Thinking back on the year we spent in Montreal reminded me of the many gourmet delights the city had to offer. From restaurants to farmers markets, Montreal is the closest you’ll get to European flavor without flying to Europe. Here’s my personal list of Montreal’s gastronomic offering:
If you live downtown then the Atwater Market will be the most convenient option. It’s not that large but has fruits, vegetables and meat and also stalls selling whatever is in season. It’s a great place to buy a fresh pine tree for Christmas. Of course if you can trek over to the Jean-Talon Market then even better. It is the largest outdoor public market in North America and has everything from fruits, vegetables, flowers and meat plus specialty boutiques. Regional farmers also set up stalls here and the variety of produce changes depending on what’s in season. (My favorite stall: Qui lait cru!?! for their excellent selection of cheeses and the small grocery Douceurs de Marche)
Au Pied de Cochon is one of those places that you go to once and then visit again and again with friends. Famous chef Martin Picard has created his version of Cuisine Quebecoise with a twist. Classic comfort food is reworked and served without any pretensions. Poutine (a Quebec classic of french fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy) is reworked with gravy but this time with chunks of foie gras. It’s not a place for vegetarians or for those on a diet – the food is hearty and the portions generous. Try to book dinner at the counter so you can be part of the action since the kitchen is just an arm’s-length away.
Joe Beef – When ex chefs David McMillan and Frederic Morin of Montreal’s famous restaurants GLOBE and Rosalie, decided to team up and open a restaurant in the seedy section of Notre-Dame, it was always going to be a must-visit. We were able to visit in the first month and went several more times afterwards. The chalkboard menu changes often specializing in seafood despite the restaurant’s name. The food is good and the atmosphere convivial but be sure to book as there are only a few tables and lots of people waiting to get in.
L’Express (3927 St Denis; Tel +1 514 845 5333) Classic French bistro with black and white tiled floors, a long zinc-topped bar, tables smashed close together, apron-toting waitstaff and paper tablecloths make this a must visit when in Montreal. Food is not fussy and you won’t go wrong with the steak frites. Bustling and open almost all day (from 8 a.m. till 3 a.m.) so you can always walk in and get a table if you don’t mind a short wait.
Lemeac (1045 Laurier St West; +1 514 270 0999) on fashionable Laurier in Outremont has been open since 2001 but still remains one of the city’s fashionable bistros. Food is simple, consistently good bistro fare – salmon tartare, steak frites, oysters. At Lemeac, you get what you pay for plus some fantastic people watching while you dine.
The Best Unlicensed restaurant would undoubtedly be A L’OS (5207 St Laurent, +1 514 270 7055) situated right beside Bu wine bar. Many restaurants in Montreal don’t have liquor licenses and so you can BYOB (bring your own bottle) to dinner. Lots of them are simple places but A L’OS has separated itself from the rest. It’s probably the most expensive BYOB in town but worth every cent since you can also enjoy some great wines from your own collection without paying the exorbitant restaurant mark-ups. The last time we were there, we brought a Chateau Margaux 1988 and had a fantastic meal.
Restaurants worth the hype
It took awhile to get to Brunoise since at first we didn’t know where it was then we couldn’t get a table. The cuisine at Brunoise is simple but the flavours are distinct and well worth the trip to the east side. The owners are always present – one is the chef, the other is the manager – and service is helpful yet unobtrusive. Parking is impossible so take a taxi.
Arriving at Le Club Chasse et Peche‘s nondescript doorway in Vieux Montreal (Old town) is a little bit unnerving. The entryway is dark and gloomy and it feels like a cellar. Get past the reception though and the dining are is modern and the place is packed. This underground restaurant is like a club for those in the know with gastrophiles and sharing the space with local celebrities and politicians. When we had dinner there, ex-Prime Minister Paul Martin was at a nearby table with his family. The cuisine is modern Quebecoise with emphasis on local ingredients. This is a fine dining establishment so don’t expect to dine and dash. I prefer it in the winter when it’s freezing cold outside and the place is warm and inviting. If you do go in the winter, get some grips for your boot soles because the sidewalk entry is a slippery slope.
Bu is on trendy St. Laurent boulevard yet the atmosphere is more like a friendly neighborhood hangout. Countless wines by the glass and a simple Italian-style menu to complement the wines. Owners and staff are super friendly so dining at the bar alone is doable.
Patisseries and Boulangeries
Patisserie de Gascogne (4825 Sherbrooke W in Westmount, +1 514 932 3511 and on 237 Laurier Ave. in Outremont). Opened in 1957, this is the most prominent patisserie in town with several locations scattered all over the city. The array of pastries, chocolates, breads can’t be beat. They also have prepared dishes that can just be brought home and reheated. The staff are efficient but unfriendly and will insist that you takeaway the food when they feel that the place is too full and that there are no more tables left. In the summer, this is acceptable but in the winter, who wants to have a cappuccino and croissant in below freezing temperatures?!
Olive+Gourmando is a little cafe/boulangerie hidden away in one of the cobble stoned streets of Old Montreal. There’s always a short wait to get a table but it’ll be worth it. There is a large selection of premium breads and cakes along with a daily changing menu of sandwiches, soups and salads. The place is homey and casual but filled with serious food-lovers and the staff are helpful and love what they do.
Beauty’s retro 50’s interiors are special. Food is diner fare with large sandwiches, soups and salads but the best are the breakfasts – pancakes, eggs, omelets. The place is packed and octogenarian owner Hymie seats people at the door while his son is at the cash register.
Schwartz’s deli boasts Montreal’s most famous and most popular smoked meat sandwich. Lines snake out side this tiny shopfront on the weekends and although the service is gruff, people come back from more.
For a true taste of Italy, the Caffe Italia on 6480 St. Laurent can’t be beat. Smack in the middle of Montreal’s Little Italy, it’s soccer-postered walls and Formica-topped tables are not fancy but the coffee they serve is the best in town. Share the counter with Italians discussing football and having their cappuccinos along with paninis. It’s a great place for a quick breakfast before heading off to nearby Jean-Talon market.