This past long weekend my girlfriends and I decided to get away, contribute to the Canadian economy and venture to Montreal! This year also marks Montreal's 375th Birthday so we thought best to see what the festivities were all about. The weather forecast was looking good and the Airbnb was booked, but, besides that, we really showed up with no plans and decided to fly by the seat of our pants. And by that I mean wherever there was a patio, wine and poutine to be consumed.
Our Airbnb was perfect! Nestled in the Plateau neighbourhood, we easily agreed we could live there; I kept getting confused what city I was in as it had somewhat of a Brooklyn feel to it. A mix of young families, Nonas who've lived there all their lives and a few musicians serenading you from across the balcony (for real). Unlike some cities, the character of every building was intact, right down to the spiralling staircases, exposed brick and glass door knobs - I love those. In the movie Clueless, the Dad says, "Everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes, Cher!", and this was also true for our location. Typically all of our destinations were a 20 minute walk or a short Uber away. Noteworthy streets & spots to check out: Mont Royal Street, Parc La Fontaine, St. Laurent Blvd and the Gay Village.
Montreal, like a New York, does not have a shortage of places to eat or drink - I had scanned some blogs and the New Yorks Times '36 Hour Book' briefly before coming, but my list quickly became 25 places long and, with 3 days to tackle it all, I didn't know where to start. We were lucky enough to have some locals to turn to for some recommendations which are always the best: be a tourist but don't eat like one is always the goal. The food and drink that earned our top billing are below:
Grenade: We weren't completely sure we were in the right spot when we walked up to this place, but as we stepped inside we noticed that half the place was a classic dark bar you might expect, but the back opened up to this beautiful patio with colourful seating, industrial string bulb lighting and a disco ball to boot. We ate the salmon tartare and the steamed buns (pork and tofu) - both were delicious! We washed it all down with a pitcher of Sangria.
Mimi La Nuit: You'll find this restaurant in the heart of Old Montreal which, when we were there, was a sea of tourists taking part in Montreal's birthday celebrations. We almost couldn't find this dimly lit, unsuspecting restaurant between the sea of line ups for The Keg and Old Spaghetti Factory - but this place is legit. The charcuterie here was incredible and so much value for the price. The crostinis were the highlight (salmon, chicken liver and mushroom); I could have just had that as my main meal. I'm glad it didn't end there though, because we would have missed out on the beef tartare and the duck confit. Other noteworthy options: the Tuna Tataki, Fried Cauliflower and Beet Salad.
Epicerie Hao: I was so excited to visit this Philippine inspired restaurant as the owners are cousins of a colleague. Not only are the owners as lovely as my colleague but their steamed buns were out of this world. You could tell they use only fresh ingredients and made to order. The pork was mouthwateringly good and the cucumber salad was refreshing. Seriously the best steamed buns I've ever had! And so photogenic!
Le Cartet: You'll find this unsuspecting brunch spot in the concrete jungle of the financial district. We went here on the holiday Monday and we were worried it was closed because the streets were a ghost town. We opened the door to find this is the hottest spot for brunch with rows of long tables completely filled. A 20 minute wait was definitely worth it though. Famous for their maple lattes, it was the perfect start to the day and the eggs cured the hang over. Other noteworthy orders: Salmon and Lox Bagel, Avo Toast, and the lattes that are served in a bowl.
Chez Simone: This spot was recommended by the '36 Hour Book' and was fantastic! Found in our Plateau neighbourhood it offered the best charcuterie of the trip and I'd definitely recommend the roast chicken. Family style and shared seating promoted a good atmosphere.
La Salle á Manger: Brunch in the Plateau hood! Fuel before spending all our money at Rudsack, we enjoyed mimosas and eggs at this cute airy spot. I tried my first 'Scotch Egg' which was a delicious and new way to enjoy grade A goodness.
Schwartz Deli: The infamous sandwich shop that has a round the clock line up. This has been a food staple in Montreal for the last 80 years; the charm of the oldest deli in the city did not disappoint. You're hit with the aroma of meat when you walk in the door and your mouth is immediately watering. Schwartz's knows it's clientel and offers a way to take the smoked meat home with you on the plan in vaccum sealed packages! Served on rye with a dollop of mustard and you're golden. Oh, and pickles. Always with a pickle.
Between the eating and drinking we were able to squeeze in some culture in the form of churches. The architecture in Montreal is truly incredible and so well maintained, you can see how much they value original buildings. One of their most iconic tourist attractions is the Notre-Dame Basilica. It was originally built in 1642 and over a few centuries of additions, the architect pulled inspiration from the Saint Chapelle in Paris which you can see through its gothic style and blue and gold colours. Several famous religious events have happened at this church, including Pierre Elliot Trudeau's funeral, a visit from Pope John Paul II and Celine Dion's wedding. This building also hosts concerts with its incredible acoustics, and in the summer you can see the Symphony Orchestra perform there! We also stopped off for Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal that offered a beautiful view of the skyline, which, I'll note, is very flat.
A few other customs we loved about Montreal is the fact their happy hour is called 'cinq á sept' (5 to 7), the fact you can buy booze at gas stations and convenience stores and the access to cheese curds. One might argue that the taste isn't super strong and the cheese kind of "squeaks" when you eat it but they are the ultimate choice for mindless snacking. And yes, we took some on the plane: our carry-on bags were filled with smoked meat, mustard and cheese curds. We don't mess around.
Montreal is a vibrant city that you could visit over and over; there seems to always be something going on in this city. I'll definitely be back for the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs comedy festival that plays in the summer.
I'm inspired to do more exploring and weekending in Canada - what are your favourite Canadian cities?!