Hoping to make the most of our first Indian Summer in Quebec, Bryan and I visited Cidrerie Vergers Léo Boutin the last Saturday in September. The weather was perfect—high 70s to 80s (mid to low 20s C), bright sunshine, the occasional breeze. While the fall foliage hadn’t yet reached its peak, the countryside was nonetheless adequately adorned in oranges, yellows, and reds.
Léo Boutin may be a smaller operation than massive competitor Denis Charbonneau, but I found it well-stocked in fresh apple varieties (prepicked or u-pick), frozen cider, and lots of shelf stable goods (think apple cider vinegars, hard ciders, apple mustards, etc). Focusing on apples rather than entertainment, Léo Boutin feels much more relaxing especially in contrast to the Charbonneau zoo, more like a local's destination than a citiot’s haven.
We arrived at Léo Boutin just in time for a late lunch—we never get an early start!—and my sweet tooth immediately drew me to the deep fryer. A dozen beignets set me back $1 a piece with the price going up the fewer you ordered. The doughnut lady generously scooped dough from a bucket and plunged these dollops of dough into hot oil. Those cool enough to handle were tossed in cinnamon sugar and bagged on the spot for customers. As she bagged my dozen, she explained how these doughnuts contained pommes hâchées or chopped apples. You could tell, too, as each bite yielded apple pieces.
The menu for the on-site restaurant was limited and a bit pricey by American standards but standard for Québec. Bryan and I shared an omelet and made up for the small portion by immediately enjoying some apple doughnuts. If we were to go again (which I’m hoping we will next fall), I’ll take a cue from Quebecers and picnic in the orchard like we saw other families doing. Doesn’t that sound lovely? A lazy Indian Summer picnic lunch amidst the shade of an apple orchard in view of Mont Saint-Grégoire. A dream come true!
We felt so much more relaxed at Léo Boutin than at Charbonneau. As we waited for our omelet, I clambered all over the property snapping away with my camera and Bryan enjoyed the shade of the outdoor seating. After eating, we ambled into the quaint gift shop. Léo Boutin maximizes space by situating its indoor restaurant seating as well as the gift shop and dégustation (hard cider tasting) in an open concept area with outdoor seating available on the adjacent porch. The gift shop included locally made apple cider vinegars, hard ciders, apple preserves, and even apple mustard. The latter made for a fantastic souvenir and has been delightfully enjoyed on ham sandwiches ever since! Two large freezers, arranged side-by-side, were stocked with jugs of frozen cider. The two liter jugs that I went for were a priced a little over $4. A small sweets display next to the register included apple pies, lollipops, several varieties of maple treats.
By the way, I should explain that cider is one of those words that looks and sounds similar between English and French but carries slightly different connotations. I grew up knowing cider as as an unrefined apple juice whereas cidre refers exclusively to hard cider. We specify when cider is alcoholic; however, for the Quebecers, all cider is hard. If like me you find yourself searching for cider in Québec you will want to look for jus de pomme instead of cidre. From what I can tell, the packaging will be different from regular apple juice since it normally comes in the 2 liter/half gallon or 4 liter/full gallon plastic jugs like in the States. And some type of specification is added to the label. The Léo Boutin label on the left specifies that it's not pasteurzed as does the one I picked up at Poivre et Sel (my local épicerie) on the right. If you're not sure you can always specify by asking for jus de pomme brut or crut, literally raw or “crude” apple juice.
I will admit that the bathroom situation at Léo Boutin was a bit awkward. There was just one restroom on site with two toilet stalls. Men and women using a public restroom at the same time was an awkward necessity before making the long drive back to Montréal. But I'd gladly take a real toilet any day over Charbonneau’s porta-potties!
I just can’t get over the difference between the two places. The staff at Léo Boutin were all friendly and attentive from the parking attendants to the doughnut lady to the apple vendor to our waitress—nice and down-to-earth folks enjoying the warm fall sunshine and the opportunity to do some business. I wholeheartedly recommend Cidrerie Vergers Léo Boutin and can’t wait to go back. Happy fall et bonne automne!