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"
The two of us met in Montreal in 1999. Neither of us was born or raised in the city--we moved here at the tail end of the '90s as part of the Great Migration that brought dozens, perhaps even hundreds, from British Columbia to Montreal's thriving Mile End neighborhood. But we both took to our surroundings quickly. We bonded over a number of things (the usual: books, films, cats, etc.), and chief among them was a shared love of food and of Montreal as the perfect terrain for this passion.
It's been getting its due again in recent years, largely because of the splash made by a new wave of chefs and restaurateurs, but Montreal has long been a great "eating city"--not just a city with a lot of restaurants, but one that likes to eat and eat well, a city of gourmands. People here appreciate good food, they're willing to spend money on it, they love to cook and talk about food, and they take the time to enjoy it. They're our kind of people.
By 2004, things had gotten serious. We were cooking and entertaining more, systematically exploring the city's restaurants, collecting cookbooks, and reading copious amounts of food literature. Our obsession was clearly spiraling out of control. Michelle had even taken the telltale step of quitting her job as a subtitle editor for films and enrolling in pastry school.
We did the only sensible thing. One dreary day, we headed down to a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown, and over a good bowl of pho, we came up with a name--"...an endless banquet," a phrase meant to convey a sense of the ideal life--and started a food blog (endlessbanquet.blogspot.com) based largely on our relationship with Montreal.
For years, we'd prided ourselves on the tours we'd give friends when they passed through, and part of the appeal of creating "...an endless banquet" was that we'd be able to broadcast our dream version of Montreal. Consider this a condensed, lushly illustrated, two-dimensional version of our beloved city.
Even an endless banquet has to start somewhere. That somewhere for us was Chinatown, the neighborhood that marks the beginning of the long stretch of Boulevard St-Laurent affectionately known as The Main. You see, The Main--which connects two rivers and divides the city into east and west (and supposedly French and English)--has been something of a corridor used by wave after wave of immigrants as they settled into the city and called it their own; it continues to be one of the city's principal cultural and entertainment hubs. For many of us, it's the wellspring of the city.
Montreal's compact Chinatown isn't Vancouver's or Toronto's. In some ways, it's more of a Little Saigon than a Chinatown, but it remains a hotspot for Asian-food aficionados. Two years ago, at Pho Bac 97, we planned the creation of our blog over steaming bowls of pho number seven, which has the most delicious beef broth we've tasted.
Above Sherbrooke Street, the terrain levels off as you enter the aptly named Plateau Mont-Royal district. Here, you'll find the remnants of the Jewish and Eastern European elements that defined The Main for most of the 20th century. For generations, the most essential, most mythologized eatery on The Main has been Schwartz's, a temple to the city's single most important gift to the world of cuisine: smoked meat. Our preferred combo is a regular smoked-meat sandwich, fries, a half-sour pickle, and a Cott black-cherry soda.
On Duluth, just off St-Laurent, sits Reservoir, a smart, contemporary brasserie with microbrewed ales and lagers. The innovative kitchen turns out excellent bar snacks and light meals, including the city's best brunch.
"The closer to church, the closer to God," or so we recall hearing. Well, there's no place that's closer to Santa Cruz, Montreal's central Portuguese church, than Rotisserie Portugalia; in a city thick with skilled Portuguese grills, this hole-in-the-wall is our chosen one. Call ahead and order your chicken "extra spicy," then pick up a basket of fries from teeny-weeny Patati Patata down the block, and you've got the makings for a perfect picnic in Jeanne-Mance Park.
The most hallowed stop on the Mordecai Richler tour of Montreal is Wilensky's Light Lunch in Mile End. The thing to order is the Wilensky Special, a hot, pressed-bologna, salami, and mustard sandwich on a bun. Have yours with Kraft cheese, a freshly made soda or egg cream, and a half-sour.
Our beloved Euro-Deli Batory is a Polish store and diner where we regularly get in touch with our Eastern European roots via the borschts and pierogies.