I am happy to report that while Montreal’s foodie reputation is still intact, within the last few years the Quebecois landmark has welcomed a number of disruptive newcomers who have elevated the gastronomic landscape yet again.
There are still quite a few legends who cannot be denied a place on any Top 10 List, such as the grand dame of them all in a class of her own – Martin Picard’s decadent Au Pied de Cochon, and of course the untoppable Schwartz’s – the place where all Smoked Beef Sandwiches wished they were from.
The always-excellent and never-pretentious L’Express who still serves the meanest Bouillabaisse and Pâtés in town. Not to mention (but I will anyway) Moishe’s, Tuck Shop and of course Chuck Hughes wondrous Garde Manger and Normand Laprise’s Toqué – both as formidable as ever.
My favorite newcomer for breakfast in old Montreal has to be the adorable French delicatessen and bakery hotspot La Cartet.
Beer benches stretch through the length of this narrow nook-and-cranny room lined with the most gorgeous-looking chocolates, pates and jams all screaming to be taken home at once. Claude Cyr’s kitchen lovingly puts together the most imaginative and indulgent breakfast treats like homemade organic Ginger Granola Parfaits or Poached Eggs and Goat Cheese on Pesto Toast or Raspberry Pancakes with whipped crème fraiche…all to be washed down with shaving-bowls of café au lait. Definitely worth the price and the 30+ minute wait on weekends.
But top of my list has to be Joe Beef. Judging by the name, you’d probably think (as did I) that it’s some massive, wooden house of carnivores. Wrong! It’s name honors an Irish-born tavern owner from the 19th century, and it’s a rather dainty 75-seat cluster of two dining rooms and patio surrounded by a sustainable vegetable garden. Chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin serve an eclectic collision of dishes that stretch the limits of many usual suspects. The all-French menu reads like a mix between a curious zoology lesson and a delicious heart attack. I can’t recall when I last saw (not 1) but 2 Horsemeat items on a menu – one cooked rare (blue) and the other not cooked at all!
The Stone Crab dip with semi-pickled pickles were surrounded by a bright lake of dreamy-flavored lobster-bisque mayo. The Double-Down Foie Gras (are you ready for this?) is a sandwich of smoked cheddar and bacon between a double layer of scrumptiously crumbed and fried foie gras, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the whole thing is then doused in maple syrup! OMG!
The signature Spaghetti with Lobster and Joe Beef Entrecote are less over-the-top than the impossibly sweet, tangy and ultra-tender Pork Shoulder with Fiddleheads accompanied by a strong French mustard, or the Lobster Sausage with Fisherman Stew served with clams and mussels in a shellfish-Cognac bouillon to keep them company.
If Joe Beef is David Chang’s favorite restaurant in the world (and I am a huge Momofuku-groupie) – then I guess it has to be one of mine too. Nothing wrong with that.