While Montreal's summer heat occasionally echoes the sweltering warmth of the Southern United States, it’s the suffocating humidity that really reminds me of my North Carolina roots. Still, my heart often yearns for the comforting flavours of home: the greasy fried chicken and the slow-smoked brisket, staples of Southern cuisine that formed the backdrop of my childhood. Transplanted into Canada's most Francophone province, I've grappled with the futility of replicating these culinary experiences — until now.
I wasn't sure that trying Canadian barbecue as a Southerner was a great idea but went against all better judgment to Le Boucan Smokehouse, a Griffintown restaurant with nods from Eater Montreal (rest in peace), CBC and even the Food Network. Of all the meals I could bring to my homesick palate, I hoped against hope that this one might do the trick.
Le Boucan Smokehouse offers vegetarian and vegan options, but I stuck with the tried-and-true animal meats of my youth: pork and beef. If you're more of a veggie eater, there are barbecued jackfruit and bean-based veggie burgers for you to enjoy.
A microbrewery as well as a barbecue joint, Le Boucan was founded by a pair of brothers-in-law who visited the Southern U.S. on a competition circuit, trying barbecued meats of all kinds and bringing their ideas back to Montreal.
The restaurant's website boasts a menu from which it's impossible to pick a favourite, with burnt ends that are "moelleux à souhait, tendres comme du beurre, fumés lentement avec le plus grand soin. La viande tombe de l’os comme on dit." The claims are as big and bold as true barbecue flavour, so let's see how they stack up.
An overhead view of a meal including burnt ends, coleslaw, potato salad and a pulled pork sandwich.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
I ordered Le Boucan from the comfort of my own home, which may not be the best way to eat it, but I maintain that good barbecue should last for the drive home since, at any good cookout, you're damn sure taking a plate home with you.
I chose to try the pulled pork sandwich, a North Carolina staple, and the burnt ends, also a broadly Southern mainstay. The pulled pork came with two sides, and I chose the potato salad (extremely important to me. It cannot be overstated, this must taste good) and, against my better judgment, the coleslaw.
Coleslaw in Canada always disappoints me, so I wasn't exactly hopeful for even this well-regarded restaurant's take on it. But I figured maybe they would surprise me.
A close-up of the coleslaw.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
They did not. Unfortunately, the coleslaw disappointed me immediately, tasting too fruity and lacking a kick, although it did look beautiful. For those who enjoy milder cabbage salads, this won't upset you, that's for sure.
On the bright side (ha ha, get it? side?), there's the potato salad.
A close-up of the potato salad.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
The potato salad warmed my heart with great nuanced flavour and a delightfully light and creamy texture. I loved it so much, in my notes, I spelled "flavour" the American way for the first time in over a year, just because this potato salad triggered my U.S. genes so hard in the best of ways.
Now, moving on to the appetizer: a $17 plate of burnt ends.
A close-up view of the burnt ends.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
Despite the big promises on Le Boucan's website, the meat doesn't exactly melt in your mouth. That said, they’re well-seasoned, and the fat does melt, which is a foundational requirement for barbecued meat. I'm glad and grateful Le Boucan passed that bar.
Again, I'm missing some of the kick — not quite a spiciness, but a pungency that I love about home-cooked barbecue. Plus, the $17 price tag is a little steep for the amount of meat being served, in my opinion. Still, it's certainly an enjoyable appetizer for two, so your mileage may vary.
What you really want to know about though is the star of the day, North Carolina's specialty and one of Le Boucan's most-liked menu items (at least on Uber Eats)… the pulled pork sandwich.
A close-up view of the sandwich from above.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
It was so good, it made me homesick. That perfect kick is still missing, but the sandwich has so much soul it's hard to be upset with it. The bun was light, fluffy and sweet, with an equally delicious sweetness in the pork. It tasted like I had just assembled my own sandwich at a cookout and stolen a bite before adding spoonfuls of that North Carolina vinegar-based sauce to top it off.
And I can't fault the best-pulled pork I've had in five years for just not having enough vinegar, now can I?
A cross-section of the pulled pork sandwich.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
With every bite of the potato salad and pulled pork, I felt myself smiling instinctively, remembering pool parties and backyard meals from years ago before I made it to this often-frigid place. It was everything I could’ve wanted, and more — far more — than I expected.
I ate the entire meal (except the slaw, sorry guys) in less than 15 minutes.
This piece was supposed to be good because it’s funny to have someone kind-heartedly rib (so to speak) an inauthentic portrayal of the foods that are closest to their heart.
Instead, what I received was a tasty homecoming and a reminder of just how good Southern food can be, even as interpreted by True Northerners.
All that said, I did spend nearly $50 on a meal that would scarcely be sold for that price back home. But for a trip back in time and an earnestly delicious interpretation of home, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it.
My cat sniffs the last fifth of the pulled pork sandwich, perhaps getting a little too close for my comfort.Willa Holt | MTL Blog
See? Even my cat liked it.