Last week, we introduced you to the first part of our Montreal travel series. Today, we’d like to continue with What To Do in Montreal by highlighting restaurants, food markets, as well as shopping opportunities and antiques.
If you are into antique shopping, head west on the Notre-Dame street were you find numerous antique stores with different specialties such as lamps, canes, furniture, or high end pieces. One of the stores with a great selection is Milord. Although they also have stores in Connecticut and New York City as well as online listings, it is great to see the original at the head showroom in Montreal. Right next door at 1896 Notre-Dame West, you can find L’Ecuyer, which specializes in vintage luggage and canes. Also next door is a magnificent vintage lamp store. Of the once 50 antique stores on Notre-Dame there are less than 20 left. If you come in the afternoon, you should be able to visit many of them, most of which
looked very interesting. Although Quebec has a high sales tax, you won’t have to pay any of that if you ship/bring it out of the country. Of course, if you are in town without a car it can be difficult to bring things home with you.
If you are willing to dig a little more, you may also enjoy the “St-Michel Flea Market”, which is a building full of eclectic vendors. You can find beautiful things as well as junk and anything in between, though the prices are reasonable to low. When we were there for an hour, we found some old snap cuff links, and a fur collar with a nice lapel for a men’s overcoat, all together for less than $20. Also, I found a paisley silk scarf and a double face silk wool scarf from Christian Dior for $2 each. Hours. Friday, Saturday and Sundays 9-5 Location. 3250 Cremazie Blvd E, Montreal H2A 3N9.
Flea Market. For a real flea market, checkout Finnegan’s flea market in the suburb of Hudson, which takes place every Sunday during the summer. However, bear in mind that you need a car to get there or be prepared to pay $70 for a cab ride.
Men’s Clothing & Accessories
If you wonder what to do in Montreal aside from eating and antiquing, you can go shopping of course! Surprisingly, there are still a lot of small boutiques around, though for men there is not really a whole lot, and if there is, they carry brands like Canali, Kiton, Brioni, Tom Ford, Zegna, Cucinelli, John Lobb, Edward Green etc. On Rue Peel downtown, you will find Harry Rosen and L’Uomo, which carry these brands. If you are looking for affordable MTM clothing, Carmina or Meermin shoes and colorful accessories, take a look at Clusier, G. Tonino or Arthur. For a personalized MTM service, Ivan Lehec of Finezza- Au nom de l’Homme has a nice selection of fabrics and produces the garments locally. He also stocks Canadian accessories from the likes of Fullum & Holt, as well as sweaters from John Smedley. With a showroom in the suburbs, he primarily visits with his clients at home or in the office. With such low overhead, he can offer his goods at lower prices than you’d find them in stores downtown.
Shoe shine. In case your shoes need a shine, look no further than local Matthieu. He is obsessed with shoes and treats them very well. Also, he is constantly trying to learn new things to improve his skills. He will most certainly take good care of your precious shoes.
Since winter is obviously the dominant season in Montreal, and fur has a long history in the country, you can find quite a few fur stores in town. You may also want to visit the The Fur Trade At Lachine. While walking through the Old Town of Montreal, we stopped in a fur store, were they offer custom men’s beaver fur coats starting at $3400. Other furriers include:
McComber Furs (440 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest)
Grosvenor Furs (400 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest)
Alexandor Furs, 2055 Peel Street.
For jewelry, Birks is to Canada what Tiffany is to the US. Back in the day, they used to make all kinds of precious silver and gold jewelry such as rings, lapel flower holders, money clips, cuff links… For women, they were known for their weeding / engagement ring boxes and each pieces came in a beautiful, signature light blue velvet box. At one point in time, they even held a Royal Warrant. Now, these days are long gone and the men’s jewelry department is rather boring. Although they still make some of their own jewelry, the majority of the goods they offered were made by other brands, such as Van Cleef & Arpels or Montblanc. Nevertheless, you should definitely visit the very first Birks store, which was opened by Henry Birks in 1879 in Montreal. The interior was beautifully furnished with original woodwork – note how the B and Lion inlays are intricately crafted into the wood. Just a few years ago, a Cafe opened inside this historic landmark, that is managed by the excellent Europea restaurant. If you are in the mood for tea or brunch, this is definitely the place to go.
