By Liz Campbell
Montréal is a mecca for food lovers.
Remember, this is a city with French origins, and gastronomic terms like gourmet, bon vivant, Cordon Bleu, and haute cuisine originate from the French language. The French do not suffer culinary fools gladly; so, in order to survive, any restaurant in Montréal has to be pretty darn good.
Even the humble burger takes on a luster here, with hand-ground beef and custom baked rolls at Le Gourmet and, would you believe, a Kobe burger with truffle oil at m:brgr? In fact, with competition like Dilallo, L’Anecdote, La Paryse, m:brgr and Le Gourmet Burger, it’s a wonder there’s a single McDonald’s or Burger King left in the city.
Burgers aren’t your thing? Want to indulge in something a little unique? Montréal is also a city of immigrants. From every corner of the globe, they bring with them the cuisine of their native lands – Greek, Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, Persian, Moroccan, Vietnamese…you name it and Montréal has it. Check out Tehran for Persian-style lamb knuckles with fennel, or rice with red pearl berries. The Algerian-born chef/owner of Les Rites Berbères produces, to quote one critic, “mouth-watering, hauntingly spiced, heartbreakingly tender mechoui.” Or you can really push the envelope with food from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean – a blend of European, African and Asian traditions in dishes that aren’t searingly hot but definitely have a bite.
But you might not want to go international. Québec is home to some remarkable local cuisine, so save at least one evening for a taste of this province. There is a gastronomic revolution taking place in Montréal, and it’s being fuelled by young Québec chefs like Martin Picard, TV celebrity and chef/owner of Au Pied du Cochon; Charles-Emmanuel Pariseau, chef at Le Local; and Chuck Hughes, chef/owner of Garde Manger and recent Iron Chef America champion. These chefs are taking local Québec ingredients and turning classical French cuisine on its head.
Take Pariseau’s leek and onion soup, which comes with homemade herb brioche topped with old Québec cheddar and Emmental cheeses — an incredible twist on French onion soup. Picard’s restaurant is unashamedly carnivorous, and famous for his unique take on poutine (traditionally a dish of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds). His comes with foie gras and local cheese curds. Chuck Hughes beat Bobbie Flay, American Iron Chef extraordinaire, with a lobster version of the same classic Québec dish. You can get lobster poutine at his restaurant and, he says, it will taste better than the one he produced for the show because it’s made with ‘’really squeaky’’ local Québec curds.
Now this might seem a stretch, but Montréal also has some of the best Jewish deli food this side of New York City. In fact, a standard breakfast is likely to replace the bacon or ham with smoked meat! Head to places like Dunn’s (okay, okay, I have no idea why a place with an Irish name serves Jewish food) but you may have to line up for fat, overstuffed smoked meat on rye served with healthy wedges of dill pickle. There’s a bit of rivalry between this spot and Schwartz’s, both claiming to be the oldest deli in Canada (circa 1927-28). There’s always a line outside Schwartz’s as well; it’s small and the communal-style seating is tight — but it’s a favourite haunt of celebrities looking for a good nosh.
And then there are the bagels. New Yorkers believe theirs are the best, but Montréalers will tell you nothing tops theirs. Check our next issue for the scoop on Montréal markets and we’ll tell you where to find the best of these.
There’s virtually nowhere in Montréal without its share of terrific restaurants, but you must, at least once, head to Vieux Montréal. In the Old City, historic buildings form the backdrop for sidewalk cafes. Inside many of these restaurants, five hundred-year-old stone walls and age-blackened beams create an unforgettable ambience. And don’t assume the prices will be high. Montréal’s restaurants remain remarkably affordable – after all, frugality is part of the French psyche. But so is the joie de vivre – love of life – that is brought to every part of living. Bon appétit!