Among the most powerful signs of spring, in my opinion, nothing beats the pleasure of eating a French fries (salt and vinegar), straight from the greasy brown paper bag, while walking in the rays of the sun, a smile plastered on your face. .
Posted yesterday at 6:00 a.m.
I cook with olive oil, because I don’t digest fried food well, but sometimes all that body and soul crave is just that, a good fried potato. When it happens to me, there is only one possible destination: the Chez Philippe pataterie, opened in 1962 on Atateken Street, formerly Amherst, and which will definitively close its doors on May 13, to the great despair of regulars.
It’s very cool in foodies to know the best greasy spoons from Quebec, but it’s not a fad when your own grandparents, long before you were born, ate the same burgers as you, cooked by the same family for 59 years. It’s part of your DNA.
At the back of the restaurant, you can see a huge photo of the patriarch Philippe Hachez, who died in 2018 at the age of 89, the one who opened the pataterie which was initially only a counter. He was the grandfather of Mélanie Hachez, who tells me the story of the family business. “He was here until the end,” she said. He left the Residences Soleil and descended the hill with his walker, very proud to arrive here. He cut potatoes until he died. My grandfather has always been hardworking. In his early days, he was at the restaurant all day and returned to Lacolle to take care of his farm at night. Work is something he instilled in us, and without being mean, I find that we are different from other people our age who have worked less young. I think we have more dedication in what we do. »
Mélanie Hachez, 37, spent her childhood with her brother Michael in the pataterie run by her grandfather and her parents. In the summer, she and her brother played Super Nintendo in front of a small TV in the back room, sitting on buckets of relish. From the age of 12, she learned to work in the restaurant. In fact, the whole family got involved, and everyone lived in the apartment above Chez Philippe for a while, even their loyal employees for ages, Lise Chaput and Jacques Tanguay. Since 2006, Mélanie has been a full-time manager.
But why close what is a real institution in the Centre-Sud district? Because fast food eats a life, practically seven days a week.
Sure, the pandemic has been tough, there’s a labor shortage and food prices have skyrocketed – while Chez Philippe, located a stone’s throw from one of the biggest tables in Montreal, the Mousso, whose menu is $250, we insist that it remain affordable. But it is by mutual family agreement that the Hachez have decided to put the key in the door.
John Hachez, who had cancer last year, wants to enjoy life; his son Michael now works in construction and his daughter Mélanie wants to see her children grow up. She dreams of working in a library.
What would she like us to remember from Chez Philippe after almost 60 years of good and loyal service? “That we did it all with love,” she replies before bursting into tears, which, of course, makes me cry too. “We leave with our heads held high, we gave everything we could. I’m proud of what we’ve done, I’m glad it’s over with us. Someone else would have taken over the restaurant and it might not have been the same quality. »
“Never serve them what you wouldn’t eat yourself”, said Philippe…
I thought for a long time that the Michigan hot dog was terrible culinary heresy until I tasted the one at Chez Philippe. Rather than having a hot dog soaked in runny spaghetti sauce, here we have a thick, almost chili-like meat sauce, the recipe of which is, of course, a secret, but popular enough that it sold in jars to take home. I bought two during my visit. The last pot of the day was bought by Gary Margeson, 57, who made the detour from Saint-Hubert to come for lunch, ready to receive a statement of offense because he had not found a parking lot. But there is no question for him of missing the last moments of the restaurant he has frequented since childhood. “It’s the best Michigan hot dog there’s ever been, that doesn’t exist anywhere on the planet,” he says, intensely, and I feel like I’ve found another disciple. .
Irène Mayer, another regular, hopes to introduce her brother to Chez Philippe’s Michigan poutine before it’s too late. “Here, these are real potatoes,” she says. Nothing more true: Chez Philippe, it’s the house cut for the fries, but also for the meat of the burgers – and the Michigan sauce, I insist –, which makes all the difference.
The restaurant is full at lunchtime, even more since customers know that there are only four days left: this Friday and next week, May 11, 12 and 13.
Truckers, construction guys, taxi drivers, employees and residents of the neighborhood parade to the checkout, perhaps for the last time. I meet Félix Séguin, the TVA journalist, back from Ukraine, who didn’t hesitate to stop by Chez Philippe when he learned that it was closing. “My sympathies,” he called out to me, giving me a hug.
For others, it’s bewilderment. A gentleman can’t stop muttering: “It’s terrible. Ms. Bastille, who lives on rue Panet, tells me in front of her burger trio that her mother, daughters and granddaughters, even though they live in Laval and Longueuil, have always come to eat here.
Mélanie Hachez installed balloons and made a collage of photos where you can see famous customers like Pagliaro. Pierre Falardeau was once a regular.
Lise Chaput, an employee since 1996, told me with tears in her eyes: “It’s like my family. The children call me aunt. And I go back to my fries with a heavy heart.
In the kitchen, despite the emotion that is palpable, the Hachez retain their professionalism and efficiency – you never wait long for your order at the Pataterie Chez Philippe, where you feel at home. The building, which is no longer very young, has been sold and will probably be demolished to make way, I imagine, for even more damn condos.
What should we remember from Chez Philippe, according to John Hachez? “That was good,” he replies simply, before moving on to the next order. I leave saying “thank you for everything”, with my two jars of Michigan sauce under my arm, which will allow me to stretch out a taste that will soon be just a memory.
Chez Philippe, 1877, rue Atateken.