After an interesting discussion about the future of the NDP in Quebec, and after two hours of discussion about the NDP Quebec section‘s constitution, ND and I left Montreal’s Palais des Congrès, looking for a lunch spot. We walked a few blocks south, and hit the unassuming and narrow storefront of Le Gros Jambon, a Diner on Notre-Dame.
The spot opened a year ago in an old jewellery store, but it almost feels like its been there forever – except it is too clean and too slick here and there to really fool you. Still, le Gros Jambon is quite tight – an actual Gros Jambon could have problems navigating between the two rows of stools. The place was opened by Travis Champion and Monica Terlecki, who also run L’Orignal, a few blocks away.
The decor is retro-cool, with the wall stacked with vintage photographs and posters, a bunch of old licence plates and a series of pictures of a freckled kid eating poutine – the kid is clearly the restaurant’s mascot, and the pics were done by Montreal photographer Riccardo Cellere.
The place wasn’t super busy. We walked all the way across the restaurant and sat towards the back, at the counter facing the open style kitchen.
The waitress warned us – since it was only 1 PM on this gray Saturday, only the brunch menu was available – about a dozen different dishes – though the plain hot dog, the plain burger and the poutine were also available. Tempting.
I was hoping there would be something other than eggs on the menu. I was tempted to go with a burger and the poutine, but looked at the menu first. The Huevos Rancheros (Eggs, Salsa Verde, Pico di Gallo, Homemade Chorizo onRrye Bread) and the Breakfast Lobster Rolls (Lobster and Scrambled Egg in a bun topped with Hollandaise) or the Mushroom Toasts (Fried eggs and smoked meat served on toasted rye bread, smothered in a mushroom sauce) looked interesting, but too eggy for what I felt like having.
The Pumpkin and Cinnamon Pancakes could also have been interesting, but not this late in the day. Another sweet option was the Banana Bread French Toast. Naaaah.
In the end, I felt like my options were limited to only one thing – the classic Chicken and Waffles ($14). So I ordered.
To drink? I felt like only a good old fashion Coke would do the trick. And it came in a good old fashion glass bottle! Doesn’t Coke taste better in a glass bottle?
The food is served on pig-shaped plates, in case you needed reinforcement about where a jambon comes from.
First, let me point out that I was disappointed to see that both the chicken and the waffles had been pre-cooked. The beans, obviously you have to. The potato hash, perhaps understandable to achieve the wanted texture. But the chicken had been deep fried ahead of time, and was sitting in a basket next to the deep fryer, ready to warmed up in an oil bath.
The waffles also had been pre-cooked, and were simply warmed up in the oven. Fresh to order is so much better, no? Double-deep frying can work – but you need to get your timing right, and I felt that it was off, somewhat.
The result? The battered skin had a good crispy-crunch, but I found the chicken flesh a little dry, especially the one boneless piece. I also thought the chicken wasn’t warm enough. Ditto for the waffle itself, not nearly warm enough. It had no crispiness on the edges, and was a little chewy instead of being fluffy. Flavour wise, the batter is filled with salt, but it was not too oily. The maple and horseradish syrup is a nice, creative idea and goes well with the chicken. It could even be a little stronger on horseradish, to give it even more of a kick.
The side of potato hash was almost creamy, quite fluffy, with bits of crispy edges, some herbs and pieces of smoked meat in the mix, slowly hashed on the flat-top. The beans were cooked in a tomato sauce, the portion was just right and the consistency the way I like it. The beans had texture and shape, and had not dissolve into a melted mess.
ND had ordered the plain hot dog ($8), served all dressed (relish, mustard, ketchup) with a side of poutine (+$4).
Le Gros Jambon uses Nathan’s beef frankfurters, hailing from Coney Island, NY; and grills it on the flat-top, before covering it and finishing it off with some steam.
The hot dog bun, homemade (same for the burger buns), was buttered up and toasted on the flat-top. The dog was then artistically garnished for a very classic look.
In the middle of an unrelated conversation, between bites, ND exclaimed: “It may sound stupid, but this hot dog is good!”
The poutine was also a work of art. Cheese curds at the bottom of an individual sized casserole. Fresh french fries. Cheese on top. Gravy. And a drizzle of truffle oil, less you forget you had an artery-clogger on your plate.
We were soon enough done with our food, and we proceeded to the cashier to pay and take our leave.
Right by the teller, on the front counter, sits a number of tasty-looking homemade desserts such as cookies, donuts, cinnamon buns, and other brownies.
More temptations for our delicate palate, but one that we would resist.