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TRAVEL

A little is French, a little is Canadian, the whole lot is delicious

November 27, 2011
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Sometimes practicality pays off. When we were researching a new book here we allowed ourselves about $10 each for lunch. It was not truly a hardship, even in a city that is among North America’s top dining destinations. In fact, our lunches were some of our most memorable meals because they served up real Montreal character with every bite. Here are our top 10, all open daily unless otherwise indicated. (Prices are in US dollars.)

Claude Postel

We still laugh at the title of the 2009 essay in Gourmet magazine, “Montreal: We’re French and You’re Not.’’ For travelers who want to tap into the city’s Gallic chic minus the hauteur, there is no better place than Claude Postel in Old Montreal. The shop-cum-bistro has the elegant look of an Art Deco Parisian pastry shop, but at midday Postel offers a few lunch specials for under $10, such as an asparagus quiche and a large side of roasted beet and fennel salad. Of course, it’s easy to blow the budget (and your diet) with some of Postel’s exquisite chocolates or picture-perfect pastries. 75 rue Notre-Dame ouest, 514-844-8750, www.claudepostel.com, quiche and salad with coffee $8.62

La Binerie Mont-Royal

When the city’s French-language newspaper Le Devoir did a survey a few years ago to determine Quebec’s “national’’ dish, pâté Chinois (a version of shepherd’s pie with layers of corn, ground beef, and mashed potatoes) was declared the winner. At La Binerie, a slight splurge lets you augment the dish with split pea soup and pouding chômeur (“unemployed pudding’’ of white cake baked with a maple-cream syrup) in a trifecta of old-fashioned Quebec cooking. This iconic eatery has been around since 1938 - back when the Plateau Mont-Royal was home to factory and mill workers. The neighborhood has changed a lot, but not the recipes. 367 avenue Mont-Royal est, 514-285-9078, www.labineriemontroyal.com, pâté Chinois $8.62, with soup, dessert, and coffee $10.54

Le Canard Libéré, espace gourmand

A lot of people were surprised that poutine, the dish of french fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds so closely associated with Quebec, was not named the national dish in the Le Devoir poll. We can only assume that the voters had never tasted the poutine topped with duck leg confit created by Le Canard Libéré. It’s called La Canardine and one serving is enough for two people. This Montreal outlet of Canards du Lac Brome - the Eastern Townships duck farm that celebrates its centenary in 2012 - promotes all things ducky. Most people are sold at their first taste of a french fry cooked in duck fat. They are so addictive that the shop should give away the first one free. 4396 boulevard Saint-Laurent, 514-286-1286, www.bromelakeducks.com, La Canardine $11.07

Restaurant Noodle Factory

Chinatown dates from the era when Chinese laborers built the Canadian rail system. The district here is small, and increasingly Thai and Cambodian, but retains a Chinese identity. On a chilly day the line streams out the door at this pocket-sized Shanghai-style noodle shop. It’s mesmerizing to watch the cooks make the noodles - rolling and slapping the dough to make it separate into strands. It’s even more satisfying to tuck into a spicy bowl of pork, vegetables, and chewy fresh noodles in meat broth. Chicken or smoked fish variations are also available. 1018 rue Saint-Urbain, 514-868-9738, soup $6.69

La Maison du Cheddar

Artisanal cheesemaking has swept Quebec in the last two decades, and this modest shop in Outremont stocks about 300 Quebec cheeses, of which, despite the name, only a few are cheddars. At lunchtime, La Maison du Cheddar serves grilled cheese sandwiches, including a sandwich of the week that pairs a Quebec cheese with a complementary spread. One of our favorites is Le Douanier (a washed-rind cheese with a hazelnut tang) on whole wheat with a confit of onions, apple, cinnamon, and white wine. It’s a world apart from Velveeta on Wonder Bread. 1311 avenue Van Horne, 514-904-0011, www.maisonducheddar.com, sandwiches $4.76-$7.22

St-Viateur Bagel Mont-Royal

Montreal is equally famous for its bagels cooked in wood-fired ovens, and debate rages over which of the Mile End institutions, Fairmount Bagel or St-Viateur Bagel, makes the best. We are agnostic, but St-Viateur does have a cafe on the Plateau where you can get lunch, so they win by default. Two good under-$10 options include a bowl of the soup of the day with a fresh bagel and a slab of cream cheese, or the A la Coque Deluxe Sandwich, which stacks a small omelet, a piece of grilled ham, and lettuce and tomato on a split toasted bagel. 1127 avenue Mont-Royal est, 514-528-6361, www.stviateurbagel.com, soup with bagel and cream cheese $8.42, A la Coque sandwich $6.69

Schwartz’s

A fixture along The Main (as English-speaking immigrants called boulevard St-Laurent back in Mordecai Richler’s day), Schwartz’s seems an obvious choice. But nobody should leave Montreal without trying the city’s famous smoked meat: brisket marinated with herbs and spices for 10 days before smoking and steaming. While some aficionados may quibble, we think Schwartz’s does smoked meat best. To keep the tab under $10, you will have to compromise on sides that accompany the smoked meat sandwich. Traditionalists will opt for a fat half-sour pickle and a black cherry cola (“the house wine’’), but a lot of folks prefer fries. Just don’t ask for cheese. This deli keeps kosher. 3895 boulevard Saint-Laurent, 514-842-4813, www.schwartzsdeli.com, smoked meat sandwich $5.92, pickle $1.73, fries $2.69, black cherry cola $1.83

Wilensky’s Light Lunch

Established in 1932 when Mile End was a neighborhood of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, this nine-stool lunch counter persists as much for its nostalgic appeal as its culinary expertise. The de rigeur order is The Special - a sandwich with a slice of beef salami, a slice of beef bologna, and yellow mustard on a white roll. The only options are the addition of a slice of Swiss or cheddar cheese and a sour or half-sour pickle. It’s so cheap that you can wash it down with a vanilla or chocolate egg cream (no egg, no cream) and still get change from a $10 bill. 35 avenue Fairmount ouest, 514-271-0247, closed Sunday, The Special $4.28, egg cream $1.68

Rôtisserie Romados

Montrealers love their rotisserie chicken, and Romados is our favorite of the Portuguese chicken places, even if it does look like a dry cleaner from the outside. The standard under-$10 order here is a quarter chicken with fries and salad, which the cooks unceremoniously dump into a styrofoam box. The fries and salad are so generous that a couple is best off placing a single order and getting another unadorned quarter chicken. Be sure to order before 2 p.m. if you want the free dessert - a small egg custard tart. 115 rue Rachel est, 514-849-1803, quarter chicken with fries and salad $7.65 for thigh quarter or $8.62 for breast quarter; meat only $4.76/$5.73

Le Péché Glacé

The name means “frozen sin,’’ a reference to the shop’s sinfully rich ice cream and sorbet. But this Internet cafe hangout also has savory crêpes along with its various sweets. Order a Parisienne (a crepe filled with asparagus, ham, Emmental, and béchamel). It comes with a little side of carrot salad and you can finish the meal with an espresso and a raspberry macaron glacé - sorbet between two airy macarons - if you are willing to go 70 cents over budget. 2001 avenue Mont-Royal est, 514-525-5768, Parisienne $6.69, macaron glacé $1.68, espresso $2.40

Patricia Harris and David Lyon, authors of “Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal: Best Local Specialties, Markets, Recipes, Restaurants & Events’’ (Globe Pequot Press), can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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