Montreal: more than just bagels and poutine

Montreal has fantastic food options, both in terms of cuisine, price points and quality. There are a number of vibrant neighbourhoods with iconic food scenes and populated streets to supplement these areas. We ate out basically every meal and it’s been a while since I ate such repeatedly good food. I think most prominent is the two to three dollar sign kind of restaurants, all serving food to an incredibly high standard (at least the ones we looked at).

My favourite meal was the one we ate at Modavie, located in the Old Town and somewhere I had heard of but thought we might not make it to. Salmon, calamari, pulled pork ragout and creme brulee – what a combo! It came about because we were supposed to eat dinner at Loam, but then we ended up leaving because the atmosphere inside Loam was nothing like what the exterior suggested (instead there was insanely loud music, the staff weren’t wearing masks and we were placed right next to what felt like an obnoxiously large group). We wound up at Modavie, but we had to wait until 10pm until we could be seated – thankfully we were running on Vancouver time! The food, the service and the ambience were all exceptional and so I am very glad things worked out the way they did.

The age old battle of who has the better bagel, New York or Montreal, is a timeless one, and certainly a battle that I am more than willing to keep testing. Even though I have now supposedly eaten the most ‘famous’ bagels in both New York and in Montreal, I can only conclude that I love them both! In Montreal, the place to be seen at for getting your daily dose of bagel is St. Viateur, which has expanded now to include four different locations around the city. Two of these are extremely close together, so we visited the less busy one to purchase our goodies and then wandered down to the flagship to spectate the masses lining up for their turns. Due to Covid-19, St. Viateur is not currently offering their menu: rather, you just buy the bagels you want and then purchase all the toppings from the fridge for some DIY business at home. Of course we opted for the classic: smoked salmon and cream cheese. Chewy, fresh and flavoursome, our assortment of bagel flavours (rosemary and rock salt, ‘everything’ and sesame) more than satisfied our cravings.

Cute coffee shops are certainly in no shortage around Montreal, particularly in the Mile End, Plateau and Old Town areas. As we wandered the neighbourhood streets it felt as though there was a sign for croissants and fresh coffee on every other corner. And with the heavy French influence, you know the pastries are going to be good! We were recommended Cafe Mercanti in the Old Town, which ironically, is 100% Italian. It serves as a wee Italian market as well, and I think the owners proudly stock nothing but Italian products. We had a delicious ham and cheese croissant, a salted caramel cookie (which didn’t sound as good as the Toblerone or the Ferrer Rocher, but Andy panicked while ordering in French and defaulted to the words he knew best!) and two Americanos, which we enjoyed in the sun down on the waterfront.

Another coffee spot we ended up frequenting at different locations around the city was Cafe Olimpico. Its location in the Old Town is the most cute, as there is seating down one of my favourite alleys in the area, but we also visited Olimpico near St. Catherines street (the main shopping district). Again, this spot had been recommended to us and we really enjoyed the fact Olimpico served allongé, essentially a slightly shorter version of a long black. It was yum, albeit strong, and it is always nice to be consuming less liquid when there is no guarantee of the next bathroom stop!

We were also repeat customers at La Beignerie, not for their coffee but for their donuts. On our first visit, Andy waited outside with our bikes while I went in and ordered. I was entirely overwhelmed by the huge selection of actually appealing flavours and ended up settling on St-Denis (classic) which was the vanilla custard and chocolate version, as well as the Instagraham donut (coffee, caramel and a lotus biscuit). There were so many options though that Andy wanted his turn to choose, so the next day we went back and got some more. This time I chose the creme brulee flavour and Andy ordered the oreo cream. They were all exceptional and probably one of my top recommendations for Montreal!

 

We had coffee at Pastel Rita, where the aesthetic was so pleasing we could have happily spent the afternoon there. We were however on our way to dinner, so the stop was probably unnecessary but it was just so charming to look at we couldn’t resist. I had an absolutely decadent hot chocolate, which I would have tried to savour for hours had it been just a few degrees hotter! As it was I ended up having to drink it quite fast, but that didn’t stop it from hitting the spot.

The last coffee spot worth mentioning is The Standard. Again with multiple locations (Mile End, Plateau and Westmount), we just visited their location in Mile End. With loads of natural lighting and plants, it was a very pleasant spot to sit in and enjoy our coffees, watching the world outside carrying on.

