I love breakfast places. I don’t mean places that serve an array of croissants, scones and in-house baked goods. I’m referring to a place that serves hardcore, greasy spoon type petit dejeuner which push beyond the boundaries of eggs and bacon. I was on a recent trip to Montreal and during one of the boring sessions I was watching I started to flip through urbanspoon and yelp looking for an escape from the monotony of the day. I narrowed down the list before consulting with my buddy who lived in town about where to go. When he mentioned Le Gros Jambon, I quickly agreed and was on my way. The website didn’t rock my world by any stretch. It’s simply a freckled-face kid drinking a glass of milk with a link to a menu. However, it has great reviews and it was close so it made sense.
I enjoyed the Sunday morning walk through Old Montreal. A mosaic of pedestrians littered the street. After dodging clueless cell phone users and many spaced out shutterbugs, I arrived at the doors of this breakfast and lunch nook. It was bustling with people cramming in and slipping out but I managed to weasel my way in the front door. There were a couple of stools at the counter, so I was seated immediately. A look around told me this was my kind of place. It was set up like a 50’s soda shop that had been remade by somebody with a basement full of nostalgia including posters, retro advertisements and a mosiac of licence plates. Within a minute a pleasant waitress with no bias against anglophones came over and poured me a decaf. I gandered at the menu, skipped the burgers and sandwiches and went right to brunch. There were typical items like eggs Benedict and french toast as well as trendy items like huveros rancheros and fried chicken and waffles. In particular, I was interested in the mushroom toast which was described as “creamy mushroom sauce with smoked meat, two fried eggs served on toasted rye” which sounded perfect given it sounded like a nasty mess inspired by local flare. By sitting at the counter facing the open kitchen, I got to watch the meticulous and fluid construction of this interesting dish. First, the jalapeno-potato hash brown thing was dropped in the oil. Next, the eggs were cracked onto the flat top. The smoked meat and rye bread joined the party. Then, within seconds of each other, the bread, meat, egg and mushroom gravy were piled precisely on the pig shaped plate along with the aforementioned potato and a side of baked beans. It wasn’t the prettiest dish on earth but my taste buds didn’t care. Although a tad more gravy would have been sloppy fun , it was delicious.
When it comes to breakfast, I’m in for either a cheap diner-style spread or something a little more creative and unique. Le Gros Jambon is the latter. Instead of sipping French press coffee and biting into flaky pastries, devouring the mushroom toast with pictures of Mickey Mouse and a creepy freckled kid watching over me along the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal was as ironic as not eating a stitch of pork off a pig-shaped plate in a place named “big ham”. More so, the service was not at all pretentious, busting apart any stereotypes an anglophone in Montreal might have. In fact, it was as genuine as Mabel at the Streamside Diner speaking of her cat’s latest adventure with a ball or yarn or stories of her daughter’s success as the local hairdresser.
In the end, le Gros Jambon is a destination for foodies and which was built by smart culinary minds and those with a knack for interior design inspired by an outdated man cave. It’s has a busy, yet pleasant vibe complete with the ability to watch the cooks construct plate after plate in a melodic and methodological manner. For that I tip my chapeau to the big cheese, or maybe in this case, the big ham.