Last Updated on December 21, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve walked passed a line of people waiting for a table inside La Buche in Old Quebec. A short walk from Château Frontenac, La Buche is a cabane à sucre (sugar shack) themed restaurant. Animal pelts and snowshoes decorate the wood plank walls, long wooden sleds are fastened to the ceiling and large picnic tables add to the rustic aesthetic. The atmosphere is relaxed, noisy, and comfortable.
My first visit to La bûche was a couple of years ago when I was in search of the best French onion soups in Old Quebec (I tried around 30). While the onion soup at La Buche is not a traditional French onion soup – you won’t find a layer of bubbling cheese on top – it is one of the best in the city. I still think about the smokey, earthy broth, and little hits of roasted garlic. Slightly grilled cheese curds hide on the bottom, and sides of caramelized pearl onions and bone marrow make a luscious addition.
an urban sugar shack
Sugar shacks are an integral part of Quebec culture and history. While there are some that stay open year-round, the best sugar shack experiences happen in spring during the sugaring-off season. It’s a time of gathering and music, and copious amounts of Québécois comfort foods – often drizzled with maple syrup. It’s something I think everyone should do at least once.
La Buche is not a traditional sugar shack, you won’t find folk singers there, and there is definitely not enough space for dancing. The décor could be mistaken for kitsch but it sets the mood, enticing people from the streets to a table. When the menu arrives, the enchantment, at least for me, begins.
the food at la buche
I like to think of the food at La bûche as a kind of tête à tête between the restaurant and my tastebuds. Traditional sugar shack foods like tourtière, pea soup, ham, baked beans, and oreilles de crisse (crispy pork rinds) are the backbone of the menu here. They’re joined by Québécois comfort foods: poutine, pouding chômeur, onion soup, and pâte chinois (a Quebec-style shepherd’s pie).
Intermixed with the authentic is the menu’s tour de force, dishes that are rooted in tradition and given a modern flavour boost. The rabbit wings are a coveted starter and they sell out quickly. The pouding chômeur with pan-fried foie gras and bacon is thickset and decadent, savoury and sweet – it’s basically Jason Momoa, but a food.
Thankfully, on my most recent visit to La Buche I was with three other people; I could not finish the chômeur on my own. The antipasto de la buche is shareable appetizers, and a metal canteen tray laden with deer tartare, smoked trout, salmon tartare, rabbit wings and tender lacquered pork belly soon appeared. A delicious introduction.
For the main course, try the tourtière, salmon pie, or First Nations elk skirt steak. The poutine is also quite good, and I’m a fan of fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. The food portions at La Buche are generous; comfortable clothing is highly recommended. Personally, I start small and add dishes as I go, despite my tastebuds wanting to order everything on the menu.
La Buche serves a very good brunch, and there’s a kids’ menu available as well.
To locals, La Buche may appear to be too touristy, but I believe that opinion is based mostly on geography. If it were located in a neighbourhood far from Old Quebec, the food would still be worth lining up for. So, if you’re visiting, go to La Buche and have a pseudo sugar shack meal, and if you live here, wait for the quiet season and enjoy yummy gluttony.
dine at la buche
lgbtqia2s+ safe space • where: 49, rue saint-louis • neighbourhood: old quebec (vieux-québec) • 418-694-7272 • restolabuche.com • mains: $18 – $39 CAD • reservations recommended, but not required