In the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec, I found a delicious dreamland with a local flavor all its own
Between the Atlantic and where the St. Lawrence River narrows around Quebec, there is a region on the south shore of the estuary where the fresh water of the Great Lakes mixes with the salty ocean.
In addition to abundant marine life, the region is marked by microclimates, and the combination of rich agricultural plains and unique aquatic richness results in a vibrant culinary culture of local taste.
In 2020, this domain, the Lower St. Lawrence, joined the FabRégion de Fab City initiative — signaling its intention to achieve 50% food self-sufficiency (among other goals) by 2054. This ambition goes hand in hand with a local-first attitude that manifests itself in dishes, glasses and refrigerators across the delicious destinations of the region, both in big cities like Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski, and in the small pockets along the way. With part of my family living in the area, I am always happy to return to the shores of the area, as the tides do.
After sipping a rhubarb spritz at the outdoor canteen of East Coast, in the small historic town of Kamouraska, I find my table in the heritage building of the gourmet restaurant dating from 1848. A few minutes later, I see my aunt sticking her head out to check the availability of seats. I soon find my cousin Simon, friend of the owners, Kim Côté and Perle Morency. My family comes to sit next to me — in a town of just over 600 people, chance encounters are to be expected.
Simon orders a favorite beer from Match Head, a brasserie in the neighboring town, Saint-André: a tangy Gose flavored with cucumber and Salicornia, a perennial plant from the salt marshes also called sea asparagus that grows along these banks. I opt for Le Recul, a pet nat made from Somerset and Marquette grapes from The Raku Farmwhose hybrid Roland variety also grows in the courtyard facing the Côté Est river.
Between the delivery of the plates and the exchanges with the guests, Morency tells me about the culinary excursions offered by the restaurant. They are now focusing on mushroom picking leading up to the region’s mushroom season, which will soon peak with the Kamouraska Forest Mushroom Festival (Sept. 16 to 18).
Part of the owners’ mission is to introduce people to foods that reflect their community and geography. They serve as a seal, for example, to introduce diners to this controversial animal that has become a biodiversity issue in the Seaway, as it gobbles up pounds of species like eels and crabs daily.
Here, dark red seal meat is complemented by tangy sea spinach, chokecherries and nasturtium flowers, along with savory touches of sturgeon bacon and crunchy sea asparagus – sourced from The Gardens of the Seaan eight-minute store — to showcase the rich iron taste.
In their backyard at the end of the meal, we finish a bottle of light red from Periwinklesan organic winery in my neck of the woods in southeastern Quebec, while enjoying the kind of technicolor sunset the Bas-Saint-Laurent is known for.
The next day, I follow route 132 to Saint-Germain to stop at the Jardins de la Mer, where wild plants reign supreme and whose driftwood signage seems to come from the waves themselves. Owner Claudie Gagné draws on her decades of foraging expertise and respect for surrounding ecosystems, filling shelves and fridges with her rosehip and elderberry juices, dried dulce and seaweed salt.
Later, back to my Campsite Sebka surrounded by rose bushes in bloom in Saint-André, I put my purchases away in my cooler before taking the path that the owners have traced to their popular neighbor, Tête d’Allumette.
At the brasserie, which opened in 2013, the patio is full but never cramped, given its natural vastness, surrounded by a field of clover in bloom. Here, pints of the dry, slightly fruity Hansel and Brettel IPA, and baguette-based Niemand Kölsh from the Kamouraska bakery of the same name, are brewed over a wood fire and go down easy. The way back to my campsite is less smooth, weighed down by the crate of beer I picked up from their on-site shop, including a bottle of that ocean-reminiscent Gose.
Two days later, as I drive northeast toward Le Bic, a small town that’s part of Rimouski, the mountains on the opposite bank fade as the river widens. Here, chef Colombe St-Pierre from At Saint-Pierre has been drawing foodies like moths to its distinctive flame since 2004, offering a 12-course tasting menu obsessed with surrounding marine and forest ingredients.
Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, to expand beyond its gastronomic haunt, St-Pierre took over the parking lot of the defunct church across the street, opening the seasonal outdoor restaurant, Coastal canteen. In this refined display of her talents, she brings her chef’s touch to the essentials of Quebec snacks.
At around $25-$35 a dish, prices seemed high for a takeout, until my massive order arrived. Biting into the northern shrimp roll stuffed with oyster mushrooms and dulse antipasto, puffed wild rice and sea lettuce on a black squid ink roll, I feel like a snake dropping its jaw. Add the poutine topped with homemade caraway sausage, sauerkraut, mustard sauce and keg-sized bacon bits, and a satiated walk up and down the steep hillside of the city becomes a necessity.
Those who can’t sit in one of St-Pierre’s restaurants can find a ray of hope at the on-site pantry at Old Sea Bassa small hotel of 15 chalets in Le Bic with redeveloped residences scattered along a steep hill opposite the beautiful Parc national du Bic.
Beyond decorating the interiors with antiques and furs, Martin Gagnon and Jean-Luc Leblond, the couple behind the business, took care of every detail, particularly in the food department.
In the morning, croissants and chocolatines from Crazy Flour, an artisanal bakery 20 kilometers away, are left in the bread box on my porch. I have lunch on the back balcony watching the tide recede around the geological formations that jut into the St. Lawrence River.
After a day of hiking through these sedimentary rocks of the moonscape, spotting seals playing in the water as cormorants glide overhead, I stop at the on-site garden to pick some parsley, basil and nasturtium. . The plants will add a splash of color to the scallops I’ll be cooking for dinner in my cottage kitchen, which is topped with organic camelina oil from Baie-des-Sables.
This last destination is the hardest to leave, but I have to follow route 132 west to Montreal. Before hitting the road, I stock up in the lobby that has become the Vieux Loup de Mer grocery store. The store was launched in partnership with St-Pierre, Tommy Roy de Rimouski’s BYOB Harlequin and other producers in 2020, when COVID shutdowns meant visitors had few options for sinking into the vibrant culinary scene.
As for me, the artisanal boxes of whelks in lobster bisque, accompanied by wintergreen jelly and wild Nordic tea — and St-Pierre’s only fir ice cream as an immediate delight — will have to keep the Bas-Saint-Laurent alive to my liking. buds until next time.
Some travel experiences were offered to Caitlin Stall-Paquet by maritime Quebecwho neither reviewed nor approved this article.
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