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Dish at Agrikol restaurant


Montreal, QC

Agrikol • Montreal, QC

1844 rue Amherst

Agrikol’s is the only menu I know of that proposes sugar cane three ways. Our tabletop ti’ ponch service is a bottle of clear Barbancourt rhum agricole, a carafe of frothy fresh-pressed cane juice and a vial of darkly viscous cane syrup. “The holy trinity,” general manager Julio Mendy says, laying down a tumbler of limes and a bucket of ice. Haitians call this make-your-own arrangement chacun prépare sa propre mort, or “everyone mixes his own death.” Now I know which feature cocktail they’ll be serving at my wake.

Can you drink and eat so fantastically in Port-au-Prince at midnight on a Sunday? This two-floor madhouse, strewn with Haitian Vodou art, iron bannisters and musical instruments, is thumping with konpa from hi-fi speakers while a cute couple makes out at the bar. Montreal’s Gay Village has a couple of Canadian power couples to thank: Jen Agg and Roland Jean, whose Black Hoof in Toronto ranked second on this list in 2009, and Régine Chassagne and Win Butler of the band Arcade Fire.

The rum and the rara music have made us ravenous for accras (hauntingly creamy fried balls of malanga root) and griot (twice-cooked cubes of sour-orange-marinated pork). Chef Marc Villanueva stews a slab of pumpkin in tomato and coconut milk and a mysterious blend of spices – I’m too busy drinking to inquire – and tops it with pickled onions and puffed wild rice. A jar of pikliz, crunchy and hyper-tangy fermented coleslaw, lets you customize the acidity of each dish. It’s the new salt and pepper.

Ultimately, a meal at Agrikol circles back to rum: Hot sweet-potato cake (pen patat), redolent with plumped raisins, nutmeg and clove, is doused with a reduction of El Dorado. As accordions thrum and a veil of pink neon light bathes the room, I check on our bottle of Barbancourt. There’s just enough left to mix one more ti’ ponch. Let the bon bagay play on.

Soundtrack of the Year
Agrikol Graffiti Mural
Roland Jean

Agrikol’s Roland JeanOn Music

I want to play Haitian music in its purest form, and for me that’s live bal. The recordings are taken right off the floor of the dancehall, so there’s an excitement to the sound that you can’t replicate in the studio. I play a lot of konpa, Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s creation that blends influences of 1950s calypso, merengue and the rhythms of Guinea. Rara is a fast-paced genre with heavy African rhythms, and it expresses the soul of Haitian Vodou culture. Louisiana’s accordion-heavy zydeco isn’t Haitian, but it fits the vibe – on our opening night, Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans graced us with some amazing zydeco.

His Desert-Island Discs

Les Gypsies de Pétion-Ville Patience
Skah-Shah Guêpe Pangnole
Orchestre Tropicana Le Nègre

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1844 rue Amherst

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