I just returned from Montréal and I loved it. There is nothing like visiting this great Canadian city to remind you of the beauty of having two cultures in one country. Montréal is always bustling and brimming with activity, music, food and fun. I just love it.
If you follow my Instagram feed last week, you know it was all about the food. I loved eating specific things when I am in Montreal and I very rarely miss them. This year, I went back to some of these old haunts with my daughters and my mom and we had a great time. I have to say, there is never a month that I don’t think about how good Montréal bagels are and how bad every other bagel is. The only ones that compare are New York bagels but even they are a hit and miss. I’m looking forward to going to New York City in a few weeks to try some more typical NYC food. I love trying out great food in the places I travel to. I have a few favourites in Chicago yout might want yo try out.
Montréal is one of the most multicultural cities in Canada (Toronto and Vancouver would be the others) but the dominant culture in Quebec is French Canadian. With a population of over 4 million people, Montréal is the economic engine of Quebec. With lots of people comes lots of food and beverage choices. If you are a foodie, you will find plenty of selection: BBQ, African, Indian, Asian, Greek, Lebanese, South American… you name it, you can find an eatery that serves it. But sometimes, you just want a quick bite to eat. Something to tie you over or take away a craving. Montréal has many places that have been around for years and that keep customers coming back for more. To honour this food pilgrimage I offer you my five favourite must-try-foods when you are in Montréal.
5 Goodeats that you MUST try in Montréal, Quebec, Canada
Fairmount or St. Viateur bagels
If you’ve never eaten a Montréal bagel, you have never lived. Baked in a wood fire oven, they are thin, round and covered in sesame seeds. If you have them for more than three days, they will be hard as rocks. THAT’S a good bagel. You never have to worry that this will happen as they never lasted that long. You can buy many kinds of bagels but the two most popular are Fairmount bagels and St. Viateur Bagels. When I grew up, you had to drive to downtown Montréal for this delicacy. No easy task but it could be done. Now you can find Fairmount bagels in local Costco stores in the Montréal area.
We picked ours up at Yagel Bagel in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island. They had half a dozen paper bags full of fresh bagels. We were also able to get St. Viateur bagels at the same location so it was nice to take two dozen home of each. They are both similar but each bagel maker does something to make them a bit different. Maybe they add a little bit more sugar or make them thinner. It does not matter as long as they keep that distinctive dense flavour. These are bagels for goodness sake not buns. Yes, I’m talking to YOU grocery store bakers!
A Steamie & Fries from LaFleurs
Yes, I will be telling tales out of school when I tell you that when you dance the night away or party in downtown Montréal or listen to some great music during the Jazz Festival and you need to get a quick bite to eat, pick up a steamie (a steamed hot dog), fries or a poutine or better yet onion rings. If you were around in the 1980s, you stopped off at the original LaFleurs in Ville St. Pierre (which is still there). It was the only fast food joint that was opened when the bars closed at 3 am. It was not a regular occurrence to leave the bars at 3 am but it was highly likely that if you were headed home to the West Island you most certainly stop here. A traditional hot dog has mustard and relish. If you also wanted, you could order raw onions but clearly, you were headed home alone . With 13 locations including Sources Avenue on the West Island as well as a small shop on St. Catherine’s Street (which is conveniently located across from the Main Stage of the Montréal Jazz Festival) you can find a location in and around the island of Montréal. We popped into the St. Catherine’s Street location as we strolled around the Jazz Festival.
Smoked Meat Poutine from Schwartz’s
If you don’t know what poutine is this may sound a bit crazy. Many don’t understand the appeal of this combination of ingredients but they are unique flavours that you cannot find anywhere else. French Canadian Poutine consists of French Fries topped with cheese curds and then all topped with hot beef/chicken gravy (many will argue about the proportions of beef to chicken, chicken alone or beef alone but honestly its magical stuff no matter how you make it). All of this just be eaten hot and immediately. There is no such thing as left over Poutine.
To be honest with you, there is no such thing as good authentic Poutine outside of Quebec…no where… no how. Many try to duplicate the flavour combination but when you see people put shredded cheddar cheese or strictly beef or strictly chicken gravy… well, you know they don’t know what they are doing.