Right across the corner, you find the Canadian department store laBaie, which was founded in 1670 as the Hudson Bay Trading Company that specialized in fur. Today it is North America’s oldest company. Quebecois naming conventions required businesses to bear French names, which is why you will find chez… restaurants all over the city, and laBaie is a direct result of that. Today, they offer a wide range of brands that places them somewhere between Macy’s and Nordstrom. They also have their own house brand laBaie, which still offers the same English made wool blankets in the signature green, red, yellow and blue stripes it did a hundred years ago. Apart from that they have a number of other items such as duffle coats, peacoats and accessories all of which feature the bold signature stripes.
Another store mentioned in every guide is Ogilvy, which is a bit more upscale featuring many shop-in-shop concepts from the likes of Ralph Lauren and Hermès. Personally, I find these brand palaces less interesting than individual boutiques, which abound in Montreal. However, most things are nicely presented and it’s worth a stroll through the floors if you are in the area.
Generally, Montreal has plenty of small boutiques, so it really pays to walk around and explore. If you like alternative and trendy, independently owned stores, you should also stop by the Mont Royal neighborhood. When we were walking around, out of the blue we came across the tailoring supply store H. Fisher et Fils. I was a bit baffled to see it and with opening hours of 7am – 2pm, I was lucky it was still open. They offered all kinds of shears, trimmings, buttons, shoulder pads and everything else a tailor could need along with some fabric. So, if you live in North America and you are looking for an old school tailor supply store you may want to consider H. Fisher & Fils.
While strolling through the old town of Montreal we stumbled upon L’AFFICHISTE, Montreal’s only vintage poster store. They did have some over-sized vintage ads and you could tell that they were all about posters. They even restore them carefully and prices run between $100 – $4000 depending on how rare the posters are. I particularly liked a striking menswear ad, but it was at least 80″ / 2m tall and we just don’t have suitable place to put it. In any case, I would highly recommend to stop by since you won’t find too many vintage poster galleries nowadays.
Where to Eat in Montreal – Food
If you enjoy food markets, the Marché Jean-Talon is a must see. Vibrant, colorful, and filled with real Montrealers, there you can find anything from fresh, local food, imported goods, seafood, cheese, mushrooms, meat, ethnic food, vegetables, spices, wines… It is a pure joy just to stroll through the aisles and to eat some of the delicious offerings, be it a classic french crêpe, oysters, Canadian cheeses, or Middle Eastern & French pastries. We even purchased a small quantity of cooked crevettes, small shrimps, and ate them with tartar sauce right there! Overall a true gem frequented by many locals and tourists alike.
Just like in France, food plays a very important role in Quebec. Since we love French food, and you rarely find good cuisine française in the U.S., we decided to indulge by eating mostly at French Restaurants while in town. Fortunately, most restaurants offer a table d’hôte – a prefix menu – as well as à la carte menus. The big advantage of the table d’hôte offering is the price, which is often just $2-5 more expensive than a main course alone but comes with 1-2 other courses. Also, many restaurants feature some special deals if you dine after 10pm and some even have table d’hôte menus over lunch. Altogether, there are plenty of options, so finding great food on any budget shouldn’t be a problem. Before you go, you may want to check out local blogger Food Guy Montreal for the latest restaurant news.
The first night we dined at the Brasserie T, which is centrally located at lively Place des Arts and run by Toqué!, one of the most renowned restaurants in town. The food there is classic French brasserie done well. To start, we enjoyed a sturgeon cream dip with some salad and for the main course I had a classic beef tartare with frites and salad. Unlike in the US, tartares – no matter whether raw minced beef, salmon or tuna – are a staple on the Quebecoise restaurant landscape and can be had anywhere. My wife’s Crevettes Guedille, a shrimp roll, was perfectly seasoned and layered in a homemade bun – also excellent.
Price & Verdict: Main course $18 /25 – no table d’hôte just à la carte. Worth the visit.
The next day, we stopped for lunch at Europea, which was probably my favorite restaurant during this trip. Their contemporary take on French cuisine combined with beautiful presentation and first class white-tablecloth service was simply hard to beat. First, we were served aromatic truffle pop corn, a few pieces of fried local cured meat and a cream cheese parmesan lollypop with fresh herbs – all as a complimentary amuse bouche. For the first course, my wife had an exquisite squash soup, whereas I chose the squid spaghetti carbonara interpretation. As a main course, we enjoyed a Cornish game hen and scallops in saffron risotto with a impressive tableside presentation of a gelée of enoki mushrooms. The homemade selection of bread and flavored butters were the best we had during the entire trip. For dessert little pots of crème brûlée were served along with other mousses or French macarons. Afterwards, they served some homemade petite Madeleines and meringues that were delicious.
