The Montréal food scene is as delightfully diverse as its multicultural inhabitants. 80 languages are spoken here. American chef, writer, and television personality,
Anthony Bourdain, has celebrated gastronomic delights that exceed Montréal's prized smoked meat (
Schwartz's Deli) and high-quality bagels (
St. Viateur Bagel or
In fact, Montréal boasts the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada. In North America, second only to the Big Apple, New York City. The problem - with a few days available to any casual visitor, how best to acquire an overview? The solution - take the
"Old Montréal Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour" that features not only historic landmarks but also locales where Montréalers dine.
A motley group from Boston, Bar Harbour, Winnipeg and Niagara, we start at 433 McGill Street at
Brit And Chips,, reportedly Montréal's best fish and chips shop. The Grand Trunk Railroad Building sits across the street, once owned by
Charles Melville Hays, who perished aboard the doomed Titanic. Also, there is a giant tuning fork sculpture, a demarcation of the historic fortress wall that once surrounded early Montréal. Canada celebrates its 150th birthday this year while Montréal celebrates its 375th anniversary.
Inside the clean, bright restaurant, we sample classic cod and chips. They also offer haddock, salmon, sole and hake. Prices are reasonable and the service is superb.
We hang a left on St. Paul St. and enter chef Helena Loureiro's
Cantinho De Lisboa, a popular eat-in and take-out Portuguese market and café where we experience authentic caldo verde, Portuguese green soup, with a fresh garbanzo salad. Loureiro's cookbook and colourful Portuguese ceramics are featured as well as freshly baked breads and pastries, artisanal charcuterie and cheese. Shelves are stocked with home-made gourmet items and unique condiments selected by Helena during her travels through Portugal. I notice the
pastéis de nata (custard). When I was in Portugal, it was a delectable dessert to die for!
We take another left on St. Pierre and arrive at
Crew Labs Collective & Café, formerly Montréal's historic Royal Bank. It's akin to entering a cathedral with vaulted, ornate ceilings. Now it's a convenient and exceptional place to meet and work. A coffee shop is set in front of the collective offices with private rooms on the left and right sides of the dining area - available for rent at $25 per hour. I enjoy a delicious aioli spread sandwich along with a freshly brewed coffee. Pastries and fruits are also available.
Around the corner on St. Jacques St., we head into
Cookie Stéfanie for a gluten-free, refreshingly moist carrot cake with a generous topping of homemade cream cheese icing on top. Coffee or specialty tea is available here. The neighboring former Imperial Bank of Commerce with its ornate, Corinthian columns anchors the street, and it is now employed for rentals.
This is a departure point for calèches offering romantic horse-drawn tours of Old Montréal. Church attendance has dropped off such that the Basilica's primary funding is the $5 entrance fee from tourists who want to see where famous Québeckers such as
Céline Dion are married and Montréal Canadiens superstar
Maurice "Rocket" Richard and Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau were given state funerals.
Turning back on McGill St., we arrive at
Bistro-Brasserie Les Soeurs Grises, a casual brewpub named after the Grey Nuns. I enjoy a local craft beer with cheese pairings. Marguerite d'Youville, the founder, was accused of luring the poor with a cellar filled with alcohol. Nevertheless, "the drunk sisters" chose grey habits as a sign of humility. They occupy a large and valuable building close to the waterfront.
Our last stop is
Soupe Soup, a bright, inviting lunch spot which offers locally sourced food inside a large converted warehouse. In a relaxed atmosphere, we enjoyed a Québécois classic,
"pudding chômeur," irresistibly delicious and addictively habit-forming. Pudding chômeur (unemployment pudding or poor man's pudding) was created by female factory workers during Québec's Great Depression. Today, it's served with maple syrup as a regional dessert, and it's often offered at regional sugar shacks.
Beyond the eclectic food tour, we also savoured a 7-course tasting menu at
Chez L'Épicier, a French restaurant gracing Old Montréal's romantic narrow streets and fascinating shops. For the past ten years, Chez L'Épicier's chef,
Laurent Godbout, has accumulated numerous culinary prizes and awards, and his creations served to us resembled miniature works of art.
The third course was my favourite - Icelandic cod with celeriac risotto, rice milk emulsion, pine nuts and parmesan tile coupled with Sonoma County's Hobo Wine Company's 2014 Chardonnay. Our waiter and sommelier, Julian, impressed us with his spot on choices of Niagara, French, Californian and Québecois wine and cider pairings from an extensive wine menu.
We stayed for two nights at l'Adresse du Centre-Ville B&B, an 1875 home located in Montréal's Latin Quarter, one of Trip Advisor's top-ten rated Montréal B&Bs, within walking distance to Vieux Montréal and Place des Arts in the downtown area, where we took in an exceptional performance by the
Montréal Symphony Orchestra featuring gifted pianist,
We were served Québécois style breakfasts - coffee, juice, bread pudding with four tasty home-made condiments followed by scrambled eggs with sprouts and herbs. On our second day, we enjoyed tiny waffles with pure maple syrup and medallions of apple and fig.
l'Adresse du Centre-Ville B&B has an exceptional hostess named Nathalie. Where else do you get someone so diligent who, when you arrive, jumps into your car and helps to steer you around the congested block - not once, but twice - in order to secure a prime parking spot (not occupied by those with stickers who actually live on the street) that's good for the entire weekend?
The convenient Latin Quarter address is within walking distance to both the Vieux Montreal the Place des Arts in the downtown area. Going downtown, one may take raucous St. Catherine St. or the more sedate Maisonneuve Blvd., and at night, enjoy projections cast against large building facades.
