MONTREAL – This is one of North America’s oldest cities. But it’s also a cosmopolitan spot that continually evolves, with fresh cultural and food offerings to tempt visitors from around the world.
I’ve had several great trips to Montreal the past few years, diving with headlong abandon (somebody has to do it) into the food scene and checking out some tremendous markets. Here’s a look at some great spots you don’t want to miss when you visit one of the world’s great cities.
For the breakfast lover: Olive et Gourmando makes a truly wondrous granola “cocktail” in the morning, with swirls of yogurt and fruit and crunchy, healthy bits. It’s almost a work of art, and tastes as good as it looks. Great coffee, too. Located on Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal, hands down the most beautiful street in Canada.
For delicatessen lovers: Schwartz’s Deli. This is said to be the oldest deli in Canada. I can’t say, but it’s certainly a classic. The smoked meat is to die for; moist and flavourful and with whatever level of fat content you wish. Situated on the happening Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
For croissant and macaron lovers: Maison Christian Faure makes croissants that are superbly flaky and rich. Six of these and you’d really be in trouble. The multi-coloured macarons also are light and flully and have just the right level of sugar. Located on Place Royale, just around the corner from Rue St. Paul.
For bagel fans: Montreal bagels are the best in the world; chewy and sweet and with a nice, crispy edge. The flour has eggs, which makes it different from many styles, and they’re cooked in a wood-fired oven. They say poppy seeds were the most popular when they started out at Fairmount Bagels but that someone complained they stuck too easily in his teeth and looked funny. So now you’ll probably see more sesame bagels than poppy seed. Some folks swear by St. Viateur Bagels, not far away.
For vegans or close to it: Crudessence: This is a friendly spot where I tasted vegan sushi last summer, with avocado, peppers, carrots and rice in seaweed with a ginger dipping sauce. They make their own Kombucha, a fermented tea. Most foods are raw but some items are cooked in winter. They also sell cookbooks, including one called the Crazy Sexy Diet. Several outlets to choose from in the city.
For Italian food lovers: Da Emma is a Montreal institution, and should be a Canadian one. It’s built in what was once a women’s prison in the west end of Old Montreal. A bit hard to find, but well worth the search. Photos of celebs (everyone from George Clooney to Al Pacino) can be found on the walls, often posing in the kitchen with cook and co-owner Emma Risa. The pasta is silky smooth and the service fantastic. But you mostly come for the stone wall atmosphere and for Risa, who’s quite likely to give you a hug in the kitchen, even if your last name isn’t Clooney.
For taco fans: Cartel Street Food is a great spot in the Miile End area with tin ceilings, black-and-white photos on the wall and a youthful, fun vibe. The fish tacos are yummy, as are the lobster rolls. The Thai Basil Mojito is a great, Asian take on the classic mojito, with tons of fresh flavours. The Coke comes from Mexico and is made with cane sugar.
For trend-setters: Industria Brasserie Italia is located in the new Alt Hotel in the spunky Griffintown neighborhood, but just a short walk from downtown and the charms of Old Montreal. You’ll find a modern, crisp and well-lit space with plenty of trendy urban folks. The gnocchi poutine is much lighter than you might expect, while the perfectly cooked octopus comes with small bits of olives, chives and potatoes.
For the pie lover: Rustique Pie Kitchen is to die for, with everything from famous Quebec maple pie but pumpkin or pear with cinnamon. Located on Rue Notre Dame West near Parc Sir-George-Etienne-Cartier.
For market lovers: Atwater Market is my favourite. It’s a beautiful building west of downtown with a stunning variety of food; everything from hard-to-find Quebec cheeses to duck rillettes and other French-influenced products. The shop Chocolate Privilege sells tiny, dark chocolate cookies shaped like a maple leaf North of downtown is the massive Jean Talon Market, where you’ll find a huge variety of fresh produce and all kinds of food and seasonal flowers.
For the LGBT crowd: Saloon is a fun, lively spot in Le Village, with pulsing pink, orange and blue lighted walls and thumping dance music. Try the El Paso Burger with salsa, guacamole and a few jalapenos and great, double-cooked fries. Or tuck into a lovely mango salad with shrimp for something lighter.
TAKE A TOUR: You can take a gourmet tour of Montreal with Expedia.ca, so check out this great package.
WHERE TO STAY: Families or folks looking for a bit of space should try Le Saint Sulpice, just around the corner from Rue St. Paul in Old Montreal. The Marriott Chateau Champlain is an elegant beauty in the heart of the city.