Montreal is the spiritual home of my hedonistic alter ego.
I go there to rock out, and I go there to fill up. I go there to surround myself with people who live to eat. And I go there to connect to history — the city’s and my own. I go there to be reminded of the ways that pleasure can be — and should be — a part of everyday life. Go ahead; roll your eyes. Accuse me of romanticizing Montreal. I have no defence. My Montreal is a mélange of old and new, French and English, sweet and salty, cheap and chic. I allow myself a guilt-free affair with la belle ville at every opportunity.
I have a strategy when planning a weekend visit, and it usually involves one researched dinner reservation, one stop at a select brunch spot, and a whole lot of walking, grazing, and nibbling in between. Here’s the key: park the car when you arrive, and then use it as a storage locker for the bagels, spices, chocolates, preserves, and cheeses you pick up along the way. That way, you can savour the distinctive smoky-sweet perfume of sesame bagels on the drive home and keep the Montreal food hangover lingering until the next visit.
LUNCH: Schwartz’s Deli
The tradition of going directly to Schwartz’s for a smoked meat sandwich immediately upon arriving in town began in my undergrad years at McGill in the early 1990s. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, because time stops once you’re under the fluorescent glow inside the landmark deli, sitting elbow to elbow with strangers, surrounded by the mingling scents of briny beef, peppercorns, and those obscenely good fries. Thanks to singer Celine Dion’s husband, René Angélil, part of a group of investors who recently bought Schwartz’s, the tradition will continue.
3895, boul. Saint-Laurent,
HOTEL CHECK-IN: Casa Bianca
Sandwiched between the Plateau, the Mile End, and Outremont, Casa Bianca is an ideal base from which to explore three of my favourite food neighbourhoods on foot. Gazing out the lovely large windows of my stylish second-floor suite, I finally realize my dream of living on Esplanade Avenue facing Mount Royal Park with a view of the mountain itself.
4351, av. de l’Esplanade,
AFTERNOON TREAT: Les Chocolats de Chloé
Another darling of Montreal’s food scene is a charming boutique dedicated to the art of chocolate. Owner Chloé Gervais-Fredette can often be seen in the shop’s exposed kitchen creating dark-chocolate-dipped melt-in-the-mouth bonbons infused with herbs (basil, fresh mint), spices (Szechuan peppercorn, ginger), and fresh fruit purées (passion fruit, lemon, and lime). Take your pick, but if your plan is to stroll around in the sun, eat your chocolates fast and grab a jar of the sensational salted butter and fresh vanilla caramel for the fridge at home. Trust me.
546, rue Duluth E.,
APÉRITIF: Labo Culinaire @ Sat Foodlab
After hearing raves about the food being prepared in an experimental not-for-profit restaurant at the avant-garde music and arts venue, I have to check it out. I hop into a taxi and shoot down to the SAT (Société des arts technologiques), an ultra-modern structure built among the boarded-up buildings and peep shows of a historic downtown neighbourhood on the cusp of major change. I climb the stairs to the top floor just as the spacious room and its patio begin to fill up with edgy young urbanites. Don’t be fooled by the hyper-cool setting: the eclectic menus are labours of love inspired by poetry, whimsy, and history rather than test tubes and forceps. From the end of August until October, Foodlab also hosts an all-produce farmers market for Quebec-foraged and local products at the nearby Place de la Paix. The Lab, open Wednesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., changes the menu to match various themes.
1201, boul. Saint-Laurent (third floor),
DINNER: La Salle À Manger
At this audacious upscale cafeteria, the decor includes a massive meat cooler and a crew of tattooed cooks on display at the stove. A team of gracious servers, poised to recommend the perfect wine to pair with each dish, understands well that we are all there to eat our faces off. The culinary carnival begins with fresh bread, oysters, and long rustic wooden boards of homemade charcuterie and smoked seafood strewn with giant handfuls of fresh herbs and zingy pickled cauliflower, carrots, and radishes. The blackboard of nightly specials features animals fit for shared feasting: whole rabbit and duck. The suckling pig serves 12. Feeling like a steak? It is more likely to be deer or horse than beef. The succulent pork bun may be worthy of its own cult following, but by the time we try it, we’re already fully converted.
1302, av. Mont-Royal E.,