Food: Orange Julep Print E-mail
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Where giant produce is only half the fun
by Susan Krashinsky
As kids, we all have wacky ideas of what it will be like to be grownups. Personally, I had a fine-tuned plan to eat chocolate for dinner on a daily basis and never to tell my kids what to do, man. While I can't claim to have entirely avoided the self-loathing that comes with the all-sugar diet, most of us tend to grow out of our schemes; sadly, I never became an astronaut, and hopefully I will never have the misfortune to raise a litter of undisciplined monsters.

But I was hardly imaginative enough to even think of constructing a gigantic orange with the intention of living in it with my family - let alone actually doing so and creating a local landmark in the process.

That's exactly what Hermas Gibeau did. Back in 1932, he invented his eponymous orange drink -- now more frequently known as an Orange Julep -- right here in Montreal. What better way to celebrate than by doing what Canadians do best? He built a huge roadside attraction. At a height of 3 storeys and a diameter of 40 feet, the building has a Wonka-esque magic about it (legend has it that Gibeau loved nothing more than taking guests to the upper floor to watch oranges being emptied into a large juicing contraption.)

It also encapsulates the kind of optimism that seems so removed from the outlet stores, faded concrete and industrial warehouses of the Décarie today. Back when roller girls still glided around the parking lot taking orders in the shadow of the Orange, progress seemed like a good thing; now it's more like a juggernaut threatening to crush us under its mammoth wheels. Not to be confused with the Orange Julius chain, Gibeau's has stayed away from the downfall of franchise expansion, and remains an authentic, small operation.

At a height of 3 storeys and a diameter of 40 feet,
the building has a Wonka-esque magic about it.

Maybe that's why people who love the good old days gravitate to the orange. Every Wednesday night a group of vintage cars spontaneously gather in the parking lot. The drivers don't do much really, except grab some eats and admire each other's meticulous restorations. They seem happy just to have somewhere to show off their wheels.

Despite what some overzealous purists will tell you, owning a car is not a prerequisite for a visit to the Orange; especially since Namur Metro station is right across the street (well, the expressway,) and since orders are sadly now taken only by shoe-clad counter lackeys.

But is it worth the trip? Rumour has it that the hot dogs' toasted buns are heaven, but the food on offer is mostly what you would expect from the junky roadside stall genre. A visit here is really all about the drink, a creamy, frothy, sweet concoction that is orange-flavoured in the way that Technicolor is a representation of colour. Still, it's yummy, and served in refreshing portions (hey McDonald's: if I can fit my entire fist into the bottom of the cup, it's not a small!) which are a far cry from the normal supersizes you encounter everywhere else.

It's impossible to know what goes into an Orange Julep, since the recipe is a closely guarded secret. It has been suggested that the drink is actually healthy, since it is fat free; however, its tooth-splitting sweetness suggests it's got more sugar than you can shake a Pixie Stick at. It also boasts a whack of Vitamin C, but it's worthwhile to keep in mind that this is just about the easiest vitamin to obtain through the course of a regular diet.

Besides, you don't drink a Julep for its health benefits. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Gibeau's creation, and the real treat is the most saccharine indulgence of all; a good dose of nostalgia.

Susan Krashinsky is a freelance writer, editor and poet based in Montreal, and is a contributing editor for Montréal Magazine. She writes regularly for The Montreal Gazette, Midnight Poutine and The Canadian Jewish News.

If you go

Gibeau Orange Julep
7700, boulevard Décarie (métro Namur)
(514) 738-7486
Open year-round, every day
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