If you're following us on Instagram, you likely saw a few weeks ago that we were in Montreal. (We also mentioned it in this post on Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Maple Gastrique.) On the heels of Fakesgiving and Halloween, we took a trip North as a surprise (at least until the 11th hour when the airline ruined it, but alas) for Zach's birthday.
Montreal had long been on our list of weekend destinations -- neither of us had been there, and Zach had yet to set foot in Canada. We packed a lot into three nights. Here are some lessons we learned along the way.
1. Joe Beef is reason enough to visit Montreal.
Joe Beef -- the storied bistro in the city's Little Burgundy neighborhood -- is, all by itself, worth the trip to Montreal. We had a spectacular meal there, due in no small part to the phenomenal staff. We arrived for our 9:45 p.m. reservation to discover that we had accidentally booked our table for the following week. The staff was so nice about it, sending us to the bar for snacks and drinks and then getting us seated in no time. We were the ones who goofed up, yet they treated us like VIPs.
The food at Joe Beef is the stuff dreams are made of.
We started with a dish of shaved ham and cheese with mustard that was served not on bread, but on a piece of oven-roasted squash (pictured above). The combination of the savory ham on the sweet squash made us question why we haven't been eating it this way all along.
For entrees, we had two gorgeous dishes. The first was a lobster spaghetti that was incredibly rich but also worth the indulgence.
That was followed by a beautifully done steak covered in crisp fried onions and purslane. We loved the steak, but were in truth so stuffed at that point that we only had a few bites of it, and then boxed up the rest. Don't worry -- we ate it the next day back at our Airbnb. It was still delicious.
2. We like horse??
Yup, we tried horse meat for the first time. We sat down for our very first meal in Montreal at Joe Beef, and told the server that we were adventurous eaters. She replied in her French-Canadian accent, "Really? Then you should try the cheval cru -- it's delicious!"
We stared a little blankly while trying to summon up our preschool-level French. Cheval... that's ... wait, is that...?
"It is horse tarare," our server said brightly. "And it's lovely."
Never ones to back down from a challenge (or the allure of a French accent saying the words cheval cru), we ordered it.
Bittens, we loved it. It's lean and full of flavor. Like a cross between bison and venison. Yes, there was a little bit of a mental hurdle for us, as Americans who don't ever see horse on a menu.
But we were glad to have tried it, and we'd happily eat it again.
3. Poutine is delicious. (Duh.) And heavy. (Duh.)
We tried poutine for the first time, that Quebecois specialty of french fries doused in gravy and topped with cheese curds. On the one hand, we liked it. (Really, what's not to like?) On the other hand, it was some seriously heavy grub. Like, drunk food to the extreme. Do Montréalaises really eat this with any frequency? Surely not.
For our poutine adventure, we opted for La Banquise, a 24-hour greasy spoon that is widely recommended in guidebooks and online (as well as by a few of our friends who had been there). Funny enough, we went to La Banquise for breakfast, where we ordered omelets that each -- each! -- came with this huge portion of poutine on the side. We repeat: at breakfast! We finished less than half of what we ordered. Poutine: 1. Zach and Clay: 0.
4. Montreal bagels are worth the hype.
We love a bagel, and we fell hard for Montreal's famed version. They're thinner, softer (but also somehow crisper?) and more flavorful than New York bagels. We visited the two most recommended bagel places: Fairmount Bagel and St. Viateur. In truth, we walked directly from Fairmount to St. Viateur, doing back-to-back bagel tastings. And if we're being really honest, we went to Fairmount twice, on back-to-back days. Fairmount was our preferred bagel spot, but both are great. Hey, do both!
5. Maple syrup on everything, please.
As we wrote a couple weeks ago, Quebec produces two-thirds of the maple syrup consumed in the world. We saw maple not just on pancakes, but in chocolates, in coffee, on pork chops, in cocktails, on foie gras. Everywhere, on everything.
The best example of this was at Au Pied de Cochon, another famed Montreal restaurant known for its incredibly pork-focused, lumberjack-heavy food. This places takes stick-to-your-ribs comfort food to a new level. Take for instance, the dish spotted above, a buckwheat pancake topped with foie gras, an egg, apples and two kinds of cheese, doused in maple syrup.
It was spectacular, but we feared our arteries might clog before the second course.
6. Montreal breakfast is dreamy.
We ended up at Le Cartet for breakfast one morning, picking it somewhat randomly thanks to its high Yelp rating. We knew we had made the right choice because there was a line out the door (don't worry, it moves fast). There's a market area in front that sells all sorts of foodstuffs. The rear of the space is packed with little tables. We opted for the Brunch De L'Atlantique (heavy on smoked salmon, including a great salmon-and-sweet-potato cake) and the Brunch Sucre, pictured above (orange-zest crepes, housemade granola and a very tasty piece of thick toast slathered in applesauce and blueberries). And of course, more maple syrup.
Against all good judgment, we purchased a baked good from the shop on our way out, to eat later. It was described as being "like a muffin, but made with croissant dough, which is only half-baked, and then filled with chocolate."
We didn't make it very far from the restaurant before we dug into this treat. It was eyes-roll-back-in-your-head delicious. Rather like a bread pudding in the middle, with a crisp, flaky, buttery top.
Why are these not being sold everywhere? It was the best baked good we've had all year.
7. Montreal is an amazing city to walk.
When we weren't eating, we spent most of the weekend exploring neighborhoods. The weather was beautiful -- a sunny and unseasonably warm late-autumn day. So we wanted to maximize our outdoor time.
We walked aimlessly around the winding streets of Vieux-Montréal, the oldest part of the city. We sauntered down Rue Saint-Denis in the Plateau neighborhood.
We explored Parc Jean-Drapeau, a beautiful park on an island, which includes a biosphere (pictured above) that was built for the 1967 World's Fair. We spent an afternoon on Mont-Royal, the "mountain" in the middle of the city. We took a cab to the scenic lookout, and then walked down the hill on woodland trails, into the Mile End neighborhood. We then explored Mile End, which is filled with great shops.
We squeezed in a few museums as well, visiting Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History, which charts the development of Montreal. There's an amazing film that gives you a short overview of how the city came to be what it is today, and the excavated levels below the museum building show actual archaeology sites where you can see the remains of early Montreal settlements. And we popped into the contemporary art museum -- if you happen to be there before mid-January 2016, the Patrick Bernatchez show is especially good.
Have a recommendation that we didn't share? Please leave it in the comments!
The rest of you: think about booking a trip. Pronto.
~ Zach & Clay
THE DETAILS & USEFUL LINKS
Where we ate and we recommend:
Where we stayed:
We opted to stay in the Old Port area of Montreal, at an Airbnb loft. The price was right ($79/night) and we found Old Port to be incredibly convenient. The neighborhood was filled with good food options and we were situated closely to a subway stop.
What we saw and did:
Parc Jean-Drapeau: this island has a beautiful park that's perfect for exploring on a nice afternoon.
Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History: we loved this museum that charts the history of Montreal. There's an amazing film that gives you a short overview of how the city came to be what it is today, and the basement includes archeology sites where you can see the remains of early Montreal settlements.
Mile End: We spent another full afternoon exploring the Mile End neighborhood, which is filled with great shops to explore.
Mont-Royal: We took a cab to the scenic lookout at Mont-Royal, and then walked down, into the Mile End neighborhood.
The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal: the city's contemporary art museum.