I have been wanting to find a good fish monger for a few years now seeing as where I live, farmland just outside of Montreal, offers little in the way of quality fresh fish or seafood. Poissonerie Sherbrooke has been mentioned to me a few times and when I saw that I could get there from my place within about 20 minutes I said to myself,”Self, why don’t you get up a little early on Saturday and go check it out?” That sounded like good advice to me so i went for it.
The first thing I notice as I walk in is that it does NOT have that overpowering, not too inviting smell that hits you in the face at most chain grocery stores. This place smells exactly like what a fish market is supposed to smell like; the sea! Instantly I have hope that I have finally found my fish place I have been searching for. I am greeted by a Greek man who towers over me. I meekly introduce myself, he shakes my hand and tells me his name is Kosta. I must admit in the first few moments that I spoke to him I was a little intimidated. Here was a man who would not be out of place as a bouncer in any nightclub just looking down at me. Luckily my eagerness to check out the store was in overdrive so I launched into what brought me there.
First, I wanted to know about oysters. Kosta lets me know that normally they’ve always got a nice selection of them in from P.E.I. but he was not happy with the temperature of the last shipment so he refused the order. Now, let me tell you this: while I was sad to not get my hands on a dozen oysters, that single sentence he said to me won me over instantly. I know what you are thinking,”So hang on, you didn’t get what you want right off the bat and that won you over?” Yes, I just said that. Let me explain. This tells me that this is a business that puts quality above all else(aside from maybe customer service which I will get to later, patience please!). Think about it this way; I have just told this man that I drove from the suburbs to check out this store. if he serves me oysters that are average, or worse, oysters that make me sick, do you think I will go back? Knowing that they meticulously check over the products they receive is heartening and I already know I want to come back.
The next thing I want to see are some scallops and holy mackeral(you see what I did there?) do they have some beauties! They did not look like they were sitting in milk, which is something you will often see at a big chain grocery store, they were close to the size of hockey pucks, and they looked incredibly fresh. if I had a knife on me I would have made a tartare on the spot. It was a no-brainer to grab some of these for tonights’ dinner.
At this point I still wasn’t sure of what I wanted to serve as the main dish tonight so I started asking some questions. Can I get sardines from time to time? Sure, fresh every Tuesday and Thursday. Aren’t they a pain to clean? “Nah” Kosta says,”We can do it for you but if you want I can show you too. It takes no time. Oh, and make sure you BBQ them or else your house will smell for a week.” Good to know. As I am looking at the assortment of fish it is easy to see that it is all fresh, all of the eyes of the fish are clear; take a look at a grocery store, if any of the fish are even whole most times it looks like that fish was up all night partying. What does that mean? Don’t buy hungover looking fish. Ever. I took a close look at everything they had and there was no such concern here. Then I spot a little container with two huge fish eyes just staring at me. Kosta must have seen my puzzled face so he explains,”Once in a while I’ll see one of the girls at the cash checking something on her phone so I’ll take these out and leave them somewhere for her to find as a little joke.” I love it!
In the end I figured that since I would be alone with my lovely, insanely active kids tonight before my guest came over that I would not have much prep time whatsoever so I needed something simple. There is not much more simple to prepare than mussels so I take two bags. I am all set for seafood tonight. I know, I know, I didn’t take any fish! I was only cooking for two and pressed for cooking time people! But rest assured I will be back to try out more very soon. The store also carries a nice selection of vegetables, herbs, spices and whatnot so I got my hands on pretty much everything else I needed for dinner. I didn’t feel like leaving yet since I had so many questions and the store seemed so interesting so I pestered Kosta a little more…
First, I admitted to him that despite my wanting some oysters when I walked in that I had never shucked one single one in my life. Is there any chance they offer some kind of crash course on things like oyster shucking, shrimp deveining, or squid cleaning? The look I got at that moment was priceless. It was like even the thought of charging a customer to show them that was a completely foreign concept. He answered me real quick on that one. “I can show you that whenever you come in. It’s nothing.” Here is where I am going to go on a bit of a tangent. I love Montreal. I always have. But to be honest this city has seen better times for many reasons I won’t get into in a food column.
Going to a store like this takes me back in time. Every single person there, I interacted with five staff members, was courteous, helpful, and just down to earth. You bring a subpar quality fish back to a big grocery store and they will shrug and ask if you want your money back. I can already tell that if it were to happen here (and from the quality of the food I’ve seen I would imagine it to be a rare occurrence if at all) and they will personally do everything they can to do right by you. Will you get top notch fish and seafood here? Absolutely. But service like this just doesn’t havea price tag. In an age where you can find fancy butcher shops that will charge you handesomely to teach you a few butchering techniques these guys will show you the basics of preparing fish and seafood, not because they have to or because you are paying but because it is simply what they do.
I was starting to think that shops like this didn’t exist anymore. Food brings people together perhaps more than anything else. You can be at a table with people from all walks of life and if the food is good it doesn’t matter what your differences are, you will tuck in and eat. Kosta relays a great family story to me that I hope he doesn’t mind that I share.
Years ago his family had moved into a new neighborhood and it was Greek Easter. They had about sixty people partying and eating in the backyard when a neighbor called the cops to report that they were eating dog. Seriously. So, yes the cops show up, his family explains that no, they do not eat dog, this is merely lamb roasting on a spit. Every Easter since then his mom would make a plate for the neighbor and tell her “Here, I made a plate of dog for you.” From that time on the neighbors got along just fine. I’ve always loved Montreal for that. So many cultures came together here at the same time and we all grew up around people from all over the world. There were stores like this in every neighborhood. It turns out there still are. Maybe I just stopped looking for a while.
Stay tuned for an article on what I actually cooked with the seafood!
You can find Poissonerie Sherbrooke at:
5121 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest