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Chalet BBQ a beacon of stability in an ocean of change

Over 62 years into its hot streak, NDG's landmark Chalet BBQ on Sherbrooke has made an enduring business out of sticking to one specialty — slow-cooked charcoal-grilled chicken with a unique, smoky trade-secret sauce handed down through the ages and shrouded in mystique. The flavour, unlike any standard chicken joint fare, prompts enough fan testimonials — spanning multiple generations — to give the most jaded aficionado reason to try.

"It's still the same family that runs it," says Daniel, head of the establishment for the past 20 years. "We haven't changed a thing, that's the beauty of it. Staying with what you know best, that's the secret. When I started, the boss said, 'Danny, just make sure you serve good food, and lots of it, at good prices, and don't worry about the rest.'"

Apart from the sage advice and distinct barbeque recipe, he attributes his lasting success to a few other key ingredients: "Other places use natural gas. We use charcoal. Most of our customers like it well cooked, a bit crispy. Others like it a bit different. Our policy is we do it the way you like it. Everybody's got a favourite. My staff know by heart what our regulars like. And we never charge for extras."

Sampling the half chicken dinner, accompanied by fries and coleslaw, the singular taste raises an eyebrow at first bite. Special enough to stir talk and idle speculation on its constituent parts, it raises one burning question: how has such craft stayed confined to NDG all these years and not propagated worldwide?

"People ask us about opening another location," says Daniel with a laugh, "but you think you can find people like Carmie every day?" A celebrity waitress by any measure after 15 years at Chalet BBQ, Carmie and her contribution to the ambiance are cited by fans as often as the recipe among reasons to visit. Another top draw is queen of seniority Lucia, serving customers for over 50 years. "I have great staff," he attests. "It's not me. I've got great kitchen people and fantastic waitresses. That's why people are loyal. We get to know them."

Such accolades were borne out during a Thursday lunch visit, with zealous service and speedy refills in a relaxed, low key environment suited to quiet conversation. It's unbeatable for business lunches, as long as you keep your fingers off the paperwork once the food arrives, and even a first date, wherever a vintage oldschool vibe is called for.

Daniel guesses about three quarters of the clientele are over 40. He notes that the flipside of loyalty is a strong preference for continuity. "We moved one thing," he says of a minor redecorating effort, "and everyone's asking me, 'Why did you move that? I liked it there.' So we learned if it ain't broke don't fix it." Patrons of all ages will thus find the atmosphere comfortingly retro.

As a specialty outfit, their menu doesn't take long to read, but there's a deeper logic to doing one thing well, learned from prior restaurateur experience: "Sometimes they ask, 'Why don't you put ribs on the menu, or this or that on the menu?' When the place gets busy like this, you know how much that slows things down? Our chicken takes an hour and a quarter to cook. This way it's ready right away when you order." And the food does indeed arrive at breakneck speed, making any big discussion a better idea to leave until afterwards.

This find, already familiar to many readers of The Senior Times, is a top candidate for any Best-Of itinerary when showing out-of-towners around. Chalet BBQ is at 5456 Sherbrooke W, by the Decarie Expressway overpass, and has free parking in back.



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