After a few too many hours in the car on Sunday (nine, to be exact) we arrived safely in Montreal and set out for what may well be a perfect first 24 hours of eating and drinking in Canada's cultural capital.
First, a late dinner at L'Express, a traditionally-styled bistro in the Plateau neighborhood. Fatigue caused me to forget my camera, but I'll have a hard time forgetting my onglet topped with shallot butter, cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with fries and mayonnaise (made with olive oil, which added a hint of delicacy to an otherwise-heavy side). A young Bourdeaux, a hearty country vegetable soup, and plenty of cracking baguette and tart cornichons between courses made this an ideal introduction to Montreal, and the perfect way to start recovering from a little too much time on the road.
The morning began with an excursion to Cafe Olimpico, in the Mile End neighborhood, which struck me as the anti-Starbucks: one barista, who also works the register; no milk-bomb lattes or frappes; not even any drip coffee -- just espresso, cappuccino, and cafe au lait. Skim milk? Not here -- it's whole or nothing. Outside, a welcoming coffee version of the beer garden, with a lively social scene. I was a bit put off by the pre-packaged croissants at the counter, but apparently you're allowed to bring in outside food, and there are numerous tempting patisseries nearby.
The coffee garden at Cafe Olimpico
Next was a must-eat on our food tour, Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, which I've been wanting to try for a long time. And if you haven't been, you should be wanting to as well:
"Smoked Meat Sandwich" at Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen
This was a knockout. Tender brisket, not too salty or smoky, with a full beefy flavor. A nice bit of mustard to cut into the fat, and a soft white bread to keep it all together. The brisket is smoked daily, and in the front window of the main cafe you can see a number of them piled on top of each other, waiting to be your next sandwich (which sells for $5.50 Canadian, or about $4.75 US). There is one huge problem at Schwartz's, however -- the line:
The Lunch Line at Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen
This was taken at the height of the lunch rush, shortly before 1 p.m., so I can only hope that the line gets shorter in the off-peak hours. But I doubt it -- this place is justifiably famous, and I won't be surprised if I stop by sometime this week after midnight and find an even bigger crowd.
We opted instead for the take-out/eat-in counter next door, which serves the same sandwich, but without the line (at least at the time of our visit). I have a feeling we'll be getting more of Schwartz's brisket to go when we leave Montreal later this week, for some killer sandwiches on the road.
But how do you follow a lunch like this? By following something old-school with a modern dessert, Cayenne Hot Chocolate at Suite 88 Chocolatier:
Cayenne Drinking Chocolate at Suite 88 Chocolatier
I know it doesn't make much sense to get hot cocoa mid-summer, but for much of today there was a light chill, and I am a sucker for anything where spicy meets sweet. This hot chocolate was made with a bar of dark chocolate, some steamed milk, and a healthy dose of cayenne mixed in at the end. Nothing terribly original, but certainly terribly delicious. For something more summery, there are numerous truffles, chocolate-covered pretzels, and marshmallow lollipops with a chocolate coating.
Next was a refueling stop at Bieres Et Compaigne, a short walk from Suite 88 (Dieu du Ciel will have to wait til tomorrow, as it was closed today). Pints of Unibroue beers were on special for about $3.50 US -- I opted for the Maudite, a Belgian dark ale, while my better half went for the fruity (and more seasonally-apt) Ephemere Blackcurrant. I don't normally go for fruit beers, but this was a welcome surprise, with a nice undertone of blackcurrant that didn't overwhelm, and wasn't too perfume-y or sweet:
Unibroue Ephemere Blackcurrant
For dinner? Since Monday seems to be a sleepy day here, we made a trip to Jean Talon Market for provisioning, picking up four cornish hens, some raw milk goat cheese, haricot verts, and a few bulbs of fresh garlic. We also grabbed some strawberries and blueberries for breakfast tomorrow (which we'll have with bagels, of course):
Life in Montreal is good.
Up next: Who makes Montreal's best poutine? Vote and help us decide.
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