Working For Your Meals in Montreal
Put another notch in your belt loop if you plan on heading to Montreal any time soon. This European-like city in the heart of North America is a foodie heaven. Thankfully, it’s also one of the most walkable, bikeable, hikeable cities in the world. And working for your meals is part of the fun. This is where I’d start…
Check into the Ritz Carlton Montreal and be prepared to be blown away. Opened in 1912, it was the first hotel in North America to bear the Ritz Carlton name. It emits a strong whiff of old-world charm — with the white-gloved doormen and the front desk welcoming committee (all in French, of course!) — but the recently renovated interior is a tableau of modern, chic perfection. Immediately after checking in, put on your walking shoes and head to dinner in Little Burgundy. Joe Beef is first on the list (and if you get lost and walk a few miles out of your way like we did, well, that just means you get to eat more!). In my humble opinion, the hustlin’, bustlin’ Joe Beef wins for overall best Montreal restaurant. From the ever changing menu written daily on chalkboards, to the wait staff who actually sit down with you to go over said menu, to the lobster spaghetti with bacon, cream, and cheese (oh yes, I did), it’s just an overall A+.
Wake up early, push the button next to your bed and raise the shades to a beautiful, new day full of wondrous eating opportunities. Have your first breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Maison Boulud (Chef Daniel, of course). Score a table in the peaceful garden and stuff yourself silly with delicacies from the buffet such as charcuterie, an assortment of Quebec cheeses, fresh fruit, house-made granola, yogurt, patisseries, smoked salmon, and of course Montreal’s famous bagels. Or you can always be a wuss and just order off the menu.
After breakfast, put on your walking shoes and get going. To your next meal, that is! Beauty’s Luncheonette is an iconic Montreal brunch destination about a 2-mile walk from the Ritz through the trendy, gentrified, tree-lined, residential streets of The Plateau neighborhood. Known for it’s shopping, cafes, galleries, and restaurants, walking through the Plateau might be a more of a stroll than a power walk, as you window shop your way to Beauty’s where you will order only 2 things: the Beauty’s Special, the best bagel and lox sandwich you’ll ever have, and the Mish Mash, an egg scramble made with hot dogs, salami, green pepper, and fried onion. We skipped the famous milkshakes/smoothies this time around so we could have an excuse to go back again.
From Beauty’s, you’ll start your hike up to the top of Mont Royal. It’s about an hour walk, uphill, through the park to the lookout. You can just feel the calories burning. Once at the top, you’ll be treated to an amazing view of the city and the St. Lawrence River, and after walking back down, you’ll certainly be entitled to a taste of Montreal’s famous smoked meat. First stop, Schwartz’s Deli, one of the oldest delis in Canada. Skip the fries and just get a good, old-fashioned smoked meat sandwich, served on rye bread with yellow mustard. From there, head to the Mile End neighborhood for a grilled salami and baloney sandwich at Wilensky’s. With it’s pressed tin ceilings, 70-year-old grills, and ring up cash register, it’s like you walked right into a 1930s diner. And the sandwich hasn’t changed since then, either. It’s delish. Of course, you’ll want to wash it down with a double scoop of soft-serve ice cream from Kem Coba a few doors away. There’s always a line here, but that’s good. It will give you time to digest.
You might want to take a nap at this point before you head to dinner at Au Pied du Cochon for some hearty Quebecois fare. If you like foie gras, this is where you want to be. Start the meal with the Foie Gras Cromesquis, breaded and deep fried on the outside and filled with warm, oozy foie gras on the inside. For your main course, order the sickeningly sweet but insanely delicious Plogue à Champlain, a sinful combination of buckwheat pancakes, bacon, foie gras, and maple syrup. Or if you’re just in the mood for something light, try the duck in a can. But whatever you choose, save room for the pudding chômeur, individual cakes baked in maple syrup. To die for. Hoof it back to the hotel (no pun intended) only so you can go to sleep and get up and do it all over again!
Start the morning off right with a bagel. Montrealers take a lot of pride in their bagel. Slightly smaller, crispier, and sweeter than New York bagels, I prefer them to any bagel I’ve ever tasted. And there are basically 2 places to get them: St. Viateur and Fairmount. Both make their bagels right there on the spot 24 hours a day so you get a fresh one no matter when you go. Sure, you can buy some cream cheese (I prefer the smoked salmon spread) to dip them in, but these bagels really are best enjoyed plain. After trying both (what?! we had to!), I declare St. Viateur the winner, by a smidge. They were just a touch sweeter and crispier, but really, you can’t wrong with either. To be safe, though, try both! Then, you guessed it… walk it off! But not without a stop at Le Banquise for poutines, of course. I prefer the original with the gravy and cheese curds but you can pile pretty much whatever you want on top. Don’t miss it.
You will get to see much of the city (and burn most of your bagel calories) by walking the 4 miles from the Plateau to Atwater Market, an iconic indoor/outdoor market filled with fresh produce, cheeses, pastries, etc. and some of the best Singaporean street food this side of the Mississippi (wha?!). At Satay Bros., you can order every item off the menu (there’s only 7 or so. Ok, maybe 8. Or 9. But whatever. That’s just semantics.). From the laksa (coconut milk soup with shrimp), to the satay, to the pork buns, believe me, you’ll want to try it all. And of course, you’ll need to wash it down with an ice cold beer before heading off on your 18-mile bike ride along the Lachine Canal and the St. Lawrence River. This is a must-do. It’s an easy, peaceful, flat ride through beautiful neighborhoods with great views of the St. Lawrence rapids, and by the time you get off, you’ll be starving and ready for your dinner at Le Club Chasse et Peche, one of the finest French restaurants in town. Located in Old Montreal, this romantic lodge is known for it’s fish, but like everywhere in Montreal, you won’t regret ordering meat here, either. The stone walls, low ceilings, and small but perfect menu makes this one of the most memorable meals you will ever have. Go with someone you love. And after dinner, take in the beauty and romance that is old Montreal at night. If it’s still open, stop in at Maison Christian Faure for one, final patisserie and then… bonne nuit!