As if every day of my trip wasn’t busy, our day in Vieux Port (Old Port) was jam packed with biking, history, food, and beer.
I was bouncing with excitement to see the oldest part of town, which some may complain is touristy, but it beautiful none the less. Vieux Port is full of art, food, horse-drawn carriages, and yes, people. Overlooking one side of the neighborhood is Marché Bonsecours (where the wedding was held) and Notre Dame de Bonsecours, and ancient church that used to hail ships into port.
We walked around with little direction – a beautiful thing – and gradually made our way to a destination sandwich shop called Olive et Gourmando. My family ate there years ago, and I dream about that Cuban sandwich.
Despite the shoulder-to-shoulder entryway and endless line, we actually only waited 10 minutes for a table.
The Cuban was calling me, but my general life commitment to trying new things steered me towards a sandwich of chevre and caramelized onions – a perfectly simple and endlessly satisfying combination.
After a walk along the pier, watching the world and its dogs pass by on a rhythmic loop of slobber…wag…jog… we hit the well-used bike path along the river. The direction was west, towards Brewery MacAuslan, the origin point of St. Ambroise beer, a Canadian crowd favorite.
We biked a distance apart, swerving around runners, veering under the occasional overpass, and even crossing the water once or twice.
It occurred to me that the last time I visited this city, as a recent college grad with a fresh French degree, I thought I would never return. Not that I didn’t want to…I just didn’t know how feasible it would be. Flights were so expensive at that time, and a 24 hour plus drive didn’t seen appealing. And yet here I was, taking to the streets like a local, not once stopping to ask for directions. It was a liberating sensation.
I was deep in this freeing reality, that destiny is created and important things like that, when I glanced across the canal to see a giant market. Atwater Market, Rick explained, is one of the best farmer’s markets in the province. We went, of course, as I am never one to refuse a local market.
The indoor and outdoor stalls were full of not just produce and flowers, as most American markets are. There was a large amount of meat, plus bakeries and deli items – pickled this, preserved that. There was a large cheese shop with a very good beer selection, too.
Back on the bikes for mission: beer.
McAuslan’s patio is incredibly bike-friendly in that it faces the canal and bike path with signage and ample bike racks. In fact, it is far easier to get to that way than from the parking lot.
I ordered a flight, which includes two Griffon beers and four St. Ambroise.
We sat in the sunny backyard with graffiti and construction equipment in the background and sipped slowly.
Aside from the Griffon Rouge which was simply a bore, we enjoyed the entire flight. The Cream Ale / Pale Ale naming thing threw me for a loop again, but ultimately both were very good beers. The preference was absolutely the Stout, with beautiful coffee aroma and a mild smoky note. The taste develops from coffee to chocolate and slight toffee. It is not too sweet of too dry, a modest everyday dark beer with smoke that builds into something reminscent of bacon (in the best way possible. Because it’s bacon.)
The Cream Ale is also very good, dryer than an American cream ale with a very pleasant hop bite and perfect body. The Apricot Wheat is a nice summer selection with an apricot-clementine nose. On warming it becomes more syrupy in flavor, like candy. The wheat component is missing as the beer is filtered and not hefe-like in nature. Perhaps if the wheat played a larger role the sweetness would stay in check. Drink this while its very cold, for sure. For fall, though, I’d go with the pumpkin over the apricot.
I recommend a visit to McAuslan after a warm day in Vieux Port. It is a charming but not jolting juxtaposition of the old and new. Plus the bike ride offers sights along the river including serene kayaks, birds, and the opportunity for one of the best macaroons ever.