This is a lunch pick, not a restaurant review, but for readers who are less familiar with Brut Cantina Sociale (the culinary “new kid” located on Hull’s main drag), allow me to offer a brief introduction. The name makes reference to its Spanish muse, the casual tapas bar, but this one-of-a-kind spot takes a modern, soulful twist on classic French and traditional Quebecois cuisines. The result is something special.
Following the vision of first-time executive chef Danny Mongeon, Brut is quietly earning a reputation as a creative, quirky, and downright exciting and delicious place to dine in the nation’s capital region. Mongeon’s constantly changing, largely carnivorous menu (horse and rabbit accompany the more predictable proteins) places an emphasis on fresh-from-the-farm ingredients (there’s a hand-drawn map of its local food suppliers on the restaurant’s chalkboard wall) as well as house-made everything from pastas and preserves to condiments and charcuterie (beef tongue pastrami anyone?).
Visiting for lunch last week, the menu consisted of 10 items, all of which maxed out at $14, with the exception of a board of four tapas items chosen by the chef for $20. This is crowd-pleasing comforting stuff, designed as a salve to combat everything that’s wrong with February: French onion soup, Mac ‘n’ cheese with 5-year old cheddar béchamel, fresh tagliatelli carbonara featuring house cured pancetta, and steaming bowls of P.E.I mussels steeped in beer.
Passing over my favourite wintertime food groups — carbs and cheese — for a change, I was drawn to a set of words too rarely seen on local lunch menus: fried chicken. The menu indicated it was served with cornbread and fries. After endless bowls of soup and stews in recent months, I hadn’t realized how much my mouth was craving crunch!
Desperate to increase my vegetable intake with something more than potato, I inquired about ordering salad. I was expecting an eye-roll but the server, ever keen and welcoming, seemed happy to oblige. I nearly wept with joy when instead of a bowl of half-wilting weeds, I received a vivacious ruffly bouquet of Bibb lettuce and tiny tomatoes topped with crunchy carrot matchsticks, shaved radish, and a tangle of red wine soaked shallots in a light zingy dressing — simple, tasty, and beautiful.
The word that leapt to mind was “thoughtful”; this salad was not the work of a grumbling cook, rifling though the crisper, cursing the customer for ordering off-menu. This salad tasted of a genuine desire to please. Message received and much appreciated.
So you could say I was already primed for my second course. And yes, the fried chicken too was a beauty to behold — I dare say four beige elements have never looked so lovely. Two whole wings and a drumstick with supremely crackly and bronzed skin, juicy inside, resting on a nest of perfect crisp fries, alongside crumbly cornbread and a tiny mason jar of hot sauce. It all tasted as good as it looked.
As they say across the river: tiguidou!
Brut Cantina Sociale, 131 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, 819-205-6300,