By Cindy Deachman
Most dépanneurs simply stock up on beer, beer, and more beer. Not La p’tite épicerie du quartier, a Moroccan corner store in Gatineau’s Hull section, east end. At the back, tables are all scrunched together, although you may have to jockey with girls in school uniforms and mild-mannered civil servants for a chair. Of course, if the weather’s fair, dine al fresco — out front.
The Place: Like any dep, La p’tite épicerie du quartier offers Alpha-Bits, bags of milk, and Old Dutch chips. Of course, you can always tack Moroccan necessities onto your slim shopping list. For here, you’ll also find pale green olives from Meknes, all manner of dates, and that rich Moroccan mixture (some formulas call for 100 different spices!) — ras el hanout.
As long as there’s a crust of bread about, one can live, albeit rather richly, on olives and dates alone. However, if you’re not a Middle Easterner, you’ll likely feel more comfortable with standard issue. Sandwiches, that is, there being almost 20 here from which to choose. Fillings in the main are comprised of cold cuts and cheeses — including such non-Moroccan delights as Black Forest ham, soppressata di Calabria, and Danish havarti. However, hummus and giardiniera (various marinated vegetables) can be had as well. Huge oblong buns come in myriad flavours — try the rosemary, for instance, or potato and onion. Over here in the cooler is 7-Up imported from Morocco. Or, if you dare, the soft drink Fayrouz. My favourite of the three flavours — apple.
And what then? Walnut baklava. The top layer’s crispy while the bottom’s fairly dripping with honey. Hmm, is that a touch of cinnamon I detect? No, wait, buy two. At the very least.
The Dish: Yes, it’s true, you could strike a simple chord. Restrain yourself, order a sandwich with turkey, lettuce, and tomatoes only. But why not go for gold? The kitchen sink, so to speak. Ask for a “Number 5” — sliced chicken roll, spicy salami, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise — then ask the genial fellow behind the counter, owner Hassan Ben Messoud, to throw in a few strips of spicy marinated eggplant for good measure.
The thing’s now so thick, it can barely be eaten. But when I do manage (just), what satisfaction. What a mingling of, all at once, sour, sweet, spicy, fruity, creamy, crunchy flavours. Then, to bring everything down to earth, a spoonful of dark lentil soup. So dense and meaty it is, yet fresh with tomatoes and coriander leaves, too.
In humble surroundings now, here’s your chance for some glorious all-out eating.
The cost: $6.99 ($4.50 for sandwich only)
La p’tite épicerie du quartier, 158, rue Notre-Dame-de-l’Ile, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-595-9689.