Montreal’s Best Food and Drink

By / Magazine / February 25th, 2010 / 1

The lure of a journey through Montreal’s sea of restaurants was an experience that I was not willing to forego. It’s been almost 30 years and I have always held a fondness for its European feel and sincere food culture. So when Tidings editor Aldo Parise asked if I would be interested in writing a piece about Montreal, I jumped at the opportunity. Actually, I jumped on a plane from Paris with great anticipation for what lay ahead.

Upon being received by Monsieur Parise at Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport, my first task was to convince him to not only serve as my guide, but to also join me on this culinary expedition. Although the prospect of twenty restaurants in thirty-six hours appeared to panic our young editor, he agreed, after some gentle coaxing and with the best interests of the magazine’s beloved readers in mind, to temporarily abandon the creative and technological helm of the publication to partake in this culinary field study (bottle of Tums in pocket).

I can think of no better place to initiate our journey than Montreal’s smoked-meat institution: Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen. Firmly established in its original location on the now-fashionable Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Schwartz’s has seduced and satisfied the appetites of locals and celebrities since 1928.

{loadposition contentad} Even at 3 p.m. there is a queue, but it moves quickly, and we take our positions at the counter. I defer to Aldo to order as the locals do, and moments later we are presented with a “big plate” of smoked meat (I am warned that ordering the meat lean will result in scornful glares — but, I am perplexed, why would any sane carnivore order this succulent brisket lean?), a stack of sliced rye bread, a small bowl of coleslaw, a very large pickle, and a couple of cans of Cotts Black Cherry Soda.

The first taste takes me back three years to my first visit here. The flavour, the juicy tenderness of the smoked meat with its almost melt-in-your-mouth texture. Do not adulterate by adding condiments (maybe just a little mustard), simply stack liberally on the rye and enjoy au naturel. The pickle (one of the best I have ever tasted), the very proper no-mayo coleslaw and the surprisingly delicious black-cherry soda are the perfect companions. Reminding myself that this is simply our first stop, I, unlike Monsieur Editor, reluctantly resist a second serving. [Editor’s note: It was just so good.]

Following a leisurely stroll past the eclectic boutiques on Saint-Laurent, we arrive at Patati Patata. Quite literally a hole in the wall, the tiny diner was full — not difficult considering it is host to perhaps a dozen seats. The last two vinyl stools were seemingly awaiting our arrival. The delicious borshch is like drinking warm, velvety beet juice, but the real treat is the fresh fries with the deeply flavoured poutine sauce. A warm, ultra-chocolate brownie leaves us longing to come back to sample the highly recommended burgers, the roast beef and the filet of sole with homemade parmesan tartar sauce.

Further up on Saint-Laurent lies Chilenita, an unpretentious Chilean empanada heaven, which offers a variety of fillings for these doughy pastry pockets. We choose the classic ground beef with olives, onions and hard-boiled egg and the Champêtre (beef cubes, ground beef, chorizo and onions) … both flavourful and filling. We love the freshly made, well-seasoned guacamole, and the churro filled with rich dulce de leche, while somewhat doughy, left a lovely lingering sweetness on the palate. Friendly service, casual atmosphere and extremely reasonable prices make Chilenita a great anytime choice for lunch, dinner or a quick bite.

If you have never had West Indian cuisine, a great place to be initiated is at the Guyanese Jardin du Cari. The soft roti (flat bread) is the perfect utensil for the tender, cumin-scented goat meat. Soft pumpkin adds a hint of sweetness and another layer to the already-multi-dimensional dish. A side of luscious, caramelized plantains is a great substitute for dessert. If you are on a budget (satisfy your hunger for under $10) or if you just love great food, the soulful Jardin du Cari should be on your list of comfort-food eateries.



Continuing on the ethnic theme, of which there is no shortage of tasty options, we make our way to Maison Indian Curry. So well priced and delicious — two people can eat to their hearts and stomachs’ content, for $30. Since they serve both northern and southern Indian cuisine, we reluctantly narrow our selections to papri chat (fried dough with potatoes and chickpeas topped with yogurt, spices and tamarind chutney), masala dosa (thin crepe stuffed with potato, fried onions and spices served with sambar (lentil soup) and coconut chutney) and goat sheesh kabobs with naan. All are brilliantly seasoned and delightfully pleasing. Cool the heat with the creamy mango shake; those of you who’ve spent time on the sub-continent will recognize the Fanta Orange and Thumbs Up sodas.

What visit to Montreal would be complete without sampling the world-famous bagels? Boiling before baking gives them their distinct chewiness. We get our bagels to go at the always-open Saint-Viateur Bagel Shop. Founded over fifty years ago, the shop sells thousands of their baked-in-the-wood-burning-oven bagels every day! Golden on the outside, soft and slightly sweet on the inside, it would be so easy to eat three or four of these deceivingly light bagels before realizing you are full.

Another must-stop for take-away is the Alati Caserta bakery in Little Italy. The torrone (nougat with nuts), bruti mas buoni (ugly but tasty cookies), canoli and other pastries could easily make you forget that you are not in Italy.

Having settled into a casual and quick pattern, we speed off to Dic Ann’s. I am glad that Aldo warned me about the burgers here, because otherwise I might have thought someone had accidentally sat on them. The burgers are not just flat, they are squishy flat. The distinctive flavour of cloves gives the impression of eating tourtière, another Quebec specialty. We hurry off to Gibeau Orange Julep, a two-storey-high grande orange. Although they have burgers and hot-dogs here, my guide makes it clear, “Go for the juice.” Creamy and light, we ponder the secret to the airy texture … beaten egg whites?