Our quintessential Montreal poutine experience came to us at Chez Claudette, a very authentic mom’n’pop shop which just served comfort food by the masses. The interior was rustic, cosy and brick and felt very outdated in the most charming of ways. The menu was enormous: every different poutine combination you could think of and so much more. We were incredibly unexciting and just ordered a bowl of the original – gravy and cheese curds on fries, but it was a decision we did not regret! The portion was enormous so I’m glad we shared it. Poutine is clearly Canada’s answer to comfort food after a day out in the extreme cold and our experience really highlighted that. It was so warming and filling and I didn’t want it to ever end.

One of our nights in Montreal was spent at a comedy show, which was the first indoor ‘event’ I have been to since the pandemic started. Pre-show, we visited Kinka Izakaya for some Japanese food. The spot was extremely funky, modern and popular – without a reservation, the only seating available was at the bar. My initial reluctance soon disappeared as we got to watch the chef’s blow torching the salmon for the sushi and preparing the other bowls of delicousness that came flying past on their way to all the tables. We ordered a huge assortment of food; my favourite was the salmon sushi, but the dumplings and fried chicken (as always) deserve honourable mentions.

Our last night in Montreal was spent at the delightful Bottega Pizzeria. I had picked this out in advance (and secretly made a booking) as I wanted to visit Little Italy, where the food is at its finest. It is famed for its pizza and wine selection, which suited us well. We paired a bottle of white wine with some pizza and enjoyed alongside some soup, some tortellini and of course, tiramisu for a fully fledged Italian evening. The vibe balanced sophisticated and casual perfectly, I loved every minute of it.

 

Mandy’s. Anyone from Montreal would need no further information, but for the benefit of everyone else, Mandy’s is a wee franchise specialising in smoothies and gourmet salads. Unlike other health food franchises though, Mandy’s puts so much effort into each individual plate, everything about the entire experience is visually beautiful. The interior could in some ways be perceived as tacky, but on the whole it manages to strike the balance just right so that it is actually incredibly cool. Each salad comes in a unique bowl and the food is presented in a way that makes you feel nourished just looking at it. It is the perfect spot to eat some vegetables amongst a week of eating out, we both definitely felt healthier for it!

One thing we were both slightly disappointed by was the craft beer scene. Andy feels more passionately about craft beer, but I am more fussy, so together we like scouting out the best spots. Unfortunately Montreal beer is strongly European influenced, rather than West Coast influenced, meaning the IPA’s I was purchasing tasted much more like the canned beer I remember my Dad drinking when I was a kid, rather than the hoppy hazys I have become accustomed to in British Columbia. We had dinner at St. Bock, a brewery which was on the lively St. Denis street and served some of the yummiest food I had all weekend, although Andy ended up drinking most of my beer. It was still incredibly fun though!

We also visited Vices and Versa, a microbrewery on the edge of Little Italy. We were pleasantly surprised by the taste of the beers we had ordered and all the food being served around us looked fantastic. Vices and Versa had a quaint little courtyard out back, which is where we sat for a few hours prior to our dinner booking. The beer selection was large and I think we were both pleased to have sought it out. Some of the other microbreweries that Andy scoped out which sounded like they would be up our alley were either too hard to get to or closed when we wanted to – it was mostly just the institutional ones that were both convenient and open across the holiday weekend.

Something else Montreal does extremely well though is cocktails. There are so many different cocktail bars, some hidden, some cheap; most offering an exquisite array of delightfully named drinks. We dipped our toes into a few cocktails, but for those of you who know Andy, he has a strong anti-cocktail policy. We did visit Wolf and Workman for some drinks one night and I really loved its covered courtyard. If we didn’t already have dinner plans, we probably would have stayed on.

 

Honourable mentions also need to go to Schwartz Deli: an extremely popular smoked meat sandwich location which we chose not to visit mostly because we don’t eat beef, but also because the queue was one of the longest we saw. Second is La Banquise: an iconic poutine destination which we had intended on visiting, but faltered and left once we saw the queue. Although our trip to Montreal was in no way intended to be so food based, we both had a great time doing so and after so long, it felt like such a treat.

 

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