Top Chef judge Gail Simmons knows a thing or two about traveling for the food. She also happens to be Canadian. Who better to give us a food tour of her beloved college town, Montreal?
MONTREAL – Even though my husband Jeremy and I met in New York through friends thirteen years ago, it was our mutual love of Montreal that may have first brought us together. After all, Jeremy was born and raised there and I attended McGill University as an undergrad, having grown up in Toronto.
But it's not just Canadian nostalgia that keeps us returning time and again. It's the energy of the city, the quasi-Euro sensibility, and the independent rhythm that we find so alluring. (So many other major metropolitan centers all seem to blend into one.) Oh, and Montreal has an insane amount of good food.
We've compiled a by-no-means-inclusive list of some of our favorite places to taste and explore. And since Montreal is a city of vibrant contrasts — French/English, classic/modern, gritty/glam — we picked options that exemplify both its traditional, old school feel as well as the vanguard. Chacun à son goût!
Eat the legend: eggs scrambled with salami and onions, triple-decker sandwiches, Beautys special with Montreal bagel and lox, the best banana bread.
Le Chien Fumant
French Canadian meets Southern gastropub with hearty breakfasts of eggs and pulled pork, crunchy pain perdu, and boudin and creamy crab cakes.
A relic that still makes the best, simplest sandwiches in the city: beef bologna, salami, cheese, and mustard on a toasted bun with a side of kernatzel (kosher dried beef sticks, aka Jewish Quebec's answer to pepperoni sticks). No substitutions or tips allowed.
Fatty, tasty beef tongue with lima beans and goat cheese, trout salad, and juicy burgers all served on a super laid-back hipster corner of Mile End neighborhood.
Le Nouveau Palais
A barely converted old diner with simple, impeccably cooked food, like perfect egg salad sandwich, meticulous matzoh ball soup, and the ever-Canadian Lumberjack Sandwich (bacon, egg, and cheese between two maple-soaked pancakes).
An old country coffee bar serving serious espresso, with stand-up tables and soccer blaring on the TV on a hidden corner of Rue St. Viateur.
The new guard found a home on Rue Makay near Concordia University. Award-winning baristas here do not take their brew lightly: Every cup is made with absolute care and precision.
Jean Talon Market
An indoor-outdoor food extravaganza that puts most urban markets to shame. You'll find the freshest seasonal Canadian bounty, cheese, meats, spices, and spreads of all kinds — all fresh from the farm. Not to mention a unique shop specializing in Quebec's finest: maple butter/sugar/wine, microbrews, foie gras, confit de canard.
We could wax poetic about Au Pied de Cochon or Joe Beef (as so many people already have), both of which have positioned themselves at the epicenter of the French-Canadian gastro universe. They deserve all the acclaim they receive. But there is so much more to the city's dining landscape — and we are not even scratching the surface of the ethnic options available (that's another itinerary). Here are a few others that should share their glory:
Clube Chasse et Peche
A luxe, cavernous space on a quiet street in Old Montreal with a sophisticated hunting and fishing lodge menu that's always rich and satisfying, from snow crab to sweetbreads and impeccably fresh artic char from the icy waters of the Bay of Gaspé.
Le Clube Chasse et Peche'snew sibling in the Plateau neighborhood is more seafood-driven, with a long list of quivering crudo, oysters, tartars, and an impressive selection fresh fish, in addition to other carefully cooked amphibians.
La Salle a Manger
Modern Québécois bistro with an ever-changing chalkboard menu of hearty staples with a modern twist, like crispy fried frog's legs with chipotle mayo, roasted bone marrow with asparagus and a warm porcini salad with poached egg, hazelnuts, onion purée, Grana Padana, and Swiss chard. A glassed-in meat locker reveals their homemade sausages and dry-ages meats, and a massive farmhouse tub in the back holds their ice-cold raw bar selection.
Le Bilboquet Handmade Ice Cream
The very best Tire d'Erable (i.e. maple sugar) ice cream, bar none; creamy and rich maple syrup base with shards of maple sugar scattered throughout.
Patisserie de Gascogne
Beautiful viennoiseries and confections made just as the French intended since 1957.
Duc de Lorraine
A refuge of traditional gateaux, tartes, and mille-feuille, where you can quietly sip café au lait all day long.
De Farine et d'Eau Fraîche (Of Flour & Fresh Water)
A beautiful, tiny new bakery devoted to miniature works of pastry art, including fabulous little cakes, cookies, and deliciously whipped frappe coffee.
4807, Avenue du Parc; +1-514-271-7162
An unusual little spot where one talented woman bakes a limited selection of very special pastries that changes daily, depending on her mood and fancy, from chocolate-chai layer cake to vanilla plum tarts and fudgy brownies with a hint of cayenne pepper. Call ahead to make sure she's open, as she sells out fast. (No official website, but Unique Boutiques blog gives lots of info.)
After Dinner - Nightlife
We're not actually huge bar people. But if we were, this is where you'd find us.
But it's not just about the food. Check out Gail's favorite Montreal shops, hotels, and sites.