Walking up the steps into L’Anecdote on the corner of St. Hubert and Rachel is a Montreal comfort-food pilgrimage of sorts.
A nostalgic retro interior, with signature fifties and sixties era sights, songs, and smells, its authenticity rivals some of the more expensive, flashy and hip odes to this city’s love of beef patties.
But last spring, it came within seconds of being decimated in a fire.
“The firefighters were able to find the source one minute before the fire erupted completely,” says Catherine Valois, co-owner of the acclaimed burger joint once dubbed as among the best in town by former Montreal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman.
“They confirmed had we called them one minute later, they would have lost control of the flames and we would have gone bankrupt.”
The casse-croûte was forced to close its doors for five months, and six upstairs neighbours were forced from their apartments in the aftermath. Now, eight months on, the beloved casse-croûte continues to struggle.
Valois, who co-owns the restaurant with her spouse Eddy Siab (formerly of east Plateau diner Maam Bolduc), bought L’Anecdote a year before the fire erupted in their chimney, nearly ending their careers as new owners of the 35-year-old institution.
As Valois recalls the events, she is visibly shaken. She says she was thankful the firehouse was just a few blocks away when she made the executive decision to call during a dinner rush. This was after an unfamiliar odor began to disturb her, even as others told her not to worry.
“No one seemed to care but the more time went on, the more the air started to get dark and thick.”
Once the firefighters arrived and made the order to evacuate the premises, they stormed the restaurant with axes, gutting it, trying to find the cause of the smoke.
“In the end it was coming from our chimney, from where our kitchen fan pushes air up through it.”
Luckily, the diner-esque vinyl laden stools and booths were salvaged, but it took a long time (and a lot of money) to get the oh-so-retro dining room open for business again. Issues with insurance, asbestos and one of Montreal’s hottest summers were to blame.
“We spent three weeks on our hands and knees scrubbing the place from floor to ceiling before opening. We haven’t had a single day off then. Every day, we are here and we do it all. We put our blood sweat and tears into this place,” says Valois.
Since reopening three months ago, the insurance company still doesn’t want to foot the bill for $150,000 in damages.
“We still haven’t been repaid but we are currently in talks with lawyers. It’s now that we need the money.”
In the meantime, Valois says a new set of clientele will likely keep them flipping burgers until they get back on their feet.
She says she hopes more people will make the trek out to the Plateau for it, like they do for La Banquise, the famed house of poutine just a few blocks east of L’Anecdote.
“Here, it’s all fresh local ingredients and everything is homemade. Our ham is cooked for eight to nine hours, as are our braised beef and beans. It’s quality food that makes people feel like they are back in their grandma’s basement.”
Indeed, a Montreal pilgrimage of sorts.