My Montreal Is Better Than Yours*
Once again, bloggers are having their way with Budget Travel: A.J. Kinik and Michelle Marek--who write a wonderful blog, "...an endless banquet"--show us all where to eat, shop, and play in the city that they obsess over better than anyone else.
*Actually, it should really be "Our Montreal"
Nearly every day--particularly if we plan to go shopping later--starts with a poppy or sesame seed bagel ("blacks" and "whites" in the local parlance) from Fairmount Bagel. Not because we're boring, but because we never tire of the world's very best (there, we've said it). Stick to the classics: Only schmucks order chocolate chip bagels.
Our life revolves around Jean-Talon Market. We find ourselves there nearly every week, even in winter. Come summer, Jean-Talon is almost a parody of a cornucopia. Two years ago, the market expanded and modernized--and actually came out even better. One reason is Philippe and Ethné de Viennes' Olives et Épices, which offers a truly incredible line of épices de cru--spices of ultrahigh quality sourced around the world by the de Vienneses. Some other reasons are their second store, La Dépense, where you can pick up the market's most delicious snack--fresh carrot-and-leek bahjis--for a song, as well as Havre aux Glaces with its small-batch ice creams and Cochons Touts Rond, featuring artisanal charcuterie.
Quincaillerie is French for "hardware store," but such shops are traditionally the place to buy kitchen supplies, too. Quincaillerie Dante adds a twist: It's part kitchen-supply store, part hunting and firearms specialist, and all Italian. Better yet, one of the owners, Elena Faita, and her son, Stefano, run Mezza Luna cooking school out of an apartment next door.
Just south of the market and Quincaillerie Dante are Bar Sportivo and Caffé Italia--two primo places to take in an Italian football match and a latte--as well as the city's biggest Italian food emporium, Milano.
Les Touilleurs, our other favorite kitchen-supply store, is on a chic stretch of Laurier, tantalizingly close to our apartment. Everything has that ideal combination of style and functionality--right down to the handsome recipe-of-the-month cards--and the retail space is beautiful.
Montreal isn't quite the antiquing city it once was, thanks to eBay, but there are finds to be made. Amherst Street has a slew of impressive places for 20th-century antiques; we like Antiquités A-Z. The city's greatest treasure trove, the Marché aux Puces St-Michel, is a real tale of two floors. Downstairs is almost Sanford & Son-ish, but upstairs is a bewildering array of furniture, signage, musical equipment (accordions!), records, china, and more.
Despite the fact that we have a blog, those who know us know that we're still very much believers in the world of print and stationery--and we're huge admirers of Nota Bene and its meticulous collection of paper products.
You're not going to find any secondhand bookstores claiming to stock 18 miles of books in this town, but we do have The Word, around the corner from Nota Bene. It looks like there are hardly more than 18 yards of books, but somehow we still manage to come away happy every time.
When they conducted their market research (yeah, right), the folks at Backroom Records & Pastries in Mile End must have come up with the two of us as ideal customers. They carry the best in used rock, reggae, folk, and jazz, plus the best in homemade pastries, candies, and other sweets. What's not to like? Especially when it's a semisecret store in the back room of someone's home.
For men's and women's fashions by more than 30 up-and-coming local designers, Mile End's General 54 is where it's happening, while its sister store, Local 23, specializes in vintage clothing and accessories.
Finally, three more hot tips for food.
Montreal's most refined selection of imported, Quebecois, and raw-milk cheese is in Outremont, in the gorgeous cabinets of Yannick Fromagerie d'Exception. If tea is your bag, pay a visit to Camellia Sinensis. There's a new location next to Jean-Talon Market, but the original location in the Quartier Latin includes a newly refurbished teahouse.
No tour of gourmet Montreal would be complete without a visit to a chocolatier. Our hands-down top choice is Les Chocolats de Chloé. Chloé Gervais-Fredette's attention to detail shows through in everything she touches, not just the small-batch, hand-dipped chocolate but also the shop and the packaging.