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Supping on Sutton

Slurping is as important as schussing in one Québec ski town


Published October 10, 2012 at 11:30 a.m.

There are people who eat après-ski meals après skiing, and then there are people who are just in it for the meals — no cold, wind or sunburn necessary. I am firmly in the latter camp. If you see me on a lift, I’m merely on my way to a slope-side restaurant.

Perhaps this attitude is more common in Canada, if Sutton, Québec, is any indication. Just 10 minutes across the border from downtown Richford, Mont Sutton is practically a sister to Jay Peak. But, while the ski resort may be the headline act there, it’s far from the only reason to visit. You won’t find as immersive a tasting experience anywhere in the Northeast Kingdom.

Whether you’re unbuckling your bindings and heading back down the mountain or going on a manger-till-you-drop daycation, Sutton will feed the food lover’s soul. Many of the town’s major destinations can be found right on its eminently walkable Main Street. As in any resort town, though, much of the best dining is peppered across the mountain’s many inns and hotels.

I packed a weekend’s worth of indulgence into an eight-hour trip. Follow my lead, or take a more relaxed approach as you, too, taste a nearby hidden gustatory haven.

12:30 p.m.

Tartin’Izza, 19 rue Principale Nord, 450-538-5067. Serves only dinner on Thursday; lunch and dinner Friday through Sunday.

Since opening in 1997, this casual eatery has attracted its share of rabid devotees. A wall of photos showcases loyal Tartin’Izza customers posed in exotic locales with a copy of the menu; on the men’s-room wall, there’s a shot of one brave soul who dropped trou to examine the bill of fare while on an outdoor commode.

The following is no surprise, as Tartin’Izza literally radiates warmth — from its ovens, of course. They emit more than good atmosphere; the restaurant’s open-faced tartines and pizzas are the main attraction.

From curved, Dalí-esque water bottles to a bar hung with dozens of key chains, nearly every aspect of the restaurant suggests the quirky aesthetic that also characterizes its food. Pizzas on the regular menu include La Bourguignonne, with garlic, herbs, creamy tomato sauce and a healthy helping of escargots.

I tried a special pizza topped with crisp, curled slices of Italian sausage and tangy slivers of apple over a mild tomato sauce. Delicious enough, but it was the smoky Gouda and shower of earthy cumin seeds that made the pie a standout. I also loved the ultra-thin, chewy crust, which closely approximated those of pizzas I’ve had in the Alps.

The Boisé tartine was ever so Gallic, with ham, mushrooms and shallots piled under a luscious béchamel, footy blue cheese and bubbly mozzarella.

Only the looming glories of the rest of the day stopped me from indulging in a chocolate terrine that I spied in the pastry case. There was still eating to do — lots of it.

2:00 p.m.

La Rumeur Affamée, 15 rue Principale Nord, 450-538-1888. Open seven days.

Chocolaterie Belge Muriel, 8 rue Principale Sud, 450-538-0139. Open Thursday through Monday.

Just steps away from Tartin’Izza, La Rumeur Affamée (“famished gossip”) is the place for upscale ingredients. I was tempted by local duck sausages and taken with jellies and jams in flavors such as wild raspberry with rose or rhubarb-wildflower, made by Québec confiturier Simon Turcotte.

At a scoop counter out back, cult Montréal business Le Glacier Bilboquet provides the full-bodied ice cream in flavors including a dark, roasty caramel with chocolate chips and pale, natural pistachio.

After an intense survey of the two impressively stocked cheese counters, I elected not to end my meal with one of many appealing local goat cheeses but with a chocolate chip cookie baked in house. Well played. It was little more than a clump of melty, semisweet chips held together with butter and sugar. Even sweeter was a crumbly maple bar.

I rolled down the street to Chocolaterie Belge Muriel, which is home not only to a chocolate maker but also to a museum that might fit in with the roadside arcana on Route 66.

Inside, take a left to buy ultracreamy truffles, uncommon flavors of fudge or ice cream dipped in Belgian chocolate in a homemade cone.

Take a right for a kitschy look at the manufacture of chocolate, from bean to bar. Sort of. Lacking in interpretive signage, the room-size museum is really more of a collection of chocolate curiosities. The most curious is a lifesize diorama portraying turtles munching on a fluorescent-orange-and-green-brushed cocoa pod; in the skillfully painted background, a coatimundi observes the action, while a pair of natives looks off in the distance. To the right of this tableau, in the one display with explanations, Duplo figures go through the motions of cleaning and mixing cacao in a chocolate factory. I never knew there were so many stages of mold removal.

2:45 p.m.

Museum of Communications and History of Sutton, 32 rue Principale Sud, 450-538-2883. Open Friday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

More concrete knowledge can be acquired at the town’s communications and history museum. Through November 24, the main attraction is a show devoted to the life and work of Jehane Benoît, the Julia Child of Canada.

Benoît, who owned Noirmouton Farm in Sutton until her death in 1987, actually predated Child as a food personality, gaining fame on Canadian radio in the 1940s. In a gallery space modeled on Benoît’s home kitchen, a table holds cookbooks written by the Sorbonne-trained food chemist throughout her career, while a TV plays recollections of Benoît mixed with video of her demonstrating meal preparation.

Behind the table sits a microwave in deference to Benoît’s mission in her later years: convincing home cooks that the new appliance was the safest, most convenient way to make dinner. Yes, one cookbook includes recipes for microwaving a roast and even frying chicken au micro-ondes. But what stands out about Benoît’s premicrowave work is its diversity: She provided recipes from the Far East, Eastern Europe and even Africa long before ethnic was in.

