2012 has been the Summer of Comedy for us. Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Leggere, John Oliver, Stephen Merchant, Patton Oswalt, and Jerry Seinfeld. Today we are heading off to Montreal in the midst of its annual Just For Laughs Comedy Festival to see a favorite of ours – Jim Gaffigan.
A perfect July day awaits us as does the open road. The sun is high in the sky and insects buzz happily (I’m only assuming here). Cottonball clouds dot the field of blue sky like sheep. The highway is lined with a colourful blur of oncoming wildflowers. Our entertainment of choice today is a Nerdist podcast featuring guest Seth Myers. A good way to get in the mood for the festival.
As we pass neat rows of corn with silos rising soft in the hazy distance, I am reminded of the Indiana of a previous road trip. Could just as well be passing through there. When we cross the border into Quebec, the clouds flatten out and hills rise up in the distance. After a pleasant hour and a half we cross part of the St. Lawrence River and begin to see the outcroppings of a major metropolis. We are here!
Despite the brutal 30-plus degree heat, we head out to the festival grounds and beyond to explore. We are staying at the Hyatt and the festival is in full swing outside. Just for Laughs is a Quebec creation and it has spread to other parts of the globe. We visited the Chicago edition in June. Montreal’s festival is of a totally different and unique flavour. Quebec culture is very much in evidence here in all its government-funded, polka-dot fluorescent satin, mime-y glory, despite the fact that the majority of the comedy is in the English language.
Dinner tonight dinner will be at Laurier1936 BBQ, chosen because it is the 80-year-old original model for all the St-Hubert rotisserie-style restos, a classic Quebec tradition, curiously called BBQ, yet having no element of BBQ whatsoever. More famously and recently, the restaurant engaged Gordon Ramsay of Kitchen Nightmares to reinvigorate it, with a much ballyhooed falling out and competing lawsuits a-flying. Online reviews are alarmingly mixed but I am going with an open mind.
Laurier1936 is in a nice little university neighbourhood about 3 miles from the Hyatt. Many restaurants are not open in the city on Sunday evenings but Laurier is. We pull up out front and nab easy parking. We are greeted by a friendly staffer and the dessert case. She leads us from the main dining room, decorated in very modern white, to a back dining room which is faux distressed white french farmhouse with tin ceiling tiles, milk painted wainscotting and rustic brass fixtures. Clean and warm. The dining room is sparsely populated with two other couples and a small party, but the patio is hopping.
I must state right here that the chairs are the most uncomfortable in which I have EVER sat. Hard metal, cafe style with a narrow back braced at the seat that even my small butt could not fit between without bruising. I had to sit on the chair midway and spent the entire meal trying not to slip off. Why do restaurants never give their chairs a second thought?
The table boasts a complimentary jar of dill pickles, a salt shaker and the now rarely found, private pepper grinder. We place drink orders, pinot for me and beer for Rob. Both come in appropriate glassware which is a good sign. Nothing like a nice glass of red in a crappy, tiny, thick rimmed 50 cent wine glass.
I order the crispy chicken with fries and a buttermilk biscuit. The chicken comes with a honey mustard sauce but no gravy. I order a $1.50 side of gravy for $3. Rob orders the rib and chicken combo, with fries, gravy and coleslaw. Our meals arrive very quickly. My meal is presented in an artistic cone but needs to be emptied out onto a plate to eat it. Three pieces of plump crispy chicken, a biscuit, fries and a sweet, satisfying honey mustard sauce that actually compliments the chicken more than the gravy does. A note about the gravy: it is a good consistency, not overly salty and does not congeal. Strongly flavoured with herbs and tasty – but – tragically – and not a reflection on this sauce – I love the crap they serve at St. Hubert. THAT is hot chicken gravy to me and I cannot be swayed. Therefore I cannot judge the gravy here at Laurier. Rob, on the other hand, feels perfectly qualified to judge as he hates the gloppy, over-processed sludge that passes as chicken gravy at most rotisserie places (guess who added this sentence!).
My chicken is crispy and the homemade batter is lightly spicy. My only complaint is that the chicken is not deboned, which would be fine if the bones were large, but they opt to leave very tiny bones in the serving which you can’t really see, but you can feel with your tongue. You are left trying to politely spit them out. These pieces are all but boneless. Why choose to leave these bones in? In other news, my biscuit was barely warm and dry. It needed butter but it was not offered. I did not eat it. I have traveled in the southern US, home of the biscuit. I am ruined, yes, but even so, this was not a good biscuit.The fries were fine if not slightly over done for my taste. Rob enjoys this style, crispy, golden and not greasy.
Rob’s rotisserie chicken — 1/4 chicken, leg — was marvelous. It was plump, juicy and with a lovely golden skin. It was served on top of an open biscuit with fires and a small rack of pleasant, smoky ribs with a maple BBQ sauce.
We did not consider dessert as we were full. We waited over 15 minutes for our bill which was unacceptable despite the excellent service otherwise. Because it’s rare that I would deliberately go out for rotisserie chicken, I would probably not seek Laurier1936 out but would come back for the chicken if I was in the neighbourhood.