I’ve been back home in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost two weeks now, but these posts about my Montreal vacation have made me feel like I’m still there. How I wish I were!
It was a fantastic trip discovering this quaint and stylish Canadian city, and the emerging food scene has gotten so sophisticated that I did more food-related adventures than actual sightseeing. This meant I often found myself in the local neighborhoods far away from the tourist traps.
This is my last post, wrapping up all the other food things (and some city scenes just to make you jealous) I did on my trip that didn’t make it into a full blog post. How I hope to return soon!
Bagels. Bagels. Bagels.
Everyone talks about the Montreal-style bagel, which is quite different than New York style bagels most Americans are used to. Luckily for me living in Oakland, I’ve been exposed to Montreal bagels (slightly sweet because they’re boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-fire oven) because of Beauty’s Bagel Shop. But, of course, I still had to try some while I was in Montreal.
One of the more popular spots to get them is Fairmount Bagel in the Mile End neighborhood. This place has been around since 1950, and is open 24 hours. That’s right, you can get bagels after a late night of drinking or early morning for breakfast. Apparently anytime is the right time for bagels.
Fairmount has a tiny store that you can barely walk into because of the trays of bagels and ingredients stacked all around you. Plus, there’s often a line of people waiting to buy dozens of bagels. I actually just tried two bagels from them, a sesame and a raisin. I forgot to take a photo of the sesame, which I ate back at my hotel, but here’s the raisin.
The hand-rolled bagels actually don’t look that pretty because they seem thinner, and it’s often oddly shaped, probably because the workers are whipping them around so fast just to make as many as they can. They were good and slightly sweet (especially the raisin, not so much the sesame) but I like the size of New York bagels better.
Of course, I also had to visit Beauty’s Luncheonette on Mont-Royal, partly because it has the same name as the Beauty’s in Oakland (though not related) and it was featured in an Anthony Bourdain episode, which is why at peak times there can be a wait. But when I went for breakfast on a weekday, I had no problems strolling up to the counter. The patriarch of the family that owns the place is this cute, sweet old man who actually sits on a stool near the entrance smiling and greeting everyone and then pointing you to your seat. I wanted to take him home and call him grandpa.
I ended up ordering the Beauty’s Special (CAN$11 or US$7.85), which is a bagel with smoked salmon, tons of cream cheese, and red onions. I wasn’t expecting much since this sounded pretty basic, but when I took my first bite I really wanted to cry. It was so good and I was so happy, I didn’t know I could enjoy a bagel so much. I think what helped was that it was perfectly toasted, so the bagel was easy to bite into with a slight crunch but because it’s fresh the inside was so soft and airy. Sigh, I want one right now!
Fairmount Bagel, 74 Fairmount West, Montreal. PH: 514.317.1349. fairmountbagel.calls.net
Beauty’s Luncheonette, 93 Avenue du Mont-Royal Ouest, Montreal. PH: 514.849.8883. beautys.ca
I tried to spend a lot of time just hanging out at cafes and not trying to feel rushed by my days. I really wanted to check out this cafe because it’s one of the first to serve nitro-brewed cold coffee in the city. Now, it was pretty darn cold in Montreal while I was there, but luckily the cute neighborhood cafe was toasty inside so I was able to enjoy their coffee “cocktails.”
There were three options, and I tried the Empress of Belanger (CAN$5.75 or US$3.75, named after the street where the cafe is located), which is made of nitro-brewed coffee, milk, simple syrup and a tiny bit of bitter chocolate-chili. It looked really pretty, and had a light body, almost watery? But I can see how this would be popular during the humid weathers here.
The cafe workers are super friendly, and they also serve nicely toasted wraps. I enjoyed trying this curry chicken wrap (curry seems to be popular because I saw some kind of curry offering in almost every restaurant I visited, and they’re not even Indian restaurants). Paquebot really is out of the way, quite a walk from the Fabre metro station. But if you ever want to just hang with the locals, this spot is definitely an escape.
Paquebot Cafe, 2110 Rue Belanger, Montreal. PH: 415.439.4344. Connect on Facebook.
Notkins for oysters
You know how sometimes when you’re traveling you just wander the streets looking around and not really sure where you want to go to eat so you just stumble upon a place by accident? That’s what happened on the day I dedicated to window-shop around the downtown stores near Saint Catherine Road.
I was so tired from walking and getting hungry for lunch, but I wasn’t near any of the restaurants I had mapped out for my trip. So finally I just spotted a sign that said “fresh oysters” and decided to just give it a try, not thinking it would be worth mentioning.
That place was Notkins, which has only been open for 18 months. I had so much fun sitting at the oyster bar chatting with the oyster shucker Ken, who was actually from Western Canada and spoke English so that made it totally easy. (And he’s always willing to offer up sightseeing tips through a local’s eye.)
I got six of the daily fresh oysters (three Black Berry Point from Maine and three Paines Creek from Massachusetts), and you know a place is super fancy for oysters when they grate fresh horseradish for your plate and make their own hot sauce (which you apply using an eye dropper). I also tried the lobster burger (CAN$28 or US$20), which is fresh lobster meat served in a brioche bun. It was a fun way to get some lobster instead of in a roll, and definitely made my weary feet feel rejuvenated for the rest of the day. Notkins wasn’t on my radar but it’s definitely a spot worth visiting if you’re in the area. Say hi to Ken!
Notkins Oyster Bar, 1101 Bleurry St., Montreal. PH: 514.866.1101. www.notkins.com
On my last day in Montreal (I flew out in the afternoon), I went to check out the Atwater market, which is smaller than the popular Jean-Talon Market but more quaint and more of a local feel.
What’s cool about the market, which includes fruits and vegetable stands and butchers and fish mongers inside, is that it has several mom-and-pop gourmet shops and stands where I found a few food items to take home. So I would recommend you shop for souvenirs here if you’re like me and you like to bring home food items from the local area instead of trinkets.
Atwater Marche, 138 Avenue Atwater, Montreal. PH: 514.937.7754. website
My last meal in Montreal was the most amazing, because it was a mid-day snack of pastries from the quaint Patisserie Rhubarb.
This little neighborhood patisserie had some of the most beautiful creations on display, and since I wanted to try everything, I ended up eating three different pastries and two macarons — all with a soy latte. My favorite was probably the cheesecake, topped with fresh figs. The texture was firm yet creamy, and it was so delicious.
This was a fantastic way to end my trip as I savored each bite, sitting by the window watching the morning sun stream through the glass and warming me all over.
Patisserie Rhubarb, 5091 Rue de Lanaudiere, Montreal. PH: 514.903.3395. patisserierhubarbe.com
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