Legend has it that since the '60s, Montreal's finest hot wheels and classic cars converge at the "Big Orange" on Decarie Boulevard, a favorite landmark/eyesore among kids, their parents, their grandparents ... it's historically possible their grandparent's parents perused the parking lot for yesteryear's modern rides as they sipped the secret recipe behind the Orange Julep, a foamy, neon orange liquid that inspired original founder Hermas Gibeau to set up shop in 1932. Basing his fast food enterprise on a beverage that's been Gibeau family property since the early 1920s, Orange Julep continues to reign not only as the best place in town to check out classic cars, but as a top fast food joint in Montreal, serving hot dogs, burgers, crunch-free mushy fries, poutine and other fatty options that complement the business namesake.
But What Is in an Orange Julep?
No one is quite sure what's in an Orange Julep drink -- I sense powdered milk (August 26, 2009 update: your humble guide is positive the secret ingredient is ... powdered egg!) -- and the Gibeau family made it stay that way, resisting franchise opportunities while faithfully guarding a recipe ripe with "health benefits." Yes. "Health benefits." Notwithstanding high sugar content, orange julep's nutritional value is mildly superior to that of a typical soft drink and 250 ml contains more Vitamin C and less fat than iceberg lettuce, the arguably least nutritious vegetable on the market. And no one is quite sure why we like a drink that looks like industrial hand soap quite so much. But this particular heavenly brew is available in only one place on the globe, right here, in Montreal. And for some, it's a once-in-a-lifetime taste bud experience. To me, it's a creamy, frothy, happy concoction that tastes like my fifth birthday. Not that I can actually remember my fifth birthday. But if I could, it would taste like that.
A Little Food History
Citing first kisses and the big orange's mythical role as a pilot-saving beacon, The Gazette's Bill Brownstein does a fine job of describing the history behind Orange Julep's three-story high, 40-foot wide legacy, a place he describes as the once "culinary epicentre" of Montreal.
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: The Cars
Orange Julep's exclusive mystery beverage is but the tip of its attractions. Vintage vehicles define the Big Orange as much as the food and giant fiberglass fruit, a Montreal word-of-mouth tradition that's somehow stayed under the radar for decades ... until now. Come on a Wednesday night between May and October -- if the weather is really nice sometimes as early as April and as late as November -- between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and you'll see an informal blast from the past materialize before your eyes. Mustangs, Panteras, Mercedes older than certain countries, this is the quintessential gathering place for muscle car and antique auto maniacs. As the tradition goes, girls and boys bring in their hot rods and locals vote on their favorites of the night. The hotter and nicer the night, the more cars onlookers can expect to see. Informal gatherings also occur on Tuesdays and in particular, Thursdays, when several pimp-my-ride style modified cars are displayed by anyone who feels like showing off their baby and socializing. Take a look at some of the hot rods I spotted on a Wednesday night.
Orange Julep: General Information
Address: 7700 Decarie, corner of Paré
Get There: Namur Metro (Directions: Exit metro station. Scan skyline for giant orange. Walk towards fruit.)
Hours: Open 24 hours, 7 days a week from April through November. Hours reduced to 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. in colder months but opening hours vary by day and weather conditions. To be on the safe side, call (514) 738-7486 to make sure Orange Julep is open if planning a late night visit in the winter.
More INFO: (514) 738-7486