When I was 5 years old, my family moved to suburban Montreal. In the winter, we'd bundle up in snowsuits and have snowball fights and dig tunnels through the mounds of snow where the sidewalks used to be. In the summers, I remember the local Dairy Queen, the old freestanding kind. I was just tall enough to see the top of the counter. I'd stand in the parking lot in the evening with my chocolate-dipped cone of soft-serve, watching for fireflies.
Dania Beach's 7-year-old Dairy Belle (118 N. Federal Hwy., 954- 920-3330), with its walk-up window and its picnic tables in the shade, would be welcome enough if it were only an old-fashioned ice cream and hot dog stand. But owners Gilles and Ritane Grenier and their daughter Isabelle serve the dishes of their native land, Quebec, to the snowbirds and other expats who make Greater Hollywood their home.
The Greniers, who were in the cheese business for decades in Victoriaville, serve the roadside food of Quebec, as specific to its locale as cheese steaks are to Philly.
First, that means poutine ($5.50 to $6.75), a pile of French fries tossed with salty, mozzarella-like white cheese curds and smothered in hot gravy that melts everything together and makes it taste deceptively wholesome. Need veggies with that? Try poutine italienne, with the same fries and curds covered in a homemade tomato sauce, and galvaude, which adds shredded chicken and mushy peas, hitting all the major food groups.
Another regional specialty is the guedille ($2); in its basic form, there's almost nothing to it, just a loose, mayo-based salad of chopped lettuce, tomato, and onion on a toasted hot dog bun. Those who need protein can get versions with bits of chicken or chopped egg ($2.40) mixed in. Either way, it's homey, light, and simple, like something you might have gotten at a lunch counter 40 or 50 years ago. They also have Montreal smoked meat sandwiches on rye ($8.95), for those homesick for that city's own Jewish deli staple, a light-pink cousin of pastrami. Ask for a hot chicken sandwich and you'll get shredded chicken between two slices of bread, covered in gravy and, of course, those mushy peas. There's Salisbury-ish "hamburger steak" and its tomato-sauced "Caruso" variant, the area's only ice-cream-stand spaghetti, and from there, the fare you'd expect: hot dogs available steamed on steamed buns or grilled on toasted buns, with toppings that include mild, nostalgia-laden chili, burgers, and, of course, ice cream, including the creamy soft-serve of my childhood, as well as shakes, malts, ice cream sodas, and all the rest. If you get a sundae, don't miss their homemade caramel topping, thick with cream.
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