A Culinary Hockey Pilgrimage To Lac Saint-Jean
Lac Saint-Jean was formed millions of years ago when a huge meteorite smashed into central Quebec, leaving a crater almost 600 miles in circumference. However, that impact was negligible as compared to the effect on the area of a hockey player named Mario Tremblay.
Hockey is most certainly Canada’s leading religion. The exploits of the pajama clad men with sticks on skates is discussed in reverent tones usually reserved for miracles and satoris. Thus when over a quarter century ago, Montreal Canadiens great Mario Tremblay joined his brother Pierre to establish a 400 seat bar restaurant appropriately named Chez Mario Tremblay in the town of Alma on the shores of the Lac, it quickly became not only the gastronomic, but the cultural hub of this Francophone stronghold.
The Lac Saint-Jean area is known throughout Canada as the beating heart of la Francophonie. This region is so steeped in French language and culture that it makes Quebec City over 100 miles to its south seem absolutely Anglophied. You’re more likely to be understood and accepted in this area if you speak Italian or German than English. Although you can certainly be excused if you're strolling around some parts of Montreal and wonder what all the hubbub is about surrounding the paradoxical belief of Quebecers that they are a “separate nation” (their provincial parliament is haughtily and arrogantly named “The National Assembly”), once you spend a few minutes in Lac Saint-Jean you will immediately understand that this is the heart of a culture which truly has nothing in common with the rest of North America. Not only are they more French than the French, but their very culture reflects a Continental Europe which faded away more than a century ago.
Therefore if you need someone to explain to you that Soupe à l’oignon gratinée is French Onion Soup, you might be better off to just visit Chez Mario Tremblay to view the museum-level displays of the “bionic blueberry’s” long and distinguished career on the ice. The bar restaurant is a big, sprawling, rowdy place where you can get a Bionic Blueberry Hamburger (sorry, no blueberries on the burger) and hockey-watching munchie standards as chicken wings, onion rings and nachos, all the way to far more interesting gourmand fare.
Chez Mario Tremblay’s chef will present you with some elevated delicacies not found north of Quebec City, such as Carpaccio de boeuf Angus sur son confit d’oignons rouges et parmesan which is an absolutely delectable dish of thinly sliced raw Angus beef on a bed of Parmigiano Reggiano shavings and red onion chutney. If you want to continue the Angus theme, you can try the only English-language item on the menu, Surf ‘n Turf, which arrives on your table as a hefty, perfectly grilled to order Angus filet mignon and sauteed langoustines. Another truly memorable red meat dish is the Côte de veau du Québec sur le gril, sauce moutarde de Maux et poivre which is a mustard and cracked black pepper grilled local veal chop.
Although Chez Mario Tremblay is many miles from the sea, their seafood selection is quite notable and includes an appetizer made from the pinchers of snow crab and a Filet de doré boucané à l’amérindienne et son filet d’huile de câpres which is a scrumptious pickerel fillet served with a caper oil that will have you clamoring for more. If you’re a Francophone hockey fan and a gourmand, then Chez Mario Tremblay should be considered your Vatican.