Magog -- We recommend strolling Magog's main drag, rue Principale, where there are several family restaurants and some small, more urban cafes. One option is the outpost of the popular regional chain Piazzetta, at 399 rue Principale (tel. 819/843-4044). For a drink with a view, the Liquor Store Restaurant and Cabaret, 276 rue Principale (tel. 819/868-4279; www.liquorstoremagog.com), has an outdoor patio that overlooks the river that runs through town. Live music is performed most summer nights.
Maple Heaven in Cabanes à Sucre
For a purely Québec experience that shouldn't be missed, reserve a spot for a meal at a sugar shack. Called cabanes à sucre or érablières in French, they were once places that merely processed sap from maple trees. When producers realized that they were drawing large audiences, some began offering wider experiences to keep the customers reaching for their wallets, putting in bars and dining rooms where bountiful spreads of simple country food are served at long communal tables. Some even put in dance floors and booked live entertainment. Originally open only during sugaring-off season (roughly Feb-Apr), a few now stay open much longer, even all year. There are hundreds across the province, with small directional signs often positioned at roadsides or on highways. Total cost rarely exceeds C$30 per person, though seats can be hard to come by, so make reservations well in advance. At most shacks, you can see the rendering room, where sap gathered from maple-tree taps is boiled in a trough called an evaporator and then cooked further on a stove. Some sites have interpretative trails that wind through maple groves.
An in-season visit to Cabane du PicBois, 1468 Gaspé Rd., off Route 241 south of Bromont (tel. 450/263-6060; www.cabanedupicbois.com), which offers "typical sugar-party meals" on spring weekends, exceeded every expectation. Locals packed long rows of tables in an adorable split-wood cabin under maple trees up a muddy road. There isn't a menu -- you just sit down, and food starts arriving. In our case, thick pea soup and warm bread arrived, and then we helped ourselves to a buffet of ham, maple-tinged sausages, sweetly spiced baked beans, home fries, and mixed green salad and coleslaw lightly dressed with maple vinegar. Jugs of maple syrup stood at the ready for an extra dousing. Dessert of grand-père dumplings baked in maple syrup, thinly rolled pancakes, and maple taffy lollipops -- made by wiggling a line of syrup onto a narrow tray of snow and rolling the taffy onto a popsicle stick -- finished off the memorable meal. Signature products are often sold in a variety of sizes and forms, from syrup to maple candies to spreadable maple butter. Some people, like PicBois's André Pollender, a fourth-generation maple producer, consider the lighter Grade A, from the first run of sap, the best syrup. Others prefer the darker, denser Grade B from later in the season. There's only one way to decide: Taste and see for yourself!
For a more haute sugar shack experience, city folk and fans of celebrity chef Martin Picard (www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca) head to Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, mirroring the name of his wildly popular, and engagingly hedonistic, restaurant in Plateau Mont-Royal. Only open during sugaring-off season, tables are booked months in advance. If, however, you don't mind going during the week (weekends are packed), chances are you'll nab a table. You can expect prices to be higher than normal.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.