To celebrate Benoît, restaurants all over the Sutton area are serving her dishes throughout the run of the exhibition. At Auberge & Spa West Brome, in neighboring Brome Lake, diners can try legs of lamb prepared by Benoît’s own grandson, Ian Macdonald. At Tartin’Izza, I was lucky enough to sample a plate of duck and lamb rillettes à la Benoît. Served with cornichons and blueberry mustard, the barnyard combination was creamy, meaty and irresistible, as current a taste as it was when the cook prepared it 60 years ago.

4:00 p.m.

Chapelle Ste. Agnès, 2565 chemin Scenic, 450-538-0303.

After my trip to Benoît’s midcentury kitchen, I boarded the Sutton time machine again and traveled a few miles down the road and back a millennium. Or so it appeared. The chapel at hilly Sainte Agnès vineyard was actually built in 1993, but it’s a remarkable re-creation of the Romanesque buildings among which owner Henrietta Antony grew up in the former Czechoslovakia.

The successful antique dealer wasn’t content to stop at reviving a medieval village in her own backyard. She wanted a winery, too. The result was a producer of ice wines that have medaled at both the International Wine and Spirit Competition and the Decanter World Wine awards. Oh, and they converted this nondrinker to a wine lover.

In the basement tasting room, decorated with a suit of armor and a fresco featuring the Czech patron saint Agnès, Antony’s son, John, poured a trio of the wines he helped grow. He began with a simple, dry white that was crisp and fruity.

That failed to prepare me for the 2007 Vidal. The small bottle poured forth nectar that tasted like caramel with a butter base. The mouth feel was heavy — syrupy but not sticky, perhaps because the sulfite-free, organic-plus wine was also unfiltered. Madame Antony’s own flaky, caraway-covered cheese straws drew out its flavor with contrasting savory saltiness.

I was even more impressed by the subtler 2005 Cuvée Majorique. A lychee nose hinted at a fruitiness that gave way to a taste like smooth, liquid gold mixed with exotic spices. After each sip, my mouth burned not with the fire of alcohol but with a flame akin to that of perfectly spiced Indian food.

The vineyard itself struck a similarly enchanting note. The Anthonys’ home is perched atop the hill that houses 7000 vines carefully netted low to the ground to prevent raccoons from dining on the grapes. Once those grapes freeze, John Antony and his crew will begin rising at 4 a.m. to handpick them and press them into what will eventually yield about 5000 bottles. Chapelle Ste. Agnès wines are sold only at the vineyard itself and at top-flight Montréal restaurants, including Toqué!, Brasserie T! and Joe Beef.

At the bottom of the hill lies a man-made, heart-shaped pond surrounded by a wooden re-creation of a medieval military tent and a miniature Stonehenge, just tall enough to serve as an altar for the many weddings that take place there each season.

Before long, Henrietta Antony hopes to begin construction on her next pet project, a château with guest rooms. “We’ll start tomorrow if you have a few million dollars to spare,” John Antony jokes. If only.

6:00 p.m.

Bistro Beaux Lieux, 19 rue Principale Nord, 450-538-1444. Serves dinner Thursday through Sunday.

As in Stowe or Killington, much of Sutton’s high-end dining is found inside its resorts. But if, like me, you don’t want to be reminded of skiing, Main Street has plenty to offer, too, from hip bistros to townie pubs. Just two doors down from Tartin’Izza, Christian Beaulieu, formerly of Montréal’s Le Continental, cooks up some of Sutton’s quirkiest, and most delicious, dinners.

The open kitchen revealed a group of chefs having a great time. Croaks occasionally rose from the line as they imitated the moody Tom Waits music in the dining room while they worked. It made for an ideal combination of fun and hipster cred in the dimly lit restaurant, decorated with mixed-media images of bras and breasts from local artist Brigite Normandin.

We made room for pumpkin, almond and cheddar soup, the first course in a table d’hôte meal. Chunks of almond gave the smooth, creamy bisque a bit of crunch. Otherwise, just a hint of aged-cheddar bite broke up the sweetness of the gourd.

Next came medallions of Nagano pork. The meat is unique to Québec, created by the Robitaille Group in 1997 to appeal to Japanese consumers accustomed to ultramarbled Berkshire pigs. The lean slices of loin were dark, juicy and flavorful, not your average supermarket swine.

They rested on tart applesauce, with pinkish mustard sauce dotted around the plate. Beside the pork lay what looked like a giant baked potato but wasn’t, exactly. It was a crisp, oven-baked potato-skin cup filled with popcorn-sized clumps of potato, sour cream, chives and meaty chunks of bacon made from wild boar. It was my first boar bacon, and I can’t wait for more of the gamy, hearty rashers.

Clearly, Beaulieu has a way with a smoker. The centerpiece of his unconventional Caesar salad was a smoked-duck-leg confit. What the salty meat lost in greasy unctuousness, it gained in flavor. It paired beautifully with its bed of grilled lettuce, topped with a single, over-easy quail egg. The dish was dressed with artfully piped, caramel-colored anchovy dressing and a liberal dose of thinly sliced Parmigiano Reggiano. A trio of pickled caper berries lent a welcome helping of acid.

We simply couldn’t turn down a trio of crèmes brûlées. The vanilla custard was intensely flavorful, like a concentrated distillation of every plain crème brûlée I’d ever eaten. At first bite, the mixed-berry version tasted like mixed-berry yogurt, until rosemary flavor blossomed in my mouth, giving the dessert a woody-pine taste. But it was the ramekin full of chocolate that proved irresistible. It was so intense, I wondered if it was made straight from one of the cocoa pods on display at Chocolaterie Belge Muriel’s museum, yet it retained its wobbly, soft texture. I was in crème brûlée heaven.

I ended my evening knowing that, as exotic as the town’s food offerings seemed, I was only an hour and 10 minutes from Burlington. I wouldn’t have to wait long for another taste.