Perhaps the key to devouring Montreal’s cosmopolitan food scene is put most succinctly by Food Network and celebrity Executive Chef, Chuck Hughes. When asked what he cooked for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at his Montreal restaurant, Garde Manger, Hughes replied, “He likes to eat, he just loves food – simply executed food that showcases fresh ingredients.”
That mantra is shared by all of Montreal’s eateries. Add to that the walkability of this charming historical city with a French vibe and the fact that it has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada and you get foodie Nirvana! Here’s a whirlwind tour:
Smoked Meat With A Celebrity Side
Carnivore alert: Schwartz’s Deli on funky Boulevard Saint Laurent has been a Montreal institution since 1928 when Jewish immigrant, Reuben Schwartz brought his family’s secret recipe for smoked brisket from Romania and opened his eponymous restaurant. Still prepared in the same old-fashioned way, the preservative-free meat is served in true deli style- with a crunchy pickle, fresh coleslaw and hot pickled peppers. And don’t be surprised if French Canadian, Grammy Award-winning chanteuse, Céline Dion pops in for a nosh! She and her late husband, René Angélil, became investors in the restaurant in 2012. When performing in Montreal, Céline makes a beeline for Schwartz’s to feed her hungry crew. Get there early for brunch as line-ups out the door along the sidewalk are not uncommon.
Marché Artisans, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth
You’re standing in the middle of an 8,500-square-foot market surrounded by pyramids of the freshest Quebec farm to table fruits and vegetables; aromatic artisan cheeses; a crêpery; seafood bar; Jean Claude Poitras chocolates and a glassed-in pastry ‘laboratory’ creating desserts the artistry of which, even Marie Antoinette would approve. It’s the newly opened Marché Artisans in the Mezzanine of the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth – the first indoor hotel market of this scope in North America. “Over 1,800 products and prepared take-away are here appealing not only to Fairmont guests and tourists but to the whole city,” explains Mario Paladin, Director of Marché Artisans. “Beneath the hotel is one of the busiest downtown Métro stations in Montreal, The Bonaventure and we are connected directly above Central Train Station.” Not only is this a foodie’s paradise but Paladin has commissioned some of Montreal’s finest artisans to create ceramics and kitchen accessories for sale exclusive to Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth. So while makers demonstrate many of their crafts in the Marché, your biggest dilemma is what to sample first!
It’s Better In The Dark – A Culinary Adventure
All foodies appreciate the sensory, visual presentation and convivial aspects of dining. But what if you couldn’t see what you were eating?
O.NOIR Restaurant invites guests to experience food, drink and stimulating conversation in the dark. No candles, cell phones or luminous watches allowed. (How apropos that O.NOIR is located in the Plateau area of Montreal, considered one of the most romantic and home of the late poet and musician, Leonard Cohen.)
The concept began in Zurich when Jorge Spielmann, who is blind, opened Blindekuh (The Blind Cow,) in 1999, a project aimed at teaching the sighted about the sightless world while providing jobs for the blind.
At O.NOIR, the wait staff are also visually impaired and trained to deliver impeccable service. But don’t think the food is any less tantalizing because you can’t see it. On the contrary. “One of our main objectives is for our kitchen to create different textures, flavours and aromas that make the cuisine more memorable to diners,” says general manager and co-owner, Alejandro Martinez. “We work with seasonal vegetables to create our menus and everything is always homemade.” Eclectic gourmet fare includes rabbit saddle stuffed with poultry, bacon and apricots and for dessert, profiteroles with home-made nougat ice cream and caramel sauce. Open for dinner only.
Walking Food Tour Through Old Montreal (burn calories between food stops!)
If you prefer an appetizer of history and architecture to whet your taste buds or just enjoy meeting fellow foodies from all over the world, hooking up with Local Montreal Food Tours is the answer. Walking through narrow cobblestone streets (be sure to wear comfortable shoes), you’ll discover Notre-Dame Bascilica and other historical landmarks, making your way to the renovated Old Port while you are guided in English and French. Along the way dive into locally made craft beer with duck breast at Les Soeurs Grises, a former convent; chow down at Portuguese eatery, Taberna for chicken and chorizo and relish the creamy Québecois classic dessert, “pouding chômeur” at Soupe Soup amongst others.
Trendy Griffintown for Northern Italian
Bordered by the Lachine Canal, this downtown Montreal neighbourhood of industrial warehouses has been transformed into a hip enclave of galleries, new condos, cafes and restaurants.
LeRichmond combines contemporary décor (think skylights, Venetian chandeliers juxtaposed with brick and reclaimed wood,) in a 3,200-sq-foot 18th Century renovated loft, with the gastronomy of Northern Italy. Homemade pastas and ricotta; pizzas and fresh fish are served in the Restaurant or just enjoy a drink from their expansive wine list at the popular bar. Nextdoor at the Bistro, leisurely browse their Marché Italien boasting over 2,000 imported products from Italy and 60 prepared dishes available for takeout to experience la dolce vita at home.
There are so many world-class fine dining restaurants in Montreal you’ll have to extend your stay just to try them all. For an imaginative gastronomic experience like venison carpaccio with sea snails and chanterelle mushrooms, Chef /owner Normand Laprise of Toqué! Restaurant has captured the best of Quebec’s seasonal bounty for almost twenty-five years. Although the Michelin star system doesn’t exist in Canada, Toqué! Restaurant was awarded the prestigious banner of Relais & Chateaux since 2006. This year Carl Villeneuve-Lepage was voted best sommelier in Canada by the Canadian Sommelier Association and with hundreds of bottles in the Toqué! cellars he loves to discuss food pairings with oenophiles.
Moleskine is two restaurants in one. On the first floor is a pizzeria while the 2nd floor boasts fine dining. Upstairs, tuck into roasted octopus with charred oranges and sweet pepper pesto. Or do like TV and cookbook celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain did when he visited Joe Beef: sample the decadent Double Down Sandwich of bacon, cheddar cheese and maple syrup between two slabs of foie gras.
Top Photo: Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau with (centre) Executive Chef/owner Chuck Hughes of Garde Manger in Montreal and (r) American Top Chef winner, Kristen Kish. Photo: Destination Canada