Price & Verdict: Lunch table d’hôte $28 – exceptional considering the food, service and overall experience. (For $50 you can have a second main course ) Dinner. Degusation Menu – $100; table d’hôte $70. Overall, a spectacular value for an amazing experience!
Bistro Duo D.
Food Guy Montreal recommended going to Bistro Duo D. and since it was the #2 rated restaurant in Montreal on Trip Advisor, we gave it a try. Located a little bit outside of downtown, it is best reached by taxi. The restaurant’s approach is very personal since it is run by only two people – Philippe Déry and his wife Catherine Dubar – hence the name. Their cream of mushroom soup was utterly simple – containing merely mushrooms, cream and salt, but was delicious. Our main courses, cod and veal tenderloin respectively were good but nothing special, just like the strawberry shortcake dessert. Overall, the food was good, the service was fine but altogether it was only slightly above average in such a gastronomically-oriented city. As such, it is beyond me how it could be the #2 restaurant in the city but this is yet further proof of the fact that Trip Advisor may prevent you from ending up at the worst of the worst, but other than that, it is certainly has it’s limitations for restaurants. For instance, the best restaurant in our home town is listed as #21 in the rankings; look at your own home town’s TA page and you may be amazed by what is in the top 20!!
Price & Verdict: $25 for a main dish – no table d’hôte, just à la carte – good, but we had better food for less.
Located in the Vieux Port neighborhood of Montreal, Bonaparte is situated in a charming old building that provides a classic french dining experience. It was packed with tourists, our multi-course dinner menu was good but everything from the glassware, silverware, service and food was a notch below Europea. To be fair, it is also less expensive and the vibe was traditional rather than avant garde. The food was nicely presented and overall very classic French. The onion soup was delicious as was the crevette salad and the rabbit tart appetizers. The duck for the main course was rather bland, the lobster stuffed chicken good but not excellent. Overall, a nice restaurant if you want to experience good French food in a white table cloth setting in the old, charming part of the city.
Price & Verdict: 6 course menu $48 – 7 course menu $68 – à la carte available – good value for your money.
Ferreira Cafe is located at Rue Peel in downtown and offers the best upscale Portuguese food in town. Located just two block from our hotel, we stopped by after a concert one night at 10pm and were surprised to see their post-10pm$24 prix-fixe menu consisted of an appetizer and main course from a limited yet excellent array of choices. I started out with the fresh sardines while my wife had a simple mozzarella, tomato and arugula salad. The ingredients were all fresh and high quality. For example, the olive oil was exquisite and the vinegar on the salad was the real, rich barrel-aged balsamic rather than the concentrate you get everywhere else. Also, the Bouillabaisse was outstanding, full of flavor, rich spices and tender fish. That entree alone would have been $38 on the regular menu. For the price, I don’t know whether it can be beaten.
Price & Verdict: Lunch. Main course $25-40 à la carte. Dinner. $32-50 à la carte. Late Night Menu $24 for appetizer & main course – fantastic deal if you like to eat late with perfectly executed food.
During the entire Montreal trip we always had the Lumia phone with us and it performed much better in low light situations than the Samsung Galaxy SIII but you can judge for yourself – what pictures do you like more?
Poutine, Bagels, Crêpes & Chez Schwartz
If you like to read up on your destination in advance of travelling like we do, you’ll easily come across someone’s “must eat” list of culinary destinations or food types. Many times these lists are spot on – Katz’s Deli in NYC is one of those storied places that didn’t disappoint – but we were thoroughly disappointed by two of Montreal’s top-listed restaurants/foods, Chez Schwartz and Poutine. Hyped in most every guide, Poutine is specialty from Quebec that consists of a pile of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. In two words, it was…wholly unappetizing. Soggy fries, bland gravy and flavorless cheese. I suggest you save the calories for a different specialty, delicious French macarons, which are available a nearly every bakery. My favorite was the Pistachio flavor – they may look a little artificially green though they are made with the real thing.
Likewise recommended was the smoked meat at Chez Schwartz. When we stopped by there for lunch, there was a line of 30 people ahead of us. Overall, it was another disappointment. Though the meat was tender, it was under seasoned, rendering it bland, and the bread was cheap (in a French city? what a pity) and too small