Sometimes, your carefully made plans don’t pan out. You wanted to eat, say, poutine at Montreal’s best-rated place. You get there only to find a long queue outside the place. It’s 9 o’clock on a frigid December night. No food is worth the agony of waiting in the snow, you think. Time to activate plan B -if you have one. This happened to us recently. We quickly learned to have a plan B in this city of wonderful food.
The poutine place in question was La Banquise (994 rue Rachel Est). It was full to the rafters that night. My husband had spotted a Breton creperie from the taxi not far from there. Away we went, snow crunching under our boots. We got to Ty-Breiz (933 rue Rachel Est) a few minutes before the kitchen closed. I loved the cosy old world atmosphere, the red and white checkered tablecloths, the warm lighting and the wood panelling. We ate the most wonderful soupe à l’oignon gratinée, served in an earthenware pot with a generous helping of bubbly cheese on top. I even scraped the golden melted cheese from the sides after I finished the soup. We washed down the excellent savoury crepes with Quebecoise cider served in ceramic bowls.
We wanted to enjoy the delightful sandwiches and pastries from Olive + Gourmando (354 Saint-Paul Ouest), which we had visited in previous trips to Montreal. We faced the same situation again; place too full, long wait in the elements. We went to the Portuguese café and market across the street called Cantinho de Lisboa. There are few tables, as this is more of a take-out type of place. However, we got one table and enjoyed a delicious feijoada that warmed us up. Feijoada is a meat and bean stew with some vegetables and a tomato broth, typical of Portugal. The Brazilian version is different but equally delicious.
3927 rue Saint-Denis is the home of Restaurant L’Express, which some friends had recommended to us (hi, Mary Luz and Mario!) This classic French bistro is usually very busy and stays open until 2 am, so book a table. As soon as we sat down, our waiter brought a basket with crunchy baguette and butter, a jar of cornichons and mustard. A happy start for our meal. Sean ordered vitello tonnato, an Italian dish of finely sliced cold veal with tuna sauce and olives. I chose sorrel soup. Both appetizers were delicious. Sean had the steak frites, very flavourful, and I decided to have the bone marrow. I expected it cut lengthwise and baked in the oven. However, the bones were cut crosswise and boiled. The marrow was glutinous and slightly gamey for my taste. I should have asked questions before ordering. For dessert, Sean had biscotti and vin santo. I had the most spectacular ile flottante of my life.
Schwartz’s Deli (3985 boulevard Saint-Laurent) is the go-to place for smoked meats in Montreal. It’s very popular, and there are very long lines outside. Nope, not waiting in the freezing cold. We ended up in Breizh Café (3991 boulevard Saint-Laurent), a nearby creperie with delicious buckwheat crepes. The owner is Breton from Rennes, and his food reflects his French roots. Both savoury (with ham, cheeses, mushrooms, etc.) and sweet (chestnut cream) crepes were very good, as was the onion soup. Of course, we washed it all down with cider from Brittany.
Although it’s unfairly underrated, Montreal has, in my opinion, some of the best food in North America. I wish I had enough time to enjoy all of it!