Montreal, QC – travel notes
About a year ago, a friend asked me if I had any recommendations for a coffee place in Edmonton. I think said friend was a bit overwhelmed when I sent him a list of six coffeeshops along with detailed notes on vibe and atmosphere.
The thing is, after years of travel, I finally figured out a great way to keep track of everything (I have a separate document in Evernote for each city along with places to eat, stay, things to do, and, of course, coffee).
While away at India, I started throwing together rough plans before hitting each city – city, population, things to do, places to stay, to eat, to check out.
Here are some rough notes for Rome:
I have not shared these before. But here’s my first stab at a public travel notes post.
Consider this a glimpse into the inside of my head. (Isn’t every blog post? ;))
– largest city in Quebec
– second largest French speaking city in the world, after… yes, Paris
– home to WADA HQ, Cirque du Soleil
– in 2017, the city unanimously adopted a motion declaring itself a sanctuary city in opposition to the Immigration policy of Donald Trump
Ahh, I forgot how much I love Montreal in the summer.
Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal
If you are in Montreal for 24 hours or less, make sure you go and say hello. I have not been to the basilica for years, so this was on my to-do list. This church gives “azure” a whole new meaning. This was also where Celine Dion got married. Talk about a fancy venue. If you get your timing right, you can listen to the organ. Cash only.
All things fancy paper, cards, and journals. I am a sucker for stationery, and buy journals everywhere I go. This is the kind of place where I can easily spend an hour, just leafing through notebooks. I left with four. 🙂 Thanks for pointing this one out, D.
Mount Royal Park
Montreal’s Central Park. Go here to hang out on the grass, and watch runners and early evening bootcampers do burpees.
Scandinave Spa Vieux-Montreal
This place is especially awesome to visit 1. in the winter, and 2. after a physically gruelling workout. Go for at least a couple of hours. Bring a book, or enjoy the magazines provided there. Hot tea and fresh apples will be waiting for you too. You can alternative between hot tubs, ice tubs, and steam rooms, or just take a nap in the corner on one of the super comfy bean bags. For ultimate relaxation, book a deep tissue massage. See if you can have someone drive you home, as you might be too relaxed to move your arms and legs. You will sleep like a rock. The entry is cheaper on Mondays.
Ok, honestly… With twenty four hours, and thousands (?) of amazing restaurants, I am absolutely stoked with my choice. A tartare bar, where you can pick the type of tartar AND serving size? Yes, please. Each tartar can also come dressed as “Indian”, “Thai” and many more. Great cocktails, and Asian flavours.
Le Quartier General
Another solid pick by yours truly. This little BYOB bistro / gastropub is tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood. You will see the menu for the day on the blackboard. Everything we tried was deeeelicious, and yes, they had tartare. It gets busy, so go early unless there is only a couple of you.
Even if you don’t eat bread, you should go in just to smell this place. This is a French style bakery where you will find sourdough bread, croissants, and you know… bread stuff. If you are into bread, honestly, skip breakfast one day, and just come here with a friend to split a bunch of things.
Obviously. These guys have been hand rolling bagels since 1957. They are also open 24 hours, so this place was happening hell or high water. The plan is to pick up at least a dozen real-deal bagels before we leave town, immediately destroy some (hopefully, not all), and freeze whatever survives the trip home for later enjoyment. For those not in the know, the traditional Montreal bagels are boiled first in honey water, and then baked in wood fired oven. This ain’t your Tim Hortons bagel. Sorry, Tim’s. I walk out with sesame, rosemary and poppy seed. Each needed to be sampled immediately.
This is the rival bagel place and is right around the corner from St-Viateur. You will see the same classic flavours, and perhaps, few new interesting ones. I am yet to try the “protein bagel”. Bring cash.
After three trips, and much deliberation, we finally decided to do a side-by-side test of the two competing bagel camps, and I am happy to announce that the rivalry has been settled, and yours truly is in camp St-Viateur. Given that the two shops are only few blocks from each other, I recommend you do what we did – buy some bagels from each, then show up to a coffee shop, buy some coffee, and lay out a bagel spread to find out the truth, all the while, being stared at by the locals.
While we are on a bagel theme, this is a cute little diner with booths and pleather seats that serves Fairmount bagels, but also other breakfast favorites. So if you do not feel like finding your own cream cheese and smoked salmon, this place will be a great option. Say hi to the owner Simon who lives upstairs.
