Sunday, May 6, 2012


In a time where many restauranteurs seem to be preoccupied with the idea of trying to reinvent the wheel, creating riffs on the concept of a classic diner, the people responsible for the popular restaurant L'Orignal in Old Montreal cut straight to the point. Their newest project, Le Gros Jambon, is a legit diner and a refreshing cool breeze of air on the repugnantly hot day of endless bastardizations of a genre of restaurant that requires no frills and even less nonsense.

Le Gros Jambon is on Notre Dame in Old Montreal,  it's in a low-key, appropriately small space that we actually walked right by before having to turn around for a double-take. You enter to find the cash register to your immediate left on a counter covered in license plates, surrounded with big glass jars full of baked goods and basic bar staples. The entire place can't be any larger than 20 feet wide, including the kitchen. On one side, a modest white melamine counter overlooks the kitchen; an oven, a flat top griddle, a deep frier and two hard working young men keeping customers happy with familiar favorites that have just enough of a twist to make them pop without relinquishing the realm of bona fide diner grub. Opposite the kitchen is another counter against a wall covered in old newspaper clippings, nostalgic Quebec Nordiques hockey pennants and vintage advertisements of classic american food icons like Coca Cola, Campbell's and Heinz.

The menu features the usual diner suspects: sandwiches, hotdogs, hamburgers and pizza, but the magic here is in the details that have not gone overlooked and the optional little extras. Want some lobster in your grilled cheese? No problem. Some duck confit in your macaroni and cheese? They've got you covered. Hamburger and hot dog buns are home made, burgers are made from fresh ground meat, not frozen patties and hotdogs are none other than Coney Island's famous Nathan's.

We went with the basics, a hot dog with poutine and a burger with fries. Served in a basket on checkered wax paper, the namesake Gros Jambon hot dog is topped with crisp bacon, chopped cucumber, tomato and spicy mayonnaise. The way a Nathan's hot dog snaps when you bite into it is awesome. We love a good old steamie from Lafleur's but we're thrilled to have the option of a place to get an all-beef hotdog done on the flat-top. In a province where an all-dressed, or should we say "toute garnie" hot dog means mustard, neon green relish and cabbage the idea of chopped fresh cucumbers and tomatoes may seem a little out of the box, but anyone familiar with the elaborate Chicago style hot dog knows it works. The homemade bun they serve the dog in is outrageously tender and has a mildly sweet and toasty flavor. The bacon not only adds a salty, smokey component but also provides texture in the way of a little crunch. The tomato and cucumber lighten things up a little taming the richness of the mayo and bacon; if you prefer, think of them as relish and ketchup pre-processing. Our poutine came served along side the hotdog in an individual sized casserole. The fries were crisp on the exterior and fluffy on the interior, everything you could want them to be, the curd cheese squeaked with freshness and the gravy was great. We finished every last bite but we could've done without the drizzle of truffle oil over the top - truthfully, it was a little bit further than we would prefer a poutine in a diner to go.

"Gros Jambon" Hot Dog - 9$ (Substitute Fries with Poutine +4$)

Our second choice, the Coca Cola burger, was topped with caramelized onions, a deep fried pickle and mayonnaise infused with a reduction of you guessed it, Coca Cola. The burger itself was extraordinarily juicy and unadulterated, free of unnecessary seasonings and fillers. The sweetness of the Coca Cola in the mayo was noticeable and enjoyable but we don't necessarily think we would have been able to tell it was Coke over any other sweetener if it hadn't been in the description, we're still undecided on whether that's a positive or a negative. The bun it was served on was as remarkably good as the hotdog bun was and the fried pickle was a fun touch. Our only criticism would be that we found the onions on our burger to be a little under-caramelized, retaining a little more bite than we would have preferred.

Coca Cola Burger & Fries - 10$

True to classic diner style, Le Gros Jambon has pretty limited seating available, so try to keep in mind that when you've finished eating, lingering is by no means against the rules but it is definitely inconsiderate when others are waiting for a spot. We were there late and there was nobody waiting for our seats so we decided to stick around for a second round of beers. One thing led to another and before you know it we gave into better judgement and ordered some more food. With our appetites satisfied, a third dish of macaroni and cheese with duck confit was certainly unnecessary but damn was it ever good. Cavatappi pasta was covered in a rich cheese sauce of ideal consistency, not too thick and not too thin studded with not only generous amounts of decadent duck confit but also a surprise addition, cheese curds! The dish was covered in a handful of breadcrumbs before baking, adding texture and successfully covering all the bases.

Duck Confit Macaroni & Cheese - 11$

A true diner should reflect the community it serves, be a place where the food is as comforting as the price, there's something for everyone and the surroundings are casual and friendly, Le Gros Jambon meets all of these criteria. We have since returned for an equally impressive visit during brunch hour, served Saturday and Sunday mornings. We had the most amazing fried chicken served with waffles, and "mushroom toast" fried eggs and smoked meat served on toasted rye bread, smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce; both of which we implore you to try. Whether you're looking for an affordable and delicious lunch in Old Montreal, weekend brunch, late night eats or you just have a craving for an unpretentious bite to eat that won't break the bank, this is your spot. Le Gros Jambon is open 7 days a week, and into the early morning hours feeding the restaurant industry crowd post-shift and party animals after the bars close until 5AM. Combining food with such wide-range appeal and business hours that accommodate just about any schedule, it seems to us like you have no excuse not to try this spot. So what are you waiting for?

Le Gros Jambon
286 Notre Dame O
Montreal, QC

Le Gros Jambon on Urbanspoon

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