LONG POST ALERT!
Bonjour! As promised, we are back. This time to take you to some our favorite places in Montreal from our short visit a few weeks ago. Those who missed our earlier post, want to catch up and have a few precious minutes to spare, please record your attendance by going here and reading this.
Now if you thought that was a treat, wait until you finish reading this post. Anyone who has been to Montreal or better, lived/ lives in Montreal can tell you 3 days is not enough to “experience” the city. But well, that’s the time we had this time around and we’d like to think that we made the most of it. Like Quebec City but in a completely different and equally good way, Montreal has a fresh indescribable vibrant but “big city” vibe to it. We are absolutely in love with the city and could possibly be planning our next trip as we speak. Oh how I wish, but that’ll have to wait.
Our visit to Montreal was different than Quebec City in a lot of ways. We started our first day with an early (early being a very very relative term here) morning 3.5 hour train ride from Quebec City to Montreal (Via Rail– which is Canada’s intercity passenger rail service). Why is this information important, you say? I say, childhood reminiscence. Train journeys forever and always remind us of our summer holidays as kids, when we spent gazillion hours looking out of the windows on trips across India… when trains were a way of life. So you see, hopping on to a train for 3.5 hours to get to another city can be pretty happening for someone who hasn’t done it in a long time. Oh and those pre-packed, cleverly purchased (the night before) croissants and muffins from Paillard in Quebec City we munched along the way, was the icing on the cake!
So how else was our stay here different? The minute we touched base in Montreal, we were off to a four- hour food tasting walking tour. Now that’s what I’m talking about or rather I will be talking about in a minute. Well, not just that but unlike our over-excited touristy selves in QC, we moved around more like the locals (or so we think!) in Montreal. We put ourselves up in a beautiful little studio in the trendy Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood which was also our first AirBnB experience. While deciding our location of stay in Montreal, we read that to truly enjoy Montreal, living like the locals is the way to go. And so we did. We do take travel advice extremely seriously and found ourselves at this young, hip, gorgeous, tree-lined neighborhood that we absolutely loved.
Now back to the food tasting tour. Montreal, as many of you would know, is a foodie’s paradise and you shouldn’t ideally get away without taking one of these tours. On our first afternoon, we went straight for the food tour which started at 12.30 pm where we spent 4 hours with fellow food enthusiasts talking about food, walking around and eating away in the Mile-End neighborhood. Thanks to the tour, we managed to skip quite a few lines and got right to our food! Our absolute favorite on the tour was Kem Coba- a gourmet ice-cream shop. We also loved the hole-in-the-wall home-made gnocchi & pasta sauce place. Here is a list of the places we stopped by:
And this is what we ate at these places:
One of the many “back-alleys” in the Mile-End neighborhood.
There is an interesting story our guide told us about this “community closet” below and I will let your imagination run wild on this one!
Montreal is a pretty big and spread out city and we had a lot of ground to cover (literally!), at least according to our own much talked about color-coded list! So we spent the evening getting ourselves a 3-day metro pass, hopped on to an underground transit metro and got down one stop away to explore Mont-Royal Avenue.
From there we may have taken a (wrong) bus or two and finally an Uber (so much for trying to be a local!) to get to Chinatown. You know, first day…new city…getting around can be challenging. To add fuel to the fire, to dampen our already dampened spirits and to further prove that a trip is not complete with a not-so-good food experience, we had “the” not-so-good food experience at a local dumpling house in Chinatown. To put it simply, it was just disappointing – the wait, service and quality of food.
We then decided to meet an old friend of mine (whom I was meeting after 7 years) who was also visiting Montreal but from NYC. We planned on meeting at a very famous Poutine joint for post dinner nibbles. Poutine La Banquise, it was. Whilst we did expect a bit of a wait, 45 minutes sure wasn’t on our mind. But well, we had the time, energy, enthusiasm and company (our friends from NYC and a wonderful couple we met at the food tour earlier in the day who we bumped into at La Banquise while waiting) to queue up to devour what we thought would be yet another bowl of greasy goodness. But again, much to our regret, it was an over-rated bowl of greasy (not-so) goodness. So yes, while you would think that we wasted our evening queueing up to try over-hyped eats, we think hanging with old friends definitely saved the evening so much so that we have no food pictures to remind us of what we ate that evening!
