Sunday, 10 November 2013


A Foodie’s Guide to Montreal

Montreal has long held the reputation as Canada’s most delightfully cosmopolitan city. One of North America’s first cities and a major international port, Montreal has always embraced foreign tastes and influences and made them her own. The visitor will marvel at the diversity of its centuries-old neighbourhoods, each with its own architectural charms and unique culinary delicacies. If you enjoy all the tempting and tasty spices life has to offer, you must embrace the delicious joie de vivre and savoir faire that may only be found on an island in the middle of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

Montreal is a city of legends: its musicians, writers and poets; the startling array of superstar athletes who wore its colours; even its politicians, gangsters and strippers; and of course, le chien chaud.

A Montreal hot dog may be enjoyed in two very different but ultimately similar forms. The steame is perhaps the more famous of the two. Both the bun and the wiener are steamed to perfection and then topped with diced onions and choux, a cabbage condiment that’s neither sauerkraut nor coleslaw. The hot dog toaste became renowned as the snack of choice at the old Montreal Forum. The long sides of the traditional tube bun are shaved off to expose the fresh white bread beneath the soft crust. The bun is then buttered and grilled alongside the wiener. Moutarde preparee or yellow mustard is then applied with an elegant and efficient baton du bois or wooden stick that is the same length as the hot dog toaste. Aficionados with more adventurous palates will sometimes request a forkful of sweet green relish as well.

The brand of wiener most often served in Montreal hot dogs is Lester’s and this little morsel of information leads the viande fume or smoked meat gourmand to Outremont, a vibrant, heavily orthodox Jewish community of neat brick duplexes fronted with gently curving wrought iron stairways on the east side of the extinct volcano that is Mont Royal. Lester’s delicatessen on rue Bernard first opened its doors during the early years of The Second World War; some of the fixtures have not been changed since although the two signed William Shatner promo glossies are of a somewhat newer vintage. The small and cramped space (you have to skitter crab sideways past a soda cooler and a deepfreeze to reach the washrooms) is home to the best smoked meat sandwich in Montreal. This means that Lester’s serves up the best sandwich in the world.

Any decent deli in Montreal spices and cures its own briskets. The flavour and texture of the meat in each sandwich cannot be replicated elsewhere; subtleties abound between the slices of fresh and crusty pain de rye or rye bread. Dare to compare Lester’s to Schwartz’s, the city’s lined up, cliché world famous, smoked meat joint on The Main. As Schwartz’s is now partially owned by the husband of She Who Must Never Be Named (she released an English album last week and has a residency in Vegas), meGeoff urges the visitor to play Montreal traffic roulette and to dodge and deke directly across the boulevard into a booth at the Main Deli and order a sandwich and a cornichon or pickle. And then return to nearby Lester’s to re-quantify the data.

At this stage you may be concerned about the bucket of acidic backwash bubbling up your esophagus, what with all the hot dogs and sandwiches - the heaviest kind of heartburn or cri de couer. Relax. Reflux. Montreal dining can make you positively bilious. Dessert is the essential denouement to any fine meal, a delicate palate cleansing in anticipation of a neatly poured aperitif to be enjoyed with a particular satisfied contentment. Montrealais and tourists alike default to steak and pepperoni sous-marins or submarine sandwiches liberally garnished with crispy salade or iceberg lettuce and dribbled with vinegrette or dressing.

The steak and pepperoni sub, best experienced at a Mike’s restaurant or Bonora Pizza on avenue Somerled in trendy Notre Dame-de-Grace, isn’t a mere haute cusine upgrade of the classic Philly cheesesteak. No, or Non. Try to find a steak and pepperoni sandwich anywhere else on this continent. It’s not easy. You used to be able to get a decent smoked meat at Nate’s on Rideau Street in Ottawa but like Ben’s Delicatessen in downtown Montreal, it’s closed now. There aren't many places left to go for the real thing. A hot dog toaste for $1.65 cannot be had off the island. A steame avec choux is an offal grail.

Montreal is a worldly and sometimes other-worldly city existing to enchant its citizens and guests. The savvy foodie will take in her multiple attractions and drink her in before eating her up.


  1. Unfortunately Bonora's closed a few years ago.

  2. Damn, it was on my to-do list for next week.

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