I visited Montreal for a few warm, humid, and sometimes rainy days at the end of August for vacation. Here is a (much delayed) report of some of the places I ate at. This was my first time in Montreal, so some of the restaurants I went to were a bit touristy.
One thing on my list to try was Montreal smoked meat. I went to Schwartz’s in the morning after dropping my bags off at the hotel, coming in on a red-eye from SFO. According to their website they open at 8 am but start serving “hot meat” after 10:30 am. I got there a little before 10 on a Saturday, and there was a small lineup outside already. They actually started letting people into the restaurant at around 10.
I took a seat at the counter and had the smoked meat sandwich, along with a half-sour pickle and a cherry soda.
You can specify the leanness of the meat in your sandwich - lean, medium, medium fat, or fat. I had mine medium fat. The smoked meat in the sandwich was similar to a pastrami, but maybe with a subtler smoked flavor. It was nice and tender and flavorful, and not too salty, with some juicy goodness from the fat. It’s a good sized sandwich but not super big like at say Katz’s in NYC. Perfect size for a meal. The rye bread was fine but not at the level of Langer’s in LA. Mustard was a yellow mustard, probably French’s. I also had a half sour pickle that was nice and bright and crispy, a good counter to the richness of the sandwich. Cash only, you pay at the front after eating.
Wilensky’s Light Lunch (Mile End)
I continued exploring Montreal’s Jewish cuisine by having a second lunch at Wilensky’s. Wilensky’s is a Mile End institution, founded in 1932. The restaurant’s seating area is a long counter, and it has a short menu with really only one sandwich - the Wilensky’s special. It’s a pressed, grilled sandwich with baloney and salami. And also yellow mustard, which is not optional as the sandwiches come out of a batch already cooking on the press. This also means that you receive your order almost immediately after you order it, on a piece of paper on the counter. I had the Wilensky’s special with cheddar cheese (you can also get it with Swiss). The round cornmeal dusted kaiser roll was crispy from the grill and had a crispy exterior texture similar to that of an English muffin. The cheddar cheese in the sandwich was a slice of processed cheddar. It was placed inside cold and melted after a little while from the heat of the bread and the baloney and salami filling. This was an OK sandwich. I think Wilensky’s might be a place you go to more for the experience. True to its English name this was indeed a light (second) lunch. I also had another half sour, which was quartered and not quite as good as the one from Schwartz’s, and a cherry soda, which they mix to order and was pretty good.
Kem CoBa (Mile End)
For lunch dessert, I went to Kem CoBa, an ice cream and sorbet shop a few steps from Wilensky’s. The name means my third aunt’s ice cream in Vietnamese. Owned and operated by wife and husband Ngoc Phan (the aunt) and Vincent Beck. Really great ice cream and sorbets, some with southeast Asian influenced flavors. I went back here twice, and had the matcha and pandan ice creams, the mango and lime coconut soft serve swirl, and the soursop and lime sorbets. My favorites were the soft serves, which had a nice smooth creamy texture. The mango soft serve in particular was bursting with mango flavor.
Au Pied de Cochon (Plateau-Mont-Royal)
Drogheria Fine (Mile End)
I went on a food tour of Mile End for lunch one day and this was one of the places we stopped at. It’s a small store next to Fairmont Bagel that sells tomato sauce. We sampled their gnocchi, which is basically a vehicle for the sauce and was served in little Chinese food takeout containers. The gnocchi could have been a little lighter and pillowy but the sauce was quite good and had a strong tomato taste.
St-Viateur Bagel, Fairmont Bagel (Mile End)
Another stop on the Mile End food tour was the original location of the famous, open 24/7 St-Viateur Bagel. This was my first taste of a Montreal bagel, which was a sesame one still warm from the oven. A really good bagel! It had a bit of sweetness from the honey water bath that it was poached in before going into the oven. Each bagel is hand formed. Lighter and less dense than the few New York bagels I’ve had, and skinnier. It had a nice texture with a crispy yet chewy crust. It was great plain but you can also get some cream cheese to eat with it if you prefer.
I also tried a Fairmont sesame bagel on another day. Fairmont is also open 24 hours and is also located in Mile End. Unlike St-Viateur they only have a single location. I have to say the two were actually pretty close in taste and texture, with the Fairmont one being a touch sweeter. I’m going to call it a draw.
Bouillon Bilk (Ville-Marie)
Montreal Pool Room
Montreal pool room is an over 100 year old (opened 1912) casse-croûte that doesn’t actually have any pool tables anymore.
Had a steamie. It’s a hot dog with coleslaw, mustard, and onions. The bun was steamed soft.
La Banquise (Plateau-Mont-Royal)
La Banquise, a 24 hour restaurant on Rue Rachel, specializes in poutine. Poutine in many forms - there are over 30 types on the menu, including the Mexican inspired “La Taquise” with guacamole, sour cream, and tomatoes and “La Galvaude” with chicken and peas. They also have a vegan poutine for vegans. I stuck to the regular “La Classique,” which is the classic poutine with gravy and cheese curds.
It took awhile to come out (I think they forgot my order), but it was very good. The fries were nicely textured, still a little crispy on the outside but tender in the middle. Good tasting gravy and squeaky cheese curds.
Toqué! (Quartier international)
Had a lunch at Toqué in the Quartier international. Their lunch is a “table de hôte,” in which the entrée is included with the main course, and also a cup of coffee or tea. Some very reasonable prices for a two course meal.
For the my entrée, I had the arctic char gravlax, black garlic tuile, cucumber, pistachios, buckwheat blini, yogurt with za’atar spices. A very pretty presentation, with little quarter sized blinis and some good gravlax.
For my main course I had the haunch of venison, corn puree, leek, smoked potto, blueberries, chanterelle mushrooms, lemon and thyme sauce (C$48). I got my venison medium rare, and I think I maybe should have gotten it rare as it was quite lean. Still was a nice piece of venison, with a demi-glace-like sauce and a sweet corn puree. Another pretty presentation with some decorative cornsilk.
For dessert I had a raspberry cannolo, Dulcey chocolate cream, raspberry gel and sorbet, sweet cicely syrup (C$12). This was very good. A shatteringly thin crust with a light chocolate cream and raspberry.
The included coffee came with some cookies. A good lunch.
Another dish to try on my list was Portuguese style roast chicken, which is a bit rare here in the Bay Area. I went to Romados in the Plateau-Mont-Royal to get my chicken fix. You line up to order your chicken plate, which is prepared and boxed in front of you, and then move to the cashier’s counter where you can get a piece of bread (included) and also order other items, like drinks or the pastries that are on display.
I got a half chicken combo. The combo comes with fries and a salad, and also rice if you want (I did) and also a piece of bread. A lot of food, and a very good deal at C$9.75. I ordered my chicken spicy. The chicken was taken out of a rotisserie cage and sauce was applied with what looked like a paintbrush.
The chicken was quite good. The piri piri sauce on the chicken had a sharp heat. Crispy skin. The white meat could have been a little more moist, but the thigh and drumstick were just right. Good fries as well. The rice was ok - I think it’s rice with some piri piri sauce mixed in. The bread was also ok - I probably could have done without it as this was already a huge amount of food.
I also got a pastel de nata, which was like a denser dan tat with a caramelized top. Tasty.
Lots of great food this trip, and I finally got to try a proper poutine. The highlight of my trip food-wise was definitely Au Pied de Cochon, followed by Bouillon Bilk. Looking forward to my next visit.