Secret Food Tour in Montreal
Montreal is known as a foodie city, home to tasty bagels, luscious pastries, trendy restaurants, and inventive cafes. I've also heard it called "Sin City," perhaps a reference to the gluttony and excess of its food scene.
While I was there, I decided to put Montreal to the test. I signed up for a Secret Food Tour of Montreal. What's a geographical cure without some carb heavy excess?
The tour was mostly in what is perhaps Montreal's hippest neighborhood, Mile End. Bordering the Plateau and Outremont, Mile End is home to great restaurants, bohemian galleries, and colorful street art. We met at a lovely church, Eglise Saint-Enfant-Jesus du Mile End.
We also ventured to Outremont, a rather tony neighborhood with rippling grand mansions, pretty parks, and upscale shops on Avenue Laurier and Rue Bernard. Outremont is Montreal's residential Francophone enclave, and a gentrified part of the "Plateau" area.
Armed with an appetite (I had skipped breakfast), we started at Guillaume Bakery. We nibbled Alsatian tarts with bacon, onion, mushroom, and goat cheese. A delicious start.
We strolled by the famous Wilensky Sandwhich Shop on our way to Nonna's. We tried Gnocchi della Nonna, which is only available for takeout. The tiny shopfront is a take out counter, almost akin to a food truck. And it's extremely popular, with almost a cult following.
Nonna is picky about her tomato sauce. The tomatoes come from Sicily and the olive oil from Spain. She boils the gnocchi in her special sauce, rather than water. I have to say it was delicious. They sell her La Salsa Della Nonna for $10 per jar in the shop and online.
Next we headed to Fairmont Bagel to try an authentic Montreal bagel. We had a piping hot sesame bagel. Montreal bagels aren't like your typical US bagels. They're boiled in honey water and then baked in a wood-burning oven. They're dense and crispy. But I preferred them to the our version.
Fairmont competes with its neighbor and rival, St. Viateur. We were told that the bagels are practically the same. In fact, rumor holds that the owner of St. Viateur trained at Fairmont and possibly poached the secret recipe.
We next strolled by Schwartz's, which is known for having some of Montreal's best smoked meat. Smoked meat, like bagels, is another Montreal specialty. But we were going to have some smoked meat with "heart attack" poutine, Montreal's most hyped dish. So we headed to Poutineville.
The restaurant only serves one thing: poutine. It's essentially a build-your-own poutinerie. In its most classic form, poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. The cheese curds are supposed to "squeak." I don't know about you, but I don't really want my cheese to make sounds.
There are many iterations of poutine. You can add smoked meat (which we did), lobster, eggs, peppers, etc. For myself, I don't think any iteration would compel me to like this dish. I have an aversion to gravy. Sorry Montreal, this is too much excess for me.
Then it was time for dessert. We ventured to what may have been my favorite stop, Juliette & Chocolate on Avenue Laurier in Outremont. The cafe is is a chocolate lovers haven. It's quaint, romantic, and -- perhaps more importantly -- filled with chocolate products. There's even chocolate fondue that you can carry away.
We feasted on strawberry, banana, and chocolate crepes. They were most delicious.
Just to prove that you can acquire healthy food in Montreal, our guide took us to Mandy's Salad on Avenue Laurier. Its claim to fame is its inventive gourmet salads. If you're in a food coma from Montreal's rich cuisine, pop in here for a cleanse.
We finished out tour by testing the local micro beers at Microbrasserie Dieu du Ceil, also on Avenue Laurier. It's a rather pretentious name that translates to "god of the heavens." But it may earn its sobriquet. It's considered one of the best craft breweries in Montreal.
The pub itself is agreeable dive-y. It’s a chaotic heap of mismatched tables and chairs, chalkboard menus, and the smell of sticky lager. The patio juts right out into the middle of the street and is usually packed.
We visited around 2:00 pm, so it was quieter. I chose the Rosée D'Hibiscus beer, and I loved it. It's described as a "delicate wheat beer with a floral and lightly acidic character. Its beautiful pink colour comes from the hibiscus flowers used in the brewing process. A perfumed aroma invokes fresh pink grapefruit and the pleasing texture persists nicely."
That wrapped up our food tour. I would highly recommend it, as a quickie introduction to Montreal cuisine. And the Mile End and Outremont areas are the real Montreal, away from the tourist bustle in Vieux Montreal around the Basilica Notre Dame.
Mile End: Take the Orange Line to Laurier, Get off at Fairmont of St. Viateur
Outremont: Take the Blue Line to Outremont
Secret Food Tours website
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