My food tour of Montreal began in Quartier des Spectacles, a cultural centre of public art, art collectives, students and gourmet cuisine.
At the tail end of Saint-Laurent, the bougie La Societé Des Arts Technologiques (SAT) Foodlab (Labo Culinaire, 1201 Boul. Saint-Laurent) seems out of place – on a short walk to dine at one of the city’s most busy rooftop restaurants, I passed an abundance of public art that had everything including Dan Flavin-like neon tube monoliths just down the street from Rue Saint Dominique and St. Catherine Street.
Once I reached my destination, I began to appreciate Quartier des Spectacles as a live art installation, with Labo Culinaire chefs Michelle Marek and Seth Gabrielse serving as assistant art directors to the transformation of this popular district. I’m told that the hottest food item of the area used to be a hot dog from Montreal Pool Room, but now Marek and Gabrielse’s buttery and delicious Provence-themed steak and greens bring in the traffic. Their rotating world-themed menu is made using local ingredients, and their exceptional talent has injected the QdS with fine dining (3-course prix fixe, $35), local beers, Ubisoft execs, art movers and the like.
While my first dinner was like finding love in a seemingly hopeless place, finding snacks in Montreal is as easy as picking up a rock and just throwing it haphazardly in any direction. I began my second day with the most delicious croissant and date and nut tart from Fou D’Ici (360 Boul. De Maisonneuve Ouest), and would later indulge in a St. Viateur bagel (162 Rue Saint-Viateur) dipped in Chocolats Genevieve Grandbois’ silken 70% dark hot chocolate (162 Rue Saint-Viateur), a melange of spiced nuts from Les Noix du Marché (7070 Avenue Henri-Julien) and, because why not, a chunk of Québec sheep’s milk cheese from Bergerie La Moutonnière (7070 Avenue Henri-Julien).
Because the human body cannot handle eating all day, I took a walk through Little Italy, straight past the Mussolini on Horseback fresco at La Madonna Della Difesa Church and into Dante, a family-owned kitchen essentials shop that sells everything from canning pots to hunting rifles. I then took to Old Montreal for smoked jerky and an intensely floral house-made Ninja IPA at Les Soeurs Grises microbrewery.
Culinary options – Mile End, the Plateau, Old Montreal – are packed with middle-to-high end outposts, complete with Edison bulbs and reclaimed barn wood. And in case you thought you’d miss out on your favourite local(s), even Montreal has a snack bar where young white kids play 90s hip hop all night and serve shared plates and bourbon cocktails (SuWu, 3851 St. Laurent).
What is most compelling is that even in the most isolated areas, there is still something, if even one thing, for the hungry self-proclaimed “foodie” masses. While wandering down Montreal’s Rue Jeanne-Mance, amidst dilapidated industrial buildings and a Home Depot, Mile-Ex (6631 Rue Jeanne-Mance) restaurant seems to appear out of nowhere, completely blending in to the makeup of the industrial/residential mixed neighbourhood. Inside, it feels like a high end in-the-know cafeteria, with communal tables, a small bar set-up, and an expansive menu of local and global wines, and shared plates that include everything from rich liver mousse pâté and charred bread to large-sized bone marrow with tasty pork drippings, bacon, clams and let-the-bubbles-melt marrow.
After much ambling throughout the weekend, it was time to debate between Schwartz’s and The Main. Do yourself a favour and trot over to The Main if you can’t stand lines, because Schwartz’s might be partly owned by René Angélil, but the Main has perogies, ribs, potato latkes and your beloved smoked meat. When there are options, there are many, but sometimes the glimmer of the word poutine is like gold to a Montreal first-timer. Do yourself a favour and take chances, make mistakes and maybe eat a poutine during a break from any one of Montreal’s many bars.
Honourable mentions: Lawrence restaurant’s rotating organic menu and its gorgeous décor, including the custom Jason Cantaro wallpaper (5201 Boul. St. Laurent) Le Vieux Velo brunch, where locals will cram table-to-table for their signature Eggs Benedict(s) (59 Beaubien East) The freshly picked Honey Crisp apples at Atwater market (138 Atwater) Zero8, where no food items have any of the world’s most common food allergens (1735 St. Denis) and Robin des Bois, a not-for-profit restaurant/co-op that gives its proceeds to local community organizations.
On a budget: Montreal Restaurant Week (Montreal a Table) runs from November 1 to November 11, 2013, and over 100 participating restaurants will offer prix fixe menus ranging from $19 to $39 dollars (not including tax, tip and wine).
Click here to make your reservations.