A taste of Montreal and France at Humboldt Park's Cafe Marie-Jeanne

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A taste of France and Montreal has come to Humboldt Park where there is a small, unassuming cafe where the kitchen is committed to smoking, curing and pickling most dishes, even baking its own bread and pastries.

The picnic possibilities are endless at Cafe Marie-Jeanne, which hugs the corner of California and Augusta in Humboldt Park. The owners were inspired by the food of Paris and Montreal, which means smoking, pickling, hearty meat pies and delicate pastries.

"Those places inspire us; we don't necessarily strive to make French or French-Canadian food. It does color our menu a little bit," said Chef and Co-owner Mike Simmons.

Take their Montreal-style smoked brisket. Simmons is from Texas, so he knows smoked meat, but here, he dry-rubs and brines brisket for two weeks.

"We brine it in coriander and black pepper and some sort of pastrami-style spices," he said.

Smoked for about 24 hours, it emerges with a dark "bark" and a pink interior; totally juicy and primed for stacking on homemade country wheat bread slathered with German mustard.

"We're not necessarily trying to make exactly Montreal-style smoked meat because I don't know that we could achieve that, but we like the, we like to evoke that feeling," said Simmons.

Or how about a charcuterie platter: think soft, silky chicken liver pate or terrine, grainy mustard and cherry mostarda.

"And then we do a braunschweiger, which is a smoked pork liver sausage and then we do a couple of salamis that we get from a company in Indiana," he said.

A plate of house-smoked and pickled fishes arrives with mackerel, horseradish-beet gravlax and salmon, plus creamed herring, onions, briny capers and large slabs of housemade bread to gather it all together.

"I wanted to make the bread in-house from the beginning and sort of inadvertently we that's been influencing how we create the menu," said Simmons.

So recently, there's been this exciting trend toward pickling and smoking and curing everything in-house and certainly Café Marie-Jeanne is at the forefront of that. This Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich is case in point. It's delicious.

Cafe Marie-Jeanne
1001 N. California Ave., Chicago

EXTRA COURSE: Sheep Cheese Parfait at Cafe Marie-Jeanne
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Steve Dolinsky and Chef Mike Simmons discuss the unique Sheep Cheese Parfait dessert.

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