A bit of a last minute decision run, so I didn’t put much effort into finding THE place for smoked meat, and this was one that popped up the most. Just like with everything else, just because you’ve been doing something for a long time, does not mean you are the best, but it CAN mean that. Individual sandwiches come with two slices of rye bread, a smear of mustard, and three inches of smoked meat. Montreal smoked meat is a very particular thing, so do not expect actual SMOKED flavour. On an empty stomach, these go down well. And we were hungry again in two hours. 🙂 Definitely order a pickle on the side, and if you have three people or more, go for a large plate, where you can assemble your own sandwiches. I do wonder how the smoked meat holds up in the freezer.
– next up, I’ll try to bring home a pound ($18 CAD). Cash only.
Another deli to try is Lester’s.
Also, on my radar:
– Au Pied de Cochon – more tartare
– Maison Publique – flesh and roots with Canadian identity; closed on Mondays
– Tangia – for Moroccan food, hummus and creative cocktails
– Le Virunga – for Pan-African. Their website worth checking out just for the playlist alone.
– Tiradito – for Japanese mets Peruvian, mmmm.. .seviche
– Olive & Gourmando – serving Pilot coffee, and all things brunch. Gets wayyy too busy because of its central location. Go when it opens, or not at all.
Lots of familiar labels here – Pilot Coffee Roasters (hi, Ana Sora!) and De Mello Palheta Coffee Roasters – both Toronto favorites. It’s also a vegan cafe (mmm, avocado toast!) that holds readings and open mic nights. And… wait for it…. FREE refills! I loved how quiet it was here during the day, and you can tell folks come in, settle in, and (hopefully) get shit done. Or browse Facebook. LOL
A micro bean roaster tucked away in a lovely neighbourhood. Church pews instead of benches almost had me in tears. Church! Pews! In a coffee shop! Yes!!!! Great thick espresso, and an Ethiopian brew. I have also seen their beans pop up in coffee shops around town.
Bonus! It turns out that the Chapters/Indigo bookstore downtown has Saint-Henri coffeeshop instead of the regular hohum Starbucks. Not just books + coffee, but books + good coffee. That’s a winning combination.
Caffe In Gamba
Cute ambiance with chandeliers, and velvet couches, but I wasn’t a fan. Typical combination of well recognized roasters – 49th Parallel and Intelligentsia (Peet’s Coffee? No, thanks).
Another little hipster spot, serving 49th Parallel (I will have to check out this one when I am in Vancouver). This is “come in, get coffee, leave” kind of place – there are bar tables along the windows if you’d like, but no tables or desks – think half empty storefront, like those of the high end designers. The ambiance is similar to smaller locations of Sam James coffee bar in Toronto – all wood and concrete, great coffee, but not a lot of cozy.
Yes, this was probably my favorite. Hanging lightbulbs and bookshelves. I saw Montreal’s Kittel and Vancouver’s 49th Parallel here. Nicaraguan La Roca was on tap. The notes were listed as “strudel, coconut, round”. Definitely no fruit notes, and therefore, not my favorite. I am still partial to strawberry, jammy notes in Ethiopians, like Burundi and Kilenso. AND they serve booze. [Note – great for lunch, not breakfast – they open at 12pm! I’d need at least two coffees before then. :)]
The coffee counter in the middle, surrounded by light wood and polished concrete. Very similar vibe to Myriade, except there are few long tables where you see the usual suspects with their Apple laptops. May be good for work, but not for a romantic date. They roast their own coffee – bonus. All shots are double, and when I requested a single espresso, the barista notified me that she would essentially have to pour half out. So, double it was. And it was… well, watery.
If you are looking for decent coffee, this will probably be a safe bet. If you are looking for unique atmosphere… meh. Too many better options.
This is an Italian style coffeeshop the likes of which you can find in Naples, or Little Italy in most big cities. This would probably be my pick for a day spent working. It’s unpretentious, full of locals, the crowd is older, many drink their espresso by the bar – once again – Italian style! Great atmosphere for a long conversation, or a date, or watching a soccer game.
Next, on my radar:
Neve – great working space
Cafe Plume – local art, good place for working lunch
Cafe Chat L’Heureux – happy cat cafe. Literally!
Pikolo Espresso Bar – single origins only!
La Petite Cuillere – mismatched furniture, old fashioned tea cups
Buck 15 Espresso Bar – breakfast spot and great selection of toasts
And more ideas here.