QUEBEC CITY — Those who possess the soul of a locavore, a respect for the classics, a taste for the innovative and a well-stamped passport should pack an appetite and head to Quebec City.
Tucked amid the city center’s historic buildings and along its cobblestoned streets are boulangeries, patisseries, cookware shops, cooking classes and an enticing jumble of foodstuffs at grocers lining Saint-Jean Street, especially Epicerie J.A. Moison, which opened its doors 141 years ago. Stir restaurants into the mix, and there’s enough to keep a curious cook busy during the day and a gastronome dining well into the night.
The city’s culinary character is decidedly French Canadian, with chefs interpreting classics such as sugar pie and pouding chomeur (an addictive maple syrup-and-cream-topped cake), tourtiere (a meat pie), and creton (a pork spread). And yes, you’ll find poutine, that Quebecois creation marrying fries, gravy and cheese curds.
Food lovers who appreciate a perfect boudin noir as much as a PEI Raspberry Point oyster will also find that and more thanks to chefs who have embraced the farm-to-table movement. Laurie Raphael’s menu boasts St-Augustin wild boar with shadbush puree, while Panache has a dessert that pairs a date-and-beer mousse with sauce made from cloudberries, a raspberry-shaped fruit that tastes like an apple. At the Hobbit Bistro, a venison burger comes with wild mushrooms and an artisanal Douanier cheese made in nearby Noyan.
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Helping nourish this appetite is the Ile d’Orleans, a roughly 73-square mile island in the St. Lawrence River just a bridge away from Quebec City. Chefs enthusiastically source fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, wine and cheeses, with some menus reading like mini-celebrations of the island’s output: wine made with grapes at Le Vignoble de Sainte-Petronille; apples turned into iced cider at Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau; and a seductive liqueur crafted from currants at Cassis Monna et Filles. The Ile d’Orleans (iledorleans.com) has a busy agritourism program when the season’s ripe, but you’ll need a car and a day for a visit.
For a sampling of the region’s bounty, visit Marche du Vieux-Port (marchevieuxport.com), the Old Port Market where purveyors of meats, seafood, cheese, maple syrup and more sell goods year-round. In warmer weather, garage-style doors open to reveal stands piled high with produce.
Several city-center areas are ripe for food lovers, easily managed on foot and worthy of a morning or afternoon wander. But if you’d prefer more structure, Tours Voir Quebec (toursvoirquebec.com) offers a food tour. It’s 2 1 / 2 hours of walking and tasting (cheese, chocolate, crepes, etc.), seasoned with culinary history, says guide Jocelyne Belleau.
Brush up on French culinary terms. Remember that classes and restaurants may require reservations — and seasonal restaurants change menus regularly. And should you be shopping for a bottle of iced cider, know that prices at SAQ liquor stores (controlled by the Societe des Alcools du Quebec) will be the same at all SAQs.
Here are some districts that should be destinations for food travelers.
—Vieux-Quebec and Vieux-Port
These districts border the Petit-Champlain area (quartierpetitchamplain.com). Start with impossibly flaky croissants at Paillard Cafe-Boulangerie (paillard.ca) in Vieux-Quebec and cap the night with a beaver-tail-shaped sweet pastry at Queues de Castor (beavertailsinc.com) on Champlain. At Pot en Ciel (27 Petit-Champlain; no website), consider a Canadian-made cutting board or a whimsical kitchen cloth.
We loved the hearty rabbit pie and rabbit cassoulet at cozy Le Lapin Saute (lapinsaute.com), while lively L’Echaude (echaude.com) won us over with hot smoked salmon with marinated oyster mushrooms scented with cinnamon.
At Laurie Raphael (laurieraphael.com), opened 20 years ago by chef/cookbook author/ TV celeb Daniel Vezina and wife Suzanne Gagnon, the salute to all things Quebecois began with artisan-made salt cellars on the table. Whimsical touches on the menu included a lovely tomato ice cream as part of a tomato “array,” while potato pucks (plump coin-shaped souffles garnished with black truffles) were a delicious homage to hockey.
Panache in Auberge Saint-Antoine (saint-antoine.com) is all rustic wood beams and stone, and offers Cap St-Ignace quail and a tarte tatin with Ile d’Orleans apples. We enjoyed Panache on a previous visit, so when we couldn’t get a last-minute reservation, opted for a drink in the hotel’s contemporary Cafe-Bar Artefact.
Butcher shops, bakeries, grocers, restaurants and wine bars stretch along rue Saint-Jean, from rue Saint-Augustin to rue Deligny, an area considered the city’s Upper Town with this particular district dubbed Faubourg Saint-Jean (faubourgsaintjean.com).
Check out the crockery and cookware at tiny Les Pieds dans les plats (571 rue Saint-Jean; no website), inhale the yeasty perfume at Boulangerie Le Panetier Baluchon (panetier-baluchon.com), and try not buying cheese or sausage for snacking at Epicerie Europeenne (v1.epicerie-europeenne.com). Then do what I did: Get lost among the nooks and crannies of Epicerie J.A. Moison (jamoisan.com/epicerie.htm), emerging occasionally to chat with bowler-hatted counter crew overseeing the cheese and charcuterie. Take a break for a glass of wine and Quebec cheese, maybe a 2-year old cheddar from Ile-aux-Grues at Bistro Hobbit (hobbitbistro.com).
Thirsty for microbrews? Hike a bit farther to St-Roch (say: St. Rock), an emerging neighborhood boasting hip restaurants plus La Barberie Microbrewery (labarberie.com) with many seasonal brews plus IPAs and stouts.