In Montreal, a beloved barbecue restaurant that defies change

For the Time Capsule series, we spotlight a beloved restaurant, hotel, or landmark that has changed remarkably little over the years. This week, we are visiting Chalet Bar-BQ in Montreal.

Even at the end of World War II, Canada, far from European and peaceful fighting, had a relatively strong consumer economy. This helped make Chalet Bar-BQ, the Montreal-based roast chicken restaurant that Swiss visionary Marcel Mauron designed in 1944, an instant success. The chickens were cooked in the middle of the dining room and the menu was precise: you could order whatever you wanted as long as it was chicken, fries, dip, coleslaw and apple pie. apples, and you tasted it amid knotty pine paneling and framed alpine scenes.

Customers at the time were mostly English speaking and the waitresses wore dirndls. When the fighters, the veterans of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and the “nursing sisters” who served on the front line returned from overseas, they crowded into the restaurant on Sherbrooke Street in the Notre-Dame district. Dame-de-Grâce and joined their companions at home by dipping their thighs in the special bubbling sauce of Chalet Bar-BQ.

The “chicken meal” at Chalet Bar-BQ, one of the flagship offerings of the short menu, is accompanied by fries or baked potatoes, barbecue sauce and toast.


Photo:

Mathieu Fortin for the Wall Street Journal

NOW:

General Manager Daniel Colantonio swears if you bite into that pine paneling – it hasn’t been replaced since it was originally installed – it would taste like chicken. Meals are no longer cooked in the center of the restaurant and a few new products (Quebec-style poutine and chicken Caesar salad) have slipped onto the menu. But gasoline, and essences, remain the same, even during temporary Covid take-out periods: fresh chicken (never frozen); no additives, preservatives, colorings or seasonings (although a pinch of salt is inserted into the cavity); five or six broiler chickens (the juice from one falls on the next, so they’re basically self-watering), all cooking at 475 degrees above hard charcoal. The potatoes are still freshly cut every day. The dirndls are gone, but the waitresses (and the single male waiter) seem to have been around forever. “People are coming back because of the consistency,” said David Theiventhiran, who is overseeing the operation. “It’s always the same thing.”

Other grill masters

Montrealers bicker over the best place for steak and fries, bagels, croissants, even salmon tartare. But apart from the debate on the future of Quebec in Canada, nothing divides Montrealers as much as the question: who serves the best chicken in town? While Chalet Bar-BQ has strong fans, here are a few competing arguments:

Côte St-Luc BBQ rotisserie, known for its maple grilled chicken.

Many happy returns

BBQ Laurier, which caused trauma throughout the city when it closed ten years ago, reopened in October. “Before the original closed, it was kind of my headquarters, although the fabulous chicken and the famous ‘mocha’ cake made you feel like you had to have a long workout right away,” said said Daniel Fournier, a businessman. “But now that it’s back, all of Montreal is no longer in mourning.”

Quick and spicy

Permanently alive My Sissy specializes in piri-piri chicken, which includes a layer of chili sauce. “The atmosphere can’t be beat, and neither can Portuguese chicken,” said Daniel Béland, director of the Institute for Canadian Studies at McGill University. “It’s good and it’s fast.

Sweet spot

Côte St-Luc BBQ rotisserie is known for its maple grilled chicken. “You get in there and you watch the guys cook the chicken,” said Lorna Sandler, retired casting director. “I always tell them I want extra juicy chicken. If it doesn’t look juicy, I tell them to cut another chicken for me and they really do.

Few diners know for sure what is in Chalet Bar-BQ’s addictive sauce. The recipe remains a well-kept secret.

Get a sauce

Restaurant critics, food sleuths, and five generations of my family have spent decades trying to figure out the secret sauce recipe at Chalet Bar-BQ (and a similar sauce at Swiss Chalet,

the counterfeit chain of around 200 restaurants founded a decade later by a son of the Montreal restaurant’s founder).

We didn’t do better than the dozens of other Epicurean spy operatives, but a reliable estimate would include these items: chicken broth, tomato paste, corn starch, carrots, celery, onion, herbs, sage, paprika. , salt and a hint of cinnamon. The wavy sauce is used with the chicken, of course, but also with the fries and with the bun that comes on the plate. A restaurant veteran’s advice: Insist when placing a takeout order that the bun is toasted. Otherwise, it will come unheated and you won’t like it.

Reality check

The cost, yesterday and today, of Chalet Bar-BQ’S Classics

Chicken Quarter

1958: 66 cents for black, 77 cents for white

2022: $ 6.68 for black, $ 7.62 for white

Grilled Chicken Sandwich

1958: 41 cents

2022: $ 11.26

French fries

1958: 15 cents

2022: $ 2.96

Tart

1958: 15 cents

2022: $ 3.91

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