When I lived in Vermont from 1988 to 1999, I made many trips to Montreal in desperate search for more diverse food. My typical day might include the mandatory smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s, dinner and grocery shopping in Chinatown, and the pick-up of a couple of bags of bagels from Fairmount Bagel. During those years, the dining scene wasn’t especially sophisticated. Nor was my palate.
Far too many miles from Montreal now, I rarely get back. So when a recent business trip to upstate New York gave me Montreal as a choice of airports, I pounced on the opportunity to pay a visit. Food choices are now far more fabulous. Needless to say, I stuffed myself silly, sloshing through the snow and sacrificing my stomach to make the most of my very limited time in the city. The result: I have recommendations of restaurants and more for an idyllic day of eating in this special city.
Whatever time you wake up, know that bagels are waiting. Both Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel Shop are open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. You can watch the bagel-making in both places. While I like both, Fairmount is a slight favorite as I surprisingly prefer the slightly sweeter flavor of the bagels. These are best eaten fresh, or at most within an hour of purchase, but you can get plastic bags for longer storage. (And they’ll still be better than Seattle bagels.) I ate one of each immediately after purchasing both stores’ bagels.
For the scope of this article, I’ll skip the dozen or so bakeries I visited—most in the Mile End area of Montreal. While the quality of the baked goods isn’t quite as high as what I found in Paris, it’s clear that the French influence is strong and that you can find incredible croissants, kouign amann, and much more. I’m including a few photos in the slideshow above, and invite you to check my Gastrolust blog for future reports about sweets in Montreal.
As for coffee, the Third Wave coffee movement is starting to thrive in Montreal. In the Mile End neighborhood, I enjoyed a macchiato at Caffé in Gamba, but even better was my cortado at Café Différance near Old Montreal.
You can’t go wrong with a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. Really, Schwartz’s is a must. It’s well-worth braving the inevitable lines if you’ve never been.
As much as a smoked meat sandwich tempted me, I was in Montreal on a Friday afternoon, which meant a chance to enjoy lunch at Les 400 Coups. Friday is the only day of the week that lunch is served, so I was glad to go to Old Montreal, allowing a little extra time for a walk through the historic area. At $22 for an appetizer and entrée or entrée and dessert, and $28 for all three courses, this is an affordable way to experience an elegant restaurant with sparkling service and fantastic food. The plating is beautiful, and you’ll want to save room for at least one of pastry chef Patrice Demers’ desserts. (You’ll see two, plus my savory dishes, in the slideshow! And you can read more about the desserts here.)
I’m always on the hunt for bold flavors and interesting ingredient combinations, especially if offal is a possibility. (In Montreal, it’s more than a possibility!) Many people steered me to Lawrence, which turned out to be my kind of restaurant. I had been eyeing Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins, which also gets rave reviews, but it was rather raucous in there, whereas Lawrence was quiet and mellow, especially at the bar.
My challenge was choosing just a couple of plates from the heavenly meat-heavy menu. This night the selection included pig’s trotter, rabbit saddle, pig’s head, rib steak, and the daily charcuterie plate. I settled on striped bass and kid’s brains, dishes that were far more complex and satisfying than I initially imagined.
Staying meat-heavy, two of the top recommendations I continually received for Montreal were Joe Beef and Au Pied du Cochon. As I was in for late-night dining, APDC was the better choice, a classic restaurant with a fun atmosphere. While more “sophisticated” dining is developing, this is the heart of Quebecois cooking.
You should check out Anthony Bourdain’s visit to see what APDC is all about. He ate seemingly everything. I, on the other hand, had to choose wisely. The menu is full of crave-worthy carnivorous treats like bison tongue, guinea hen liver mousse, foie gras poutine, and duck in a can. What to order?
One dish did it: Plogue a Champlain. It wasn’t on the menu, but my server said he could make it happen. With pancake, potatoes, foie gras, maple syrup, thick-cut maple-cured bacon, and cheddar cheese, it’s breakfast and dinner and dessert rolled into one plate.
I asked the server about a salad to counter the heavy dish, hoping for something healthy. “We don’t have anything healthy here,” he replied, explaining they throw pork into everything, then adding “You might find that Plogue to be enough.” It was. Happily.
After a full day of eating, you can count on a restful night of sleep at Hotel Zero 1. This unique boutique hotel is conveniently situated just steps from Chinatown, Old Montreal, and the Quartier des Spectacles—the center of cultural events and festivals.
I like the contemporary rooms with hardwood floors (though surprisingly no noise from the floor above), tiled bathrooms, and comfortable beds. The POP room is cozy but with sufficient space, with the HIP room giving you just a little more room to spread out. If you can upgrade to a LOFT room, you get a little lounge area for relaxation, while the PANORAMA rooms feel most luxurious, with floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s free wifi and a nice terrace, with morning muffins and coffee free in the lobby for those not rushing out to continue the fat-filled feeding frenzy.
Continue on for all the photos…
Always open: Fairmount Bagel for your bagel fix all day long
Making bagels at Fairmount
A closer look at Fairmount’s bagels
Inside St-Viateur Bagel Shop, also open 24/7/365
St-Viateur’s product list
Man in shtreimel in Jewish neighborhood of Montreal, photographed from my car
Halfway to Abbey Road?
Display case at Olivier Potier in downtown Montreal
Patisserie Mr Pinchot on a snowy street in Montreal
A look inside Fous Desserts
This is the croissant you want to find in Montreal!
Macchiato at Caffé in Gamba
Cortado (on right) at Café Différance
Start of service at Les 400 Coups
Rabbit terrine with red beets, radish, and mustard yogurt at Les 400 Coups
Spanish mackerel with calamari, carrots, and lobster bisque at Les 400 Coups
Dessert #1 at Les 400 Coups: litchi granité, creamy white chocolate yogurt, grapefruit, Campari, and flowers
Dessert #2 at Les 400 Coups: sapote cheesecake with pear sorbet, oats, and pecans
The bar (and me) at Les 400 Coups
Striped bass with Jerusalem artichokes and salt lemon at Lawrence
Kid brains with capers and sage on toast at Lawrence
Inside Au Pied du Cochon, including a guy eating duck in a can
The “Plogue a Champlain” at Au Pied du Cochon
Exterior shot of Hotel Zero 1
Small room at Hotel Zero 1
Room with a lounge area at Hotel Zero 1 (Hotel photos courtesy of the hotel.)