This chicken is worth a bit of a pilgrimage

Whether rotisserie or broasted, this spot in the East-End neighbourhood of Tétreaultville works magic with poultry.

Le Coq de l’Est 2015, bar-side. Photos by J.P. Karwacki

This month has brought us F1, when a portal to hell opens up below the downtown core and from it comes this city’s grossest pleasures: pockets are thrown open to litter coke-dusted bills, sex trafficking reaches a fever pitch, revved engines from trust funded joyrides are heard thundering on roads late into the night and champagne tastes bitter alongside jacked up surf and turf. The resulting hangover is shrugged off as a sacrifice paid for the sake of filled coffers. Don’t like it? You either glut or get out.

I got out. A weak protest notwithstanding, I went looking for the furthest area I could commute to for a meal, taking the train to the easternmost end of the green line and walking further into Tétreaultville. It’s a part of the city that goes forgotten by the island’s core boroughs, its housing and businesses firmly planted with no plans of moving and a storied history of fighting  against gentrification, industrialization and further urbanization. It’s a cliché run ragged that bygone ways of life were simpler, plainer. It’s specious to say it in the general sense when looking back on history’s atrocities (say, F1 for instance), but hard to dispute when it comes to manners of food.

Suppose that was one of the factors behind Omar Zabuair and Vanessa Beeching (partners in life and labour) setting up their rotisserie chicken joint le Coq de l’Est 2015.  Despite sporting career-making pedigrees from Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon, respectively, the two opted to set up a simpler shop in a simpler setting far, far away from the grand marquees and fanfares of higher-end establishments. “Did you folks come for F1?” Beeching asked me at the end of a meal she serviced impeccably. Telling her I was trying to get away from it, she gave me this look of astute understanding and laughed.

The main event

There’s a holy, traditional trinity to eating out across Quebec: casse-croûte joints, maple syrup hootenannies (albeit seasonal) and rotisserie chicken. There are the famous Portuguese spots of the Plateau, but one doesn’t need to wander too far to see a roasted chicken joint in either a mom and pop or more commercialized incarnation. The plate’s a basic one: a cut of leg or breast is served with a mound of fries, a cup of slaw and gravy, and one half of a toasted hamburger bun. No fussing, and universally loved across the province. These kinds of establishments do one thing, and they do it well.

It’s surprising to see how few younger restaurateurs want to do something that would otherwise be deemed basic. While there’s no shame in craving complexity and challenge, why not do one thing and do it well? It’s the admirable quality of consistency. As opposed to constantly reinvigorated menus, an arm’s length of selections from wine cellars, Zabuair and Beeching took on le Coq, faded signage, old equipment and all, and made it their own.

It’s a small house of a building hiding on the back of its lot, even sagging a bit with age, its only initial distinguishing mark a sun-faded sign featuring a cartoon chicken inviting you in. The interior’s not entirely different, bearing the rusticity of an urban cabane enforced by taxidermy on the walls and chicken-themed kitsch. Clues of new management are largely reinforced by the ephemera the owners decided to hang up — a book on the U.S.S. Enterprise, record sleeves, matters of self-expression that work with the preceding years that went into this place, not against them, and kept classic.

The menu at le Coq’s no different, separated into four selections: chicken, ribs, salads and poutine. Done. Granted, the owners’ inventiveness and sense of play is expressed in two ways. On the beverage side, there’s a short selection of wine by the bottle or glass, imported beers and cocktails. As for the kitchen, it features specials every now and then, ones that come closest to straying from the restaurant’s original Québécois roots and closer to the Pakistani heritage of Zabuair: a tomato chaat salad, chicken yellow curry, juicy skewered bird hearts. Here, comfort food is a clay that’s twisted, tweaked, torn at and moulded into forms perhaps not immediately recognizable to the usual rotisserie fan club, but still holds water.

That extends to the mainstay chicken, which Zabuair applied tandoori technique to. A good chicken’s crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside; enough on its own, but also a blank canvas for other flavours. This one’s no different, if not better. Succulent meat lies below an aggressively seasoned surface, rubbed throughout, accentuating a crackling skin. Served with a butter chicken gravy and topped with lines of chopped parsley and onion, the journey taken out this far may make it taste all the better, but the quality’s undeniable. With fries blanched and golden, a fresh bun and a refreshing slaw laced with mustard seed? At $20 for a half-bird, more than enough for two people, it’d be a steal if it weren’t a thoughtful gift to the city in its own right.


And while doing one thing well has its perks, I’d also ordered the broasted chicken drizzled with hot sauce, served with the same sides ($15). Le Coq has got its share of well-deserved claim for having some of the best rotisserie chicken in the city, but their fried variety is hard to beat as well. Broasting causes the dish to hold less fat, and the intense bout of initial pressure-frying sealed in every drop of juice. It didn’t last more than three minutes on its plate.

Whether it’s to escape the downtown or simply explore another form of a time-honoured tradition in this province, distance be damned: I know where I’m having my next night out with friends. Here, you can easily count your chickens before they hatch plateside. 

Le Coq de l’Est 2015

8803 Hochelaga

(438) 385-9455