While I’ve heard it said before that Montreal, Quebec is a culinary haven, nothing could have adequately prepared me for my first visit to Canada’s second largest city (Toronto, Ontario is the first). We weren’t shy about the fact that our goal over the long weekend visit was to eat our way through the city. And I’m proud to say: mission accomplished!
It certainly didn’t hurt that one of our traveling companions is Canadian-born and has made multiple visits to Montreal, always raving about the food. Our first taste of Montreal came via Beauty’s Diner, a family-owned staple in Montreal since 1942. A diner is a great place for a first bite because there are so many options on the menu! At Beauty’s, I learned that a Montreal bagel is quite different from those I’m used to state-side. Smaller, sweeter and covered in sesame seeds, the bagel had a bit of a popcorn taste to it, which was a great match for cream cheese.
The brunch spot we landed on was so incredibly delicious with such a diverse menu and warm, trendy boutique atmosphere that we ate there two consecutive mornings (it also didn’t hurt that it was a block away from our hotel). Le Cartet serves up glamorous, hearty and generously portioned breakfast and lunch plates but also has a take-out café complete with tea, coffee, fresh breads and pastries. But my favorite part was the little shop that sold a fabulous assortment of everything from dozens of varieties of chocolates to cooking oils and fine condiments. I highly recommend the scrambled eggs with goat cheese (served with roasted potatoes and fresh fruit) and add a side of smoked salmon if you’re ravenous.
While we were lucky enough to experience a few amazing dinners in Montreal the one that stands out most is the entire dining experience at Garde Manger in Old Montreal. This gem of a restaurant has been the talk of the town with growing accolades for French-Canadian celebrity chef, Chuck Hughes. Here, as I sipped on my pre-dinner Caesar cocktail, I had my first taste of the classic and beloved Canadian dish, poutine. Traditionally poutine is comprised of French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds and is mostly considered a fast food dish – it even makes Canada’s Burger King menu. But this wasn’t your average poutine – in true Garde Manger fashion it was elevated to new heights with the addition of succulent lobster pieces happily swimming alongside the cheese curds in the delectable brown gravy. Choosing a main plate was incredibly challenging, thanks to the many rotating, fresh and local options, but I was beyond pleased with my pick of Walleye (a Canadian fish) in a light broth with radicchio. Dessert and wine was a must, of course, and both were excellent. Our server was knowledgeable and fun, the food was to-die-for and the atmosphere of Garde Manger is as special as its menu offerings, with an entertaining collection of 80’s and 90’s hits blasting through the speakers. Definitely a must if you are ever in Montreal!
While Garde Manger was my personal favorite, I would be doing a disservice to foodies everywhere if I left Hambar off the list. You’ve gotta love it when there’s an awesome restaurant and bar in your own hotel. Proudly inhabiting a corner of Hotel St. Paul, Hambar restaurant is quite a treat! A well-stocked bar and wine list perfectly complement the menu that is built largely around – you guessed it – ham; more specifically, cured meats. The charcuterie plate is a great place to start for a well-rounded mix of cured meats and lovely little sides and cheeses from an array of countries.
I can’t wait to make a return trip to Montreal for many reasons, as is often the case for me food is atop that list! If you make it to Montreal, prepare yourself for adventures in a foodie wonderland and of course, bon voyage!