Saturday, August 04, 2012

Quebec -- The Great Pastry Hunt

Now whatever else one might think about the "old" world those folks know pastry and they take their baked goods very seriously. And, it's often heard here in the lower 48 states that Quebec is a bit of the old world right here amidst the new. Therefore, Quebec must sport some fine patisserie, right? So, we decided to spend the better part of one day focusing on finding the best pastry shops, and by implication the best pastry in Quebec. With one or two exceptions, we were sadly disabused of the notion that Quebecois pastries are more old world than new.

To start off, soon after arriving in Quebec we quickly learned that there were few places to get a truly decent cup of coffee let alone artisan pastries in the "old" section of the city, at least in the lower part. And Starbucks seemed to be the dominant force in upper town as it was attached to the Frontenac Hotel. So, one day at lunch at the Voodoo Bistro on Grand Alle next to the Plains of Abraham, we asked our server where everyone went to get fresh pastries -- he replied with a look of distate, "no where around here -- too many tourists." Where you want to go, he said, was rue Saint Jean.

So we did. We soon concluded that this street is probably one of the nicest strolls in the city, particularly once you get outside the walls of the old section heading toward avenue Cartier. But more of that in another post. Right now we were focused on pastry shops and our first stop was while we were still inside the walls, at Paillard:
Paillard interior
This was somewhat disappointing -- rather nice inside and people were certainly queueing for pastries, as did we. But Susan's croissant was no better than what we would find on average in Providence, and that wasn't great. My Quebec take on the standard Parisian Ornais was bland, running toward tasteless and the dough was, well, doughy and not all crispy and flaky.
apricot pastry -- reminiscent of a Parisian Ornais the flavor was not good
A few minutes after leaving Paillard we came across a bread shop, the Paneterie -- and we should right here that the bread we saw in a couple of the other shops looked quite good but we were on a hunt for pastry and didn't want to overload our system.
Just a short block up from the wonderful little green space that is Saint Matthew's English Cemetery, was the one pastry shop that proved to be the exception to rule of mediocrity: J. A. Moisan. Part deli, part pastry shop, part grocery store stocking scores of unique and hard-to-find food condiments, produce and all fun and funky Moisan's is worth a stop and a stroll around inside. Here we sat by one of the front windows with the smoothes cappuccino and richest espresso we found in Quebec, both paired with a delicious lemon tart and fantastic chocolate eclair.

our favorite by far: J. A. Moisan

We continued walking up or out rue Saint Jean and came across Simon, a lackluster shop that didn't cater to much foot traffic. The woman behind the counter was pleasant, though, and we opted for an apple turnover -- chasson aux pommes. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the worst pastry purchase of the day: the dough was hardly edible and the filling bland. Yech!
Simon - the only shop to actually use the word "patisserie" 
Finally, we did come across another place that looked like it had serious possibilities: Picardie on avenue Cartier. A far hike from the tourist part of old Quebec and in a vibrant neighborhood, this would be one other place we' recommend stopping.
Picardie on Avenue Cartier
All-in-all, we found Quebecois pastries to be curiously disappointing, reminding us less of the "old world" and, sadly, more of pastry shops we typically find in so much of the "new."

But, as I'll discuss in another post, pastries weren't the only disappointment when it came to food in Quebec -- the restaurants in the city were far from remarkable.

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