Morning #2 was more productive since we were well rested. We started the day with a short 20-25 minute hike up to the Chalet du Mont Royal & the Mont-Royal Summit from Parc Ave side of Mont Royal Park. It was a gorgeous day and the climb up the many many steps (which was the shortcut to get to the Chalet) was fairly comfortable.
We then walked down towards the exit which took us to the beautiful and historic McGill University area.
Then, we decided to walk towards Café Myriade (which is close to Concordia University) for a quick iced coffee and a chocolate brownie muffin. Don’t we always make some time for a coffee break! 🙂
Next on our list was to walk aimlessly around Rue Sainte-Catherine, doing the usual, people watching! We then made way to the absolute high points of our Montreal trip. Atwater Market & Jean Talon Market- Montreal’s two farmer’s markets. Both located in (almost) opposite directions, but those 3 day metro passes came in handy! First stop was Marche Atwater, which is also where we decided to have lunch. From fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, breads to local farm-to-table cafes, they have it all! Of all the things, we had the best Samosas we’ve had in such a long time, at this market. They were so good that I was almost going to get a dozen packed to be brought back to Houston. Sigh! I did not.
For lunch we went fresh with smoothies, salads & sandwiches from the local stalls in the market. Simple, fresh & clean.
Next stop was Marche Jean Talon which is the biggest & the best farmer’s market we’ve ever (with extra emphasis) been to. A good old “sabji-mandi” as we would call it in Hindi and a real farmer’s market that totally lived up to its name.
For us, there is nothing comparable to the joy of seeing (and of course cooking with) freshly harvested vegetables being handled with so much love & care.
The market gives a good sense of Quebec’s passion for fresh and local ingredients. It’s a pity we have nothing remotely close to the grandeur of the Jean- Talon Market in Houston.
After spending the afternoon with the local farmers, we headed towards Saint-Laurent Boulevard and more specifically to the much reputed Schwartz’s Deli. What can we say about a place that is known for its smoked meat sandwiches? Well, the sandwiches were loaded… but of course with meat, more meat and just meat! They sure were delicious and filling but do they really offer something another smoked meat sandwich shop doesn’t? Truth be told, we don’t know and we may be inclined to say no. Sometimes you just gotta try out a place to see what the hype is about and for us Schwartz’s Deli was just one such place. Luckily for us and unlike what we read, we didn’t waste spend time waiting in long lines, so, without being too harsh, we’d really let this pass and let the hype settle.
It was just 6 pm. With our smoked-meat laden selves, we dragged our feet and started walking aimlessly, again. We decided we need to shed some so we can make space for dinner. We are shameless gourmands like that. We started our 2-mile walk towards Parc La Fontaine. The GPS was also extra kind to us this time by taking us through Avenue Duluth. It is a quaint coble stone street, lined with charming cafes, restaurants, boutiques and walls full of graffiti, murals & street art.
and some more..
Gelato may or may not have been eaten at Cafe Pardes on the way to the park.
On reaching La Fontaine Park, we found a good spot, plonked ourselves on to a bench and did what we enjoy doing most- yes, people watching! This beautiful expanse cuts through the hustle-bustle of Montreal and provides the perfect opportunity for you to see what the locals are up to on a long weekend in Montreal.
We then made way to find dinner. After a really long day… of walking… and well, if you insist, eating, we were not in a mood for a very fancy meal. We had a place in mind that we crossed on our 2 mile walk to La Fontaine Park- Curry Mahal (on Saint-Laurent Boulevard). So back we went, walked 2 miles, built our appetites a little more and settled with our comfort food, dal-roti. We were lucky and undeniably overjoyed to have found the perfect Indian family-run restaurant. I am not lying when I say we had the best dal tadka in a very long time! The restaurant is very basic and has a “quick” café-type vibe to it but the staff is super friendly and the food is absolutely delicious. It’s a shame we don’t have good pictures from the dinner but..’nuff said. But we do have some interesting clicks from our walk to it.
