Anita Stewart’s Canada File: Taverne Monkland
By Anita Stewart
Montréal, at the confluence of the St Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, was founded as the Catholic mission of Ville Marie in 1642. The early alliances with the First Nations allowed it to become action central for the fur trade. As non-native settlers arrived they planted their familiar crops…buckwheat, root veggies and, of course, apples for cider.
Taverne Monkland (c. 1995), at the corner of Old Orchard Road and Monkland Ave, is located where one of those old orchards grew in the region known as Notre-Dame-de-Grace. NDG is renowned for the vibrancy of its culture, great food and tight-knit community life with the tavern as one of its well established institutions. Co-owners, Chef Josh Crowe and front of the house maven, Barbara Irwin, have been focused on the great ingredients of Québec for as long as they’ve been a team. They just get it!
This is what a ‘local’ looks and tastes like in Montréal. Always stylish, very comfortable and seriously approachable. High gastronomy in a very casual bistro setting – perfect for such a food-forward city. Diners are an eclectic crowd… chefs and bartenders from other restaurants, business people, media-types and even the odd tattoo shop owner.
Josh Crowe’s is an unrelenting passion coloured with a hearty appetite. He tattooed the phrase, “more food”, across his knuckles.
He started his career in Ottawa, Ontario, not as a chef though but as a visual artist with a mapped out future in Fine Arts. But then he took a year off and began to cook, developing a philosophy of food that has informed the rest of his life. “Plating different ingredients with various flavours and colours is much like an artist visualizing the paints on a palate before touching a canvas….but it’s even more complex because on a plate, besides being somewhat sculptural, it engages all the senses – taste, touch, visual, smell and sometimes auditory when there’s a crackle or pop or a clink of celebratory glasses.
So, like the visual artist he is, his search for ingredients to colour his palate and broaden his artistic medium became endless, especially because the people of Québec take their food very seriously. He haunts the city for organic veggies and greens finding most of them at the 7 acre Ferme de L’ile. Brassicas, squash, tubers and the “best tomatoes we’ve ever tasted” are less than 30 minutes from his kitchen. The nearby bakery, Meunerie Urbaine, has a stone mill where they grind Québec grain for Monkland’s Pasta-chef Chris Wood. Chris also rolls out the lavash to serve with the heirloom tomato carpaccio and tomato skin salt.
With Josh’s stalwart Sous Chef Mischa Ozols-Mongeau, they source a whole variety of freshwater fish from tiny perch which they flash cook in sizzling brown butter in cast iron and serve with sea asparagus to Lac St. Pierre crayfish which are a by-catch of the fishermen’s co-op that also supplies pickerel (wall-eye) and trout. They both admit that crayfish aren’t the easiest crustacean to handle because they first have to be soaked to remove the taste of the lake bottom and they are indeed pretty tiny. The end product tastes somewhat like a very delicate Atlantic lobster. Because they’re not a common shellfish in any of the city’s restaurants, Josh turned to what he calls the “old school style recipes that form Montréal’s culinary tapestry.” They are poached in a rich court boullion – the shells are saved for stock. The latest inspiration is to serve them in their own broth with Québec corn, and fossilized Côté garlic – a four year project that included aging fresh garlic and pulverizing the dry, golden cloves to a gentle, delicous seasoning “absolutely full of umami.”
From B.C. humpback shrimp topped with a New Brunwick Beausoleil oyster bathed in vanilla-gin-infused sabayon to Gaspesie sea urchin (uni) sauce atop an escabeche of Rimouski whelks to a perfect Québec rib-eye in a red wine truffle sauce, the food at Monkland, paired with some pretty extraordinary Canadian wines, is in a league of its own. As Chef Crowe reflects, each dish on their menu tells a story…”like writing a thesis on a painting.”
It’s worth noting that Chef Crowe has garnered FOUR University of Guelph / Food Day Canada Innovation Awards and cooked with a cross-Canada team of chefs at the venerated James Beard House in Manhattan.
5555 Avenue de Monkland,
Montréal, Québec H4A 1E1
Anita Stewart is the Food Laureate for the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada. She holds a graduate degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide and is a Member of the Order of Canada. She lives in Ontario.