At the bottom of the street is the Berri-Uqam subway station, a hub for the four different lines. We bought three-day passes there which turned out to be an economical way to travel. There is also a well-stocked convenience store there where we purchased a few beers to take back to the B&B to watch the Leafs-Canadiens game. The projections that night featured Maurice "the Rocket" Richard and stylish centre Jean Beliveau who once captained the 'Habs.
We stayed another two comfortable nights at the Marriott SpringHill Suites in the heart of Old Montréal, where they served a daily delicious hot and cold complimentary breakfast. Each night, we heard the bells toll from the nearby Basilica. The hotel is smoke-free, and parking is $28 per diem.
We were lodged in room 515, a Superior King, one of 124 suites. Our comfortable room was quite spacious with a separate area for the bed (with an extra TV), and another area for relaxing with a couch and table and a 32" plasma screen television. Just inside the door was a much appreciated work space area with an ergonomic chair and free Wi-Fi.
A bonus was the kitchenette with mini-fridge, microwave, coffee maker and sink. What else? A selection of Paul Mitchell bath and body products and a two-line telephone with voicemail. We also had a terrace with a view of Old Montréal but it was too cold and it snowed the second day, creating a lovely white carpet.
Not used by us was a laundry facility on the 3rd Floor, a Fitness room and Pool on the 1st level and a Business Centre on the Lobby Level. Here they take their "Smoke Free Environment" seriously indicating that a $250 fee will be charged if you smoke in your room.
The service was excellent, the staff cordial, efficient and prepared to offer meal and venue suggestions.
I really enjoyed the Superior King room, a large and inviting space after a day of walking through the charming old town. The rates range from $169 to $299 in peak season.
While in Montréal, we visited the
Museum of Fine Arts which had opened a brand new pavilion. It's Montréal's largest museum and spread across five pavilions with buildings on both sides of the street connected underground.
The expansion makes it the eighteenth largest art museum in North America. The addition, the Pavilion for Peace, is devoted to international art and education. The permanent collection includes approximately 42,000 works, but we attended primarily to see the
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) exhibit.
He is regarded as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, renowned for his compositions and subjects with new thoughts on questions of gender, race and sexuality.
Tracing the artist's entire career, from his early production in the late 1960s to his death in 1989, the exhibition features close to 300 works that shed new light on the key genres that he pursued: portraiture, the nude and the still life.
Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the MMFA characterizes him as - "Mapplethorpe was a powerful artist: few bodies of work have created such a stir beyond the art world, for he brought social taboos out into the open. Armed with a razor-sharp aesthetic sense and a vast visual culture, he put on display three taboos of American society - violence, homosexuality and interracial relationships - whose scars remain, even today. Mapplethorpe forced a debate, one that has a long history and still goes on, about artistic, but especially social, censorship. His work, so current in its commitment, could only reinforce the values of tolerance and openness that I want the Museum to convey."
The museum notes inform us that Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Queens in 1946 and grew up in a middle-class Catholic household. In 1967, he enrolled at the Pratt Institute, where he majored in advertising before switching to graphic design. At first, he conformed to masculine norms, but like many young people of his generation, he gravitated toward the counterculture, attracted by a glimpse of alternative lifestyles. Not yet a photographer himself, he appropriated photographic imagery from publications and advertisements, manipulating them, spray-painting over them, and incorporating them in collages. Already he was revealing both his iconoclastic tendencies and his pragmatic determination to make art despite having little money to spend on supplies. Patti Smith - his close friend - immediately recognized his talent and ambition. When Mapplethorpe took up the camera (a borrowed Polaroid) in 1970, he realized that photography was the perfect medium for him.
He died at the age of forty-two, diagnosed HIV positive in 1986.
His black and white photographs seemed strikingly minimalist to me, and his portraitures seemed starkly bare. His obsession with the male phallus eventually becomes comical in his obvious repetitive attempt to shock, and the museum astutely employs several walls of media cartoons that document this attempted shocking of conservative views of sexuality. I'm glad that I took this exhibit in. His own picture reminded me off James Dean, the off-beat American actor who also died quite young.
In 2017, Montréal will be offering diverse, exciting events throughout its anniversary year celebrations, and the food served here is certainly the icing on the cake!
On our way to Montreal from Niagara, we drove through hellish Toronto traffic. Cars westbound on the 401 stuck for 1.5 hours because somebody was hit crossing the highway! We took the toll road, 407, and it was packed but moved steadily.
We purposefully arrived at the Best Western in Belleville to break up our long drive; it's conveniently just off the highway. A cheerful front desk clerk offers us coffee, hot chocolate and popcorn, all available in the spacious lobby-lounge-TV area as well as an inviting pool and hot tub to soothe our anxious nerves.
We are in room 311, a double Queen, well appointed, clean, with a good thermostat, fridge, a desk that economically slides out and back in to preserve space, and one chair. The lighting good and the bathroom fine. There is a large LG TV set. The staff are courteous and make one feel at home.
In the morning, a good hot and cold breakfast is offered in the lounge along with a complimentary Globe and Mail and nice leather chairs to relax in.
This Best Western hub was an easy choice for us because it has acquired a 70-year history of providing quality midscale accommodations. Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, it is a privately held hotel brand with a global network of 4,100 hotels in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide.
Best Western Hotels & Resorts was named AAA Lodging Partner of the Year for 2016, the eighth year Best Western has been awarded this accolade, winning every year the honour has been awarded since 2008!
AAA members (and CAA members like us) save 10% or more on room rates at Best Western hotels in the U.S., Canada and worldwide.
Mike Keenan is a travel columnist for Troy Media. He produces a travel podcast -
http://whattravelwriterssay.libsyn.com/ and has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of five thousand viewers.