The final day started with a quick bite at the Anthony Bourdain recommended Beauty’s Luncheonette. Started in 1942, Beauty’s (as the locals call it) is still a family run breakfast/ brunch restaurant with an old world charm serving fresh bagels, bagel sandwiches and all the breakfast jazz. We stopped by just to eat the Beauty’s Special which is basically a toasted bagel sandwich with cream cheese, smoked salmon, onion & tomato. Hard to go wrong there with all the freshies!
We then headed off to explore and spend the day in Old Montreal which was a bigger and slightly more commercial version of Old Quebec. Yet, beautiful, charming and fascinating. There is something for everyone here.
Mandatory stop at the majestic Notre-Dame Basilica.
Stopping by at Place Jacques-Cartier which is a car-free square of Old Montreal filled with classic Parisian-style terrace restaurants.
Our next stop was Jardin Nelson in Jacques-Cartier square to try a “Bizarre Food” as featured on Andrew Zimmern’s show (on Travel Channel). Call us food snobs, but the Pouding Chomeur at Jardin Nelson was yet another unimpressive find. We decided to have dessert for lunch so we could really understand what the dish was about, but… epic failure.. bizarrely sweet is all we have to say. We somehow managed to gulp it down with a black coffee and hoped to erase it from our memory. But there was a silver lining, the ambience was terrific and the Parisian-style terrace, where the restaurant was set up, was exceptionally charming.
After the highly unsatisfactory dessert for lunch experience, we made our way to the other side of Old Montreal on Rue Saint-Paul to our next destination, also a food establishment. Oh, don’t act surprised now. 😉
Olive & Gourmando to the rescue. What you’ll find here are artisanal breads, fresh sandwiches & salads. Sound too boring? Well, you gotta try it to know what I am saying. This place knows how to handle fresh & local ingredients and transform them into bites of deliciousness without much effort.
Although we were pretty full from the disastrous meal earlier that afternoon, we made some space for an O+G Grilled Cheese which was a sandwich with caramelized onions, Raclette (a kind of cheese) and Gouda Beemster XO (a kind of aged cheese). This was served with their sweet & tangy home-made ketchup. To offset the intake of calories consumed earlier in the day, we also managed to devour a #24 Salad which was a bowl of mixed vegetables, pickled daïkon, peanuts, fried shallots, roasted marinated tofu, fresh herbs and soba noodles, served with a sweet and sour dressing. Now we know why Montreal has the best farmers markets!
By this time, we were abundantly stuffed from the copious amounts of food we had consumed in the day and started walking towards the metro station. And as if we had not loitered around the city enough, we discovered Montreal’s Underground City! It couldn’t have come at a better time since we could really use the walk! Not a must-do but can do if you stumble upon it. Having lived in Singapore (where almost every train station leads to a mall), I was particularly excited on exploring the maze that was the underground city with boutique-y shops & cafes all around.
Finally, two trains and a mile walk later, we reached our neighborhood park (Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park) and decided to do what everyone else was doing. Just sit around!
Now, if you think we are done with food for the day, friends, you haven’t really gotten us, have you? Just 2 more to go and then we’ll let you carry on with your business! So following our “dessert before meal” tradition for the day, after spending a few minutes in the park, we started walking towards Kem Coba (in the Mile-End neighborhood) which is where we had the best ice-cream & sorbet on our food tour on day #1. It was so good, we had to go back for seconds. Apparently, they change their flavors every two weeks and the flavors you find there are like no other! There is almost always a line down the block and it is no ordinary ice-cream parlor.
After our ice-cream break, we were not sure what we wanted for dinner, so we marched our way through Mile-End and came across a vegetarian & vegan live music café- Resonance Café. We knew this was going to be the perfect place to have our last meal in the city we loved so much. Dinner was a Chili & Rice Bowl (a brown rice bowl with a bean-based chili, sunflower-based sour cream & green onions) for the mrs. and Victoria Bowl (a brown rice bowl with marinated tofu, kimchi, cucumber, carrot, nori seaweed, green onion, sesame seeds & sesame oil) for the mr.
And it’s finally a wrap! Merci Montreal, for a wonderful time. We know you are currently busy impressing people with your beautiful fall colors and we wish we could be those people, but, we promise, we will be back again.
We hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed writing this & visiting Montreal. You know where to look for ideas to plan your next Canadian holiday. Until we see you again, stay safe, be good & eat away! Leaving you with one last…