty dishes. Poutine, in particular, is a Quebecois favorite, consisting of fries, cheese curd (and it must be curd, poutine doesn’t work with shredded cheese), and gravy. But it’s almost impossible to do a web search on poutine in Montreal without getting a recommendation for Au Pied de Cochon. Hiding behind a most unassuming storefront on Rue Duluth a few blocks east of St Denis, chef Martin Picard has opened a modest restaurant that is, quite frankly, a shrine to two things: traditional Quebecois cuisine, and meat itself. Au Pied de Cochon (the name literally mean’s “pig’s foot”), the restaurant is basically dedicated to large slabs of freshly roasted meat, served up with impossibly rich sauces, and even the more-than-occasional slab of foie gras. And it’s become quite the foodie destination in Montreal (which even before Au Pied de Cochon had quite the reputation as a food tourism destination), meaning that every night it’s open, PdC is packed to the gills, and it took some groveling for us to get a 9pm reservation.