Gatineau eatery provides freshly-made sandwiches near Canadian Museum of Civilization


As you turn the corner onto Notre-Dame-de-l’île from Boulevard des Allumetières, observing the funky houses in the area, you will notice a fluorescent light written Ouvert  in the dim street. In this case, head towards the light to find salvation which will come in the form of a sandwich.

The family run p’tite épicerie du quartier, a few metres away from Douglas Cardinal’s stunning Canadian Museum of Civilization, is a revelation from above for sandwich lovers. This cozy convenience store, fine grocery and sandwicherie, is a little gem, in a neighbourhood lacking proper eateries.

Thankfully for the residents, the five-year-old store shouldn’t be changing address any time soon. The owner, Hassan Ben Messoud, likes it here and has no plans to expand or relocate. “I used to have a business not too far from here, which is why I decided to come here and plus it’s nice, it’s quiet, close to Ottawa, plus I live near the store,” said Hassan. Another reason not to move his convenient-store is its convenient location between the Collège Saint-Joseph de Hull, where 850 students await the lunchtime time bell and the government office complexes of Place du Portage. That means, come lunchtime, there’s about 11,000 potential clients wondering if there’s something better than their Wonder Bread peanut butter and jam sandwich.

Once you make up a good excuse not to eat your lunch and you head towards the sandwicherie, remember the road to the p’tite épicerie is paved with good intentions. After swinging the door open, a member of staff, usually a family member, is typically to the right awaiting your order with a welcoming smile. However, head to the left to examine the big board where you will find a description of about 20 different sandwiches. For example, number three consists of sliced ham, spiced havarti cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. After wasting half your lunch hour salivating and wavering over which one to choose, advance to the counter to request the sandwich by number and select the type of bread.

Photo courtesy of Laurent Robillard-Cardinal.

No, it’s not the usual mundane choice between white or brown bread, but rather the difficult decision between kalamata olive bread, cheddar cheese jalapeno bread, potato onion bread among others. If these sound familiar it’s because they come from Art-is-in Bakery, who’s owners, Hassan has known for a few years. “I first tasted the bread at Henry Burger and I loved it, it’s really good bread,” said Hassan, who worked at the Le café Henry Burger before they closed their doors in 2006, after 83 years of existence. Stéphanie Monnin, co-owner of Art-is-In Bakery, also worked at the le café Henri Burger as a sommelière. Before la p’tite épicerie became his bread and butter, Hassan also worked at the Sheraton Le Marquis, Le Panaché and a few restaurants in Casablanca.

Oh and while ordering the sandwich ask to have spicy marinated eggplants slapped onto the fourth layer. Eggplant is one of the most popular vegetables in Morocco and it’s not the only moroccan product Hassan uses. “Oh yes, I use moroccan products…can I be more specific? Well I use moroccan spices,” said the laughing Hassan. Regardless of the origins of the ingredients the final product makes for a delicious mouthful and while Hassan might not know all the ingredients, he does know which side of his bread is buttered. His business sells about 60 to 70 sandwiches a day. At five dollars a sandwich that’s $109,500 in a year. In the end, it’s true man does not live by bread alone, but he can certainly live off sandwiches.

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