You then have to take this one step further to make it the ultimate foodie experience: you add Schwartz’s smoke meat on top. There is really NO BETTER COMBINATION of food in the world. Honestly, you just have to taste this lovely little concoction at Schwartz’s on St. Laurent Street. They will add the tastiest pieces of the best seasoned smoked meat in the city. You should go to Schwartz’s at least twice in a visit. One for the poutine (and have it in the take out kiosk right beside the main restaurant). Then come back another day for a sit down smoke meat sandwich (medium – forget that silly lean stuff), french fries, a pickle and a cherry coke. You will be served quickly by veteran waiters that have been working there for years.
If you are smart, you can order a platter and share it with two people. There is a lot of smoke meat on that platter and plenty of rye bread on the side. You should also add some French’s mustard. The fries come in small plates and are not great for sharing – just order your own. When they ask if you want a pickle – beware – they will bring you a whole pickle and they are not small gherkins either.
On this trip, we opted for the Smoke Meat Poutine and loved very.single.bite. It has a lot of gravy, enough cheese curds and smoke meat (I would have like a bit more meat so you may want to ask that they be generous with the smoked meat). This Poutine dish is enough to share. Don’t forget to get a cherry coke.
No one person will agree on where to find the best smoke meat in Montréal. My personal preference has always been Schwartz’s. But when I was living in Montreal and going to school at McGill, you used to pop down to rue deMaisonneuve and have smoked meat at Dunn’s. It has since relocated to Metcalfe. This go around I decided that I wanted to have a smoke meat sandwich while we watched the FIFA Women’s quarter final soccer game between China and the US.
WOW, WAS THE SMOKE MEAT EVER GOOD. I like that the seasoning had a nice little kick to it. It was juicy and very flavourful. I will be back again on my next visit to the West Island (that is if they don’t close it). Chenoy’s is on St. Jean Street in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec.
A photo posted by Margarita Ibbott (@downshiftingpro) on
Last but not least if you are in Chenoy’s you are obliged to order the:
Strawberry Cheesecake from Chenoy’s
Don’t be fooled. This too is not a one man (or woman) portion. You need to get one piece and four forks and go to town. This is a very rich cheesecake. If you are expecting a light fluffy calorie-wise dessert, this is not your dessert. If you are expecting a small piece, this is not your dessert. If you are expecting a classic New York style cheesecake topped with great big strawberries, THIS IS the only choice.
I mentioned above that if you were taking in a show, a hockey game, partying or clubbing in bars in downtown Montréal, you use to go to LaFleurs in Ville St. Pierre on the way home. Maybe you would go to Dunn’s. If you were on the West Island at John Abbott College’s pub (The Caileigh), St. Anne’s Que Sera or Shawn’s Pub in Kirkland (sadly, all three bars are closed now), you most likely finished off the evening at Chenoy’s. Opened 24 hours a day, you could easily find your self amongst friends at 3:30 or 4 am. In hindsight, I cannot believe I wondered in so late on a few evenings. My parents were amazing to let me go out with my friends until all hours. I laugh at it now but my youngest daughter could not believe that I did this. Funnily enough, my mom was with us at Chenoy’s and she did confirm that this happened ‘on occasion’ way back when. But she assured my daughter that this would not be a good idea now (bless my mom for being a great grandparent).
Wherever you choose to have a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a hearty smoked meat sandwich with a pickle, a quick steamie & fries or a rich piece of cheesecake, you can never go wrong with these classic eateries. Its nice to see that some have expanded to numerous locations and some have stayed exactly the same as you would have found them 40 –50 – 60 years ago. If you go, make sure and take the time to savour not just the food but the whole atmosphere. It’s one of a kind in Canada… trust me… I miss it more and more each year that I am away. All I can say is without a doubt je me souviens. (I remember).
Photo Credit: “Quebec License Plate” by Lionel Bartel – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quebec_License_Plate.jpg#/media/File:Quebec_License_Plate.jpg