One of Quebec’s biggest traditions is the Cabane à Sucre or sugar shack. Every year between mid-February and the end of April (depending on the weather) Quebecers (and visitors) flock to the dining halls all over the province to enjoy traditional Quebecois foods.
One of the best cabanes we have found, is the one of Famille Constantin in St-Eustache on the north shore of the Montreal area, which has been around since 1941. Located just outside of St-Eustache, right off the main artery boulevard Arthur-Sauvé, it offers plenty of parking right around the building.
The sugar shack is open every day during the sugar season, weekdays for lunch and dinner, on the weekend also for breakfast (which essentially is the same menu, but for a lower price for the early birds). The prices are pretty good for the fact that the menu is all-you-can-eat.
Constantin has three big dining rooms with a banquet-style setup of tables, which give plenty of space for people to sit, so even when it gets busy they will not run out of room. The only downside is that the later you come in, the longer the lines are to wait to get in. The ushers seat you in groups, so you are guaranteed sit together and enjoy the food and music as a group.
On each table you have an array of pickled vegetables (cucumbers, beets etc.) as well as ketchup and of course maple syrup, together with a basket of bread and creton (a pork spread with spices and onions). After that you are being served classic Quebecois yellow split pea soup and coleslaw (which is neither really creamy nor vinegary)…
…followed by the full brunch line up of omelet (about one inch thick), boiled potatoes, cooked & sliced ham, maple baked beans, mini wiener sausages cooked in maple syrup and oreilles de crisse (which are deep-fried smoked pork jowls). Everything is all-you-can-eat, so you can really indulge fully. After that there still are the desserts of sugar pie, pouding chomeur, maple syrup eggs, ice cream and pancakes, which are very rich and sugary, so if your kids are sensitive to sugar (as in bouncing off the walls), you might want to cut down on the portions.
Another Quebecois classic is the Tire sur la neige, which is basically maple taffy. Boiled maple syrup is poured onto snow, you put a popsicle stick on top, wait a little until it starts to congeal and then turn the stick until you have all of the hardening syrup on your stick and eat it right off the stick.
On top of the culinary side, Constantin also offers additional activities, a lot of them for the children, such as an indoor mini farm, a play area, a place, where they can ride on ATVs (under 5 years of age an adult has to accompany them), a doll museum, a marionette theater, inflatable games and a horse drawn wagon ride through the maple trees, some of which are free, others are against an extra fee, since some are offered by a third party.
You can also visit the boiler room, where the maple sap is boiled down to produce the maple syrup (it also is the place, where the Tire sur la neige is being “served” and it is very interesting to see, since they also have some information on the walls as to how it all comes to be.A little stroll through the forest or the horse ride will also show you that it is a high-tech operation these days, with lines going from tree to tree, feeding straight into the tanks, so that they don’t have to go through the forest anymore to empty the buckets and haul the everything back by horse (or tractor).
Service is quick, but still personable, while the premises are clean (other than some muddy walkways) and well equipped to handle big crowds. They also have a little shop, where you can buy ready-made meals, pies and desserts, pickles and maple syrup and assorted maple candies for reasonable prices.
With all the extra activities on offer, the Cabane à Sucre is a perfect family outing that has something to offer for virtually every age. The food is excellent (even though if you are on a diet, this might not be the perfect place for you to go), the atmosphere is nice and despite the many people it does not feel overly crowded.
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