A Foodie’s Guide to Montreal
It’s the dead of winter and you need to escape the slushy streets of Cleveland! Where better to go, fellow world wanderers, than the icy streets of Montreal?
Rubes will instruct you to visit in the spring or summer when the city is in bloom and you can enjoy the sights without treacherous black ice and risk of frostbite, but for the adventurous at heart, visiting French Canada in winter is an ideal opportunity to escape the outdoors and enjoy the pleasures of being inside; that is, FOOD.
So put away your Duolingo; pick up a menu and just point at something!
Any visit to Montreal begins with poutine and ends with poutine and is filled with poutine until every pore on your body drips gravy. Quebec is actually a French word for “beautiful land covered in cheese curds and gravy”. And if you’re going to get poutine (WHICH YOU ARE!) you’re going to La Banquise!
Are you willing to shuffle for twenty minutes on sheets of ice in the freezing rain? Are you willing to stand in line in the burning cold for another twenty minutes before making it inside to wait even longer for a table?
YES! You are.
And you will be rewarded. La Banquise serves thirty varieties of poutine, starting with classic gravy and cheese curds before moving up to guacamole, hot peppers, and smoked meats.
If you go anywhere in Montreal, GO HERE.
And then maybe afterward roll yourself across the street to Microbrasserie Pit Caribou for a pint of beer to soak up all that starch and gravy.
This small market, located in Little Burgundy, is an excellent place to grab breakfast or lunch, or even a selection of charcuterie and cheeses for dinner at home.
Olive & Gourmando
Olive & Gourmando is the hip bistro in a city of hip bistros. Located in the heart of Old Montreal, this hip spot is a hip refuge against the hip Montreal cold. There is no Cuban sandwich hipper than a French Canadian Cuban sandwich, and Olive and Gourmando serves the hippest Cuban of all. Also enjoy a delicious, hip leak and potato soup with super-hip salty ricotta and broccoli!
Do not even try to pretend that you’re not an ugly American when you put your name in with the host. Do not attempt French; they know you’re trash.
YOU know you’re trash!
You’re nowhere hip enough to eat here, but you will! And once you have you will be hipper than all the stooges still waiting for their names to be called.
Be sure to strut when you leave, because now you’re one of the lucky few who managed to enjoy the rare hip miracle that is Olive & Gourmando!
It may seem odd to include a history museum on a list of dining experiences, but this colonial governor’s mansion includes a bread making demonstration at the beginning of your visit. Costumed docents guide you through churning your own butter, to kneading the dough, and adding fruit and sugar.
Then explore the history of French Canada — including Ben Franklin’s visit in an attempt to convince the Canadians to join the American Revolution — while your bread rises and is baked.
Maison Smith — Les Amis de la Montagne
You’ve decided to walk from your downtown Air B&B to Mont Royal to enjoy the view from the top. You’ll stop in some cafe on the way for coffee and a crescent.
You will not. Downtown Montreal is a breakfast desert, and the only cafe between you and the top of that mountain is one that sells drip coffee and angry scowls. So when you get to the top you will take in the view and then head strait to the park’s visitor center for an overpriced duck sandwich and insanely overpriced coffee.
Next time find a place to stay in Plateau Mont-Royal or Little Italy.
L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph has nothing to do with dining in Montreal. It’s just important that you know Saint Joseph was a demon hunter.
Quebec is actually an Algonquin word for “beautiful land covered in syrup”. Anywhere you go you will find maple syrup, maple candy, and maple flavored anything.
If you love maple, prepare to love Montreal. If you don’t love maple, then learn to. If you hate maple… there’s no hope for you.
I’ve become a huge fan of maple toffee, which is syrup that’s been boiled down further and then poured onto snow to cool!
Nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Noooooooope!
No smoked meat is THAT good.
Screw this line, let’s go to…
Cafe Chez Jose!
We were standing outside this charming cafe, reading their menu when one of the servers popped out the door and said “Don’t just stand there, come on in!”
Chez Jose is a cozy refuge from the snow, especially with a mug of their hot chocolate. Their sandwiches and crepes are excellent, but most importantly our table was home to a friendly zebra.
You are the only person at this restaurant without a sleeve-length tattoo.
Shoulder to elbow, elbow to wrist, wrist to finger-tip; everyone in this establishment has completely covered at least one arm in wicked tattoos.
Except you. Your virgin skin blinds everyone. All they can see is that you are not the free spirit they are. You are an outsider. You do not belong.
Perhaps if you had a facial piercing.
Hang your head in shame, OUTSIDER!
The menu is completely vegetarian and the grilled cheese is excellent. The tempeh banh mi tacos leave something to be desired, for which I blame the tempeh.
So what if the weather report warned you of “explosive winter weather conditions” in Quebec City? Like the woman at the car rental place said, “You have snow in Ohio, don’t you?”
Don’t let the prospect of spinning off the highway to your death stop you from taking a lovely day-trip to Quebec.
Quebec is actually a Huron word for “beautiful land covered in dead foolish motorists.”
Chez Boulay is exemplary fine dining. The chefs are dedicated to seasonal ingredients that are unique to the region, including wild game. Any of their three tasting plates are meant to be shared by a couple. You can select from the cheese, seafood, or meat plates, or combine meat and seafood as one.
Unibroue’s taproom and restaurant in Chambly stops serving lunch at 2:00, but they do offer a “snack menu” until dinner. The snack menu includes a cheese and meat plate, burgers, sandwiches, mac and cheese and more.
What’s on the lunch menu!?
The food is worth while, but the real draw is kissing the sacred soil that is home to Unibroue.
Better idea! Drinking Unibroue’s world famous beers in the brewery’s own taproom. Have a Maudite or À Tout Le Monde and then why not just get an entire pitcher of La Fin Du Monde. You’re at Unibroue for crying out loud!
The Atwater’s big brother, Marché Jean-Talon has everything you could possibly want. This public market is expansive with vendors organized by bakery, cafe, produce, meats and cheeses.
There are no jokes to make. This place is a treasure.
Bistro-Brasserie Les Soeurs Grises
There are several excellent breweries in and near Montreal. Quebec is actually a Scottish-Gaelic word for “beautiful land covered in surprisingly good breweries”.
Les Soeurs Grises is an excellent example of Montreal’s great local brew-pubs. Located in a former convent, this brew-pub’s sleek decor conveys urban coolness and fun.
The beers run from light American lagers to high-gravity Belgian ales and stouts to hoppy IPAs.
The menu is sublime; homemade charcuterie, sweetbreads, and a delectable smoked pheasant.
Les Soeurs Grises is the perfect location for a celebration with friends and loved ones.
Your time in Montreal is at an end and you have one last opportunity to stuff your face before you head to the airport.
Of course you’re going to go to La Banquise!
Know what? Quit your job and stay in Canada. Spend the rest of your life trying every poutine on their menu and then start again.
CORRECTION: Quebec is actually a Mi’kmaq word for “where the river narrows”.
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Peter J Roth is a scalawag playwright from Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @PeterJ_Roth.