Oops! I didn’t forget about the rest of my Montreal trip…I just had to face reality and the fact that I still had exams. So I am now back to finish my travel series!
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Today was one of those “figure it out as you go” kind of days. I had planned on checking out the shops on St. Lawrence Boulevard (Boul St-Laurent) but hadn’t figured out how to get there yet so first thing this morning, I pulled up Google Maps and made my way to the subway station. As I stood there looking like a total tourist, trying to figure out the ticket prices for the subway, a really nice man tapped my shoulder and offered to give me the remainder of his day pass. Blessing number one of the day! I was very grateful because that meant I could stop looking super lost, and get to check out a lot more places than I had planned for.
First on my list: breakfast. I was determined to settle the “bagel war” that divides Montreal. Okay, it isn’t that dramatic but it is apparently a big deal. Montreal bagels are unique because it is handmade, and always baked in a wood-fire oven. They’re sweeter, smaller, and thinner than the regular (New York-style) bagel. In my opinion, they are a lot tastier than any New York-style bagel just because they don’t taste as dough-y. I set out to try the two “main” bagel shops in Montreal to see which one had the best experience, taste, and selection.
My route may not have been the most efficient but my first stop was the Fairmount. Fairmount Bagel is said to be the best bagel place in Montreal. But then again, ask different people, get different answers! It is, apparently, the first bagel bakery in Canada, so that’s pretty cool! Fairmount Bagel is hidden away on Fairmount Avenue and Rue Saint-Urbaine in what seemed like a little residential neighbourhood. However, it is located two blocks south-west of the main road, Boul St-Laurent. Walking through the neighbourhood, I almost missed the small shop, filled floor to ceiling with shelves of bagels for sale. It’s a very small shop with no seating and a narrow entrance that led to a counter where you could order your bagel. Behind the counter was all the inner workings of the bagel shop. It would have been great to be able to watch them make the bagels but there was barely enough room for two people to order at the counter. I ordered a plain bagel (because I am a bagel purist) and cream cheese. Boring, but so delicious!
Experience: 1.5/5 Just because it is an on-the-go bagel place without seating. I felt very rushed to make a decision of what bagel to get and what toppings to choose and did not get a chance to fully experience the process. I ended up sitting on a colourful bench outside to eat my bagel.
Taste: 4/5 Tastes like a Montreal bagel (duh)! I gave it a four just because it was a little tough to chew on, like it had been out of the oven for a while.
Selection: 4/5 They have a wide variety of bagels with spread choices of jam, peanut butter, and cream cheese. I was a little disappointed in the lack of spread choices, but since it wasn’t meant to be a sit-down dining cafe, that was understandable.
Once I finished my Fairmount bagel, I hopped on a bus to find my way to St-Viateur Bagel. The bagels were not very filling so this made my day pretty easy! I found St-Viateur after a bus ride and walking a couple blocks. Back when I talked to the woman on the train, she told me that I had to try the “bagel and lox” which is a Montreal bagel topped with smoked salmon and cream cheese. So since Fairmount did not have those options, I ordered it here at St-Viateur. Fittingly, it was named Traditional on the Bagel Sandwich menu. As you can see, the sesame bagel is topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomatoes, onions, and capers. It was DELICIOUS and very filling, paired with a perfect cup of drip coffee.
Experience: 4/5 While seating was a nice way to experience the bagel without having to eat it outside, the service was just okay. It took a while for them to take my order and refill coffee. All-in-all, a much better experience than at Fairmount.
Taste: 5/5 Oh. My. Goodness. So much going on but in a good way. Smoked salmon and cream cheese are a match made in heaven! The bagel itself was a lot softer than the Fairmount bagel so I had to give it to St-Viateur.
Selection: 5/5 The variations and the ability to choose from bagels, spreads, a variety of bagel sandwiches, and non-bagel menu items, was a lot more appealing than just having bagels with spreads. Check here for a rough idea of the menu.
I’m not sure how I found my way to La Banquise but I think I walked so I could work off some of that St-Viateur bagel! La Banquise is a 24 hour diner for Quebec eats, specifically poutine. I think I went with the classic poutine to see how it went against all the other poutine I had tried outside of Montreal. You can’t really argue with Montreal poutine. Afterall, it is where it originates from. The gravy had a sweet taste, not salty like the gravy used elsewhere. All-in-all, La Banquise’s poutine is a must try and it shows the uniqueness of Montreal poutine compared to other kinds of Canadian poutine. The flavours itself are very different.
By the time I finished my “lunch” at La Banquise, it was pouring rain outside. Armed with a semi-defective umbrella, I waited under the doorstep of a random shop before hopping onto a bus towards Boul St-Laurent. When I got off the bus, I was not in the mood to get soaked so I ducked into Café Code Noir. In attempts to keep my spending at bay, I ordered a regular drip coffee and spent an hour and a half working on blog posts. I had hoped that the rain would die down but alas it would not. Code Noir did request that you purchased a drink for every hour you stayed there and used their resources (e.g., wifi, electricity, etc.), which I found to be a unique practice, but reasonable considering they were a small coffee shop and not a large chain store like Starbucks.
After I spent some time at Code Noir, I decided to check out Café Imagine. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Café Imagine because the layout was similar to a regular coffee shop but the bar looked different. To my surprise, Café Imagine actually charges by the hour! The rate (for a student), was three dollars an hour, charged to a maximum of nine dollars. So after three hours, you would just pay a flat fee of nine dollars for unlimited drinks. Seems reasonable because if a ‘specialty’ drink such as a mocha or a latte was to be made in another café, they would charge you somewhere between $4-5 and it would take you approximately an hour to finish (or at least it does for me) if you were doing work. After staying for three hours, it would actually be cheaper than elsewhere. It was a unique set up that I found to be very practical. Even their drinks were high quality. I ordered a hot chocolate which was made with real cocoa. It was amazingly rich and if I lived in Montreal, this would probably be my go-to study spot!
After spending some time at Café Imagine, I left to check out a thrift shop, only to realize that a) it was pouring outside and I should not have left shelter, and b) I really don’t like thrift shops. So I popped into Juliette & Chocolat for a quick peak since a friend of mine had suggested the place to me. It is an adorable dessert shop and I wish I had more time, money, and appetite to spend there. I made my way back to Café Code Noir before meeting up with my aunt for dinner.
Well, one can not go to Montreal without trying Montreal’s smoked meat! My aunt and I both ordered Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwiches. It was filling and delicious, but beware of the grease! Even without full fat, the meat is juicy and tender. I hate pickles but paired with the sandwich, it was not too bad! There is not much to say about Montreal Smoked Meat because it speaks for itself. It is just a must try! The lineups are crazy long and there isn’t a lot of seating so get there when you can so the wait time isn’t too long. However, they only take cash so make sure you have that on hand.
So that was day three of my Montreal adventures. Full bellies, coffee in my blood, and rainy days make for the perfect chill day. Even though I did not get to explore more of Boul St-Laurent, it was a great day and that just means I will have to return another day to spend more time on the boulevard!