Montreal road trip incomplete without a Shiner in Burlington
I’ve worked at The Boston Globe since 2004. In just over 11 years, I’ve probably written more than 3,000 stories. I think most of them have been all right.
But one of my greatest accomplishments on the Globe payroll was finding the Shiner, the breakfast sandwich at Kountry Kart Deli in Burlington, Vt. I don’t know whether that speaks more to the Shiner’s greatness or the mediocrity of my reporting career. I hope it is the former.
The discovery took place during one of my first road trips to Montreal. Bruegger’s on Church St. was closed. So I walked down a few blocks and onto Main St. and spotted KKD. I have been going ever since. Yes, I have a Shiner loyalty card.
What it definitely is: a griddled-to-order fried egg, American cheese, meat (sausage, bacon, or ham), and a hash brown in a poppy seed roll. I think the Shiner achieves greatness because the saltiness and crunch of the hash brown offsets the softness of the egg, sausage, and melted cheese.
What it probably isn’t: a breakfast sandwich.
When I rolled into Burlington at around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the place was dead. Try ordering a Shiner, however, at 2 a.m. when the Church St. establishments empty.
For the town’s college kids, the Shiner is the go-to post-refreshment bite. Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller, a four-year Catamount, smiles and has a dreamy look when we talk Shiners. Me too.
So the lure of a Shiner is why I will always drive, not fly, to Montreal for Bruins-Canadiens. The drive on I-89, speaking from experience, can be punishing in foul weather and at 1 a.m. postgame.
But Air Canada does not seem interested in making a Burlington touchdown part of their Montreal itinerary. It will have to be wheels, until I become wealthy enough to hire a private jet to fly me to games. And if that’s the case, I will have alternatives to keyboard pounding to occupy my hours.
Besides, I enjoy driving. No emails. No texts. No laptop. Just a Thermos of good coffee and podcasts (a hat trick of Innovation Hub, Good Food, and America’s Test Kitchen) will keep me going.
The drive through postcard Vermont and the Shiner are not the only things that make Montreal the best road trip in the league. After a busy day covering Canadiens practice and working on another story, I really wanted to stay in my room upon 5 p.m. check-in. But the pull of Qing Hua’s soup dumplings got me out the door and into the pleasant Montreal evening.
Warning: Soup dumplings are as dangerous as Brandon Prust’s stick. If you are not careful, the soup will set your mouth on fire. At Qing Hua, where there are 15 pieces to an order, I recommend the partial nibble and a cautious suck of soup. Halfway through the order, they have cooled enough to take more generous bites. Otherwise, if you eat the first dumpling whole, you will go to the hospital.
If the humble and reliable Qing Hua is the restaurant equivalent of Dale Weise, L’Express is Jean Beliveau: first-line talent and grace.
The bistro on the Plateau is right out of a movie. The checkerboard floor belongs in Montmartre. Crisp white tablecloths feel right off the iron. Everybody speaks French. The food is out of this world.
I’ve been eating at L’Express for 13 years. It is outstanding every time.
It has become my regular lunch spot on game day. When work after the morning skate wraps up, it’s usually mid-afternoon. The lunch crowd has come and gone.
I can sit at the bar, stammer my way through ordering, and snack on cornichons until my croque monsieur arrives. It is one of the three best sandwiches in the league.
The nutty cheese (I’d guess mostly Gruyere and some chevre) is melted just right. One thin slice of ham is plenty. The heavily buttered bread is crispy. A bitter and well-dressed salad cuts through the heaviness of the sandwich. A post-lunch espresso leaves a cloak of coffee taste lingering well after the meal.
L’Express is open until 2 a.m. I’ve considered stopping in after games. But when you’ve got an hour and 45 minutes of postgame wheeling to get back to Burlington, detours are not recommended.
The Montreal-to-Burlington drive isn’t great. It’s late. It’s been a long day. It’s really dark. But I’ve done it so many times that I feel more comfortable doing the drive at night than in daylight, when the roadside objects I never see suddenly make the road feel foreign.
Besides, getting to Burlington postgame not only gets me through customs in seconds, but it sets me up for a good breakfast before heading home. The best place is Mirabelles on Main St. The cheese-and-spinach omelet is good. Coffee is fresh.
The pastries to take home are excellent. The muffins, croissants, cookies, and biscotti I get to go are for my wife and kids, not for me. Really. I swear.
■ Sausage Shiner, Kountry Kart Deli (155 Main St., Burlington, VT)
■ Drip coffee, Bluebird Coffee Stop (116 Church St., Burlington, VT)
■ Steamed pork and leek dumplings, Qing Hua (1676 Lincoln Ave., Montreal, Quebec)
■ Croque monsieur avec salade, Restaurant L’Express (3927 Saint-Denis, Montreal, Quebec)
■ Double espresso, Caffe in Gamba (5263 Parc Ave., Montreal, Quebec)
■ Cheese-and-spinach omelet, Mirabelles Café (198 Main St., Burlington, VT)