Referred to by many as the best and first poutine house in Montreal, La Banquise is open twenty-four hours a day, and offers some twenty-five different varieties of the dish, including Kamikaze (merguez sausage, hot pepper, Tabasco), Trois Viandes (ground beef, pepperoni, bacon) and Galvande (chicken and peas). We go for the original: Classique. Great curds, perfectly cooked fries and rich poutine sauce … if you can only eat one poutine at one place, this would be it.



A great indication of a city’s food scene is the quality of its breakfast establishments. Montreal earns top marks in this regard as well. I fell in love with L’Avenue on Mount-Royal East. Cool and hip with funky music, a long lineup and an extensive menu, this is the type of place that can become an institution. Seeing pork and beans, I cannot help but order the Déjeuner Costaud — three eggs (I ordered poached, and they were perfect), pork and beans, sausage or bacon, and a crepe with maple syrup. Aldo had the Benedict à la Bretonne with asparagus, onions and peppers. Both dishes were excellent and substantial. Expect a line-up, but it’s worth the wait.

If you are looking to go back in time, drop by Beauty’s Luncheonette a little bit further on Mount-Royal West. This old-school diner serves blintzes, potato latkes, amazing smoothies, great waffles and fluffy blueberry pancakes. Beauty’s menu is more traditional than L’Avenue, but the long line-up here is just as warranted.

Most fine dining in Montreal tends to be casual, unpretentious and bustling. A fancy exception is Toqué. ’Twas a beautiful sleek and modern room, but perhaps we caught them on an off night as neither the food nor the service were impressive. Its long-standing reputation, though, warrants giving the place another chance.

Quite the opposite was our experience at cool and cozy Joe Beef. Relatively new to the scene, the name is slightly misleading, because the menu is full of seafood. Oysters, Asian-flavoured soft-shell crab, shrimp with avocado, langoustines and walleye are all prepared to highlight the freshness of the seafood. The room is tiny with a great upscale yet casual vibe. Both the menu and wine list are written on a blackboard that covers almost an entire wall in the dining room.



There are two restaurants that cannot be missed on any food lover’s visit to Montreal. They are so different, yet both are clear examples of what can be achieved when great-quality ingredients meet flawless execution by talented chefs. A former private club (which explains the nondescript entrance and absence of windows), Chasse et Pêche, as the name implies, is all about seafood and game. Everything we tried was intriguing and outstanding — from the bison-prosciutto-wrapped yellow beets and goat cheese to the succulently tender veal cheeks, the most wonderful braised piglet risotto with foie-gras shavings (the foie is shaved when it is frozen so it actually melts in the risotto: decadent!), and the duck magret with duck-confit farro. Bravo! Service was proper but unpretentious and friendly. The wine list is Old-World dominant, but with many unique selections.

And creating the biggest buzz in culinary circles all across North America is Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon. This is not a restaurant; this is a hedonistic (as Anthony Bourdain so correctly stated) “temple of gastronomy” to which culinary pilgrims must come to pay homage to the pig and the liver. It is so easy to get caught up in the staff’s genuine excitement, enjoyment and lack of convention. But make no mistake, this place is seriously good, and Picard is serious about quality, freshness, simplicity and supporting local producers. Dieters are best to stay away from the premises, as there is nothing low-cal about this place: foie gras might as well be a vegetable or a starch, because it seems to be served in copious amounts with everything!

Duck and foie gras are sealed in a can, and the can’s contents are subsequently cooked in boiling water. The can is then opened tableside, and the delicious contents are poured onto your plate. Foie-gras poutine is over-the-top amazing — with foie in the sauce as well as on the fries. Bison tongue, pig’s trotters stuffed with foie gras, confit lamb shank, maple-syrup pie … you may as well put your cardiac surgeon on alert prior to eating here. Two weeks later, I would finally emerge from my foie-induced coma, feeling quite dirty but oh-so-happy.

To assist in clearing the arteries that were blocked by the foie gras, have the paramedics stop over at the Pullman wine bar so you can sample a glass or two of resveratrol- and saponin-rich red wine. Enjoy a flight of Pinot Noir, of sparkling wine or a selection from the Loire Valley. This comfortable and elegant room also serves delicious plates ideal for sharing … mini bison burgers, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, raw tuna with shrimp mousse are just a few samples of Chef Louis-Philippe Breton’s culinary imagination. All the good things you hear about Montreal’s diverse and delicious culinary scene are true. If you live here, appreciate it. If you travel there, indulge in it. Nay — not if, but when, because every true food lover must experience Montreal. Just ask our gentle editor if you can borrow his bottle of Tums.



Montreal’s Places to Eat

Alati Caserta 277 Dante St.

L’Avenue 922 Mount-Royal Ave. E.

La Banquise 994 Rachel St. E.

Beauty’s  93 Mount-Royal Ave. W.

Chilenita 5439 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

Le Club Chasse et Pêche 423 Saint-Claude St.

Gibeau Orange Julep 7700 Décarie Blvd.

Jardin du Cari 21 Saint-Viateur St. W.

Joe Beef 2491 Notre-Dame St. W.

Maison Indian Curry 996 Jean-Talon St. W.

Patati Patata 4177 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

Au Pied de Cochon 536 Duluth Ave. E.

Pullman 3424 Parc Ave.

Saint-Viateur Bagel  263 Saint-Viateur St. W.

Schwartz’s 3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd.

Toqué 900 Jean-Paul-Riopelle Square


Looking at the small things that make life great and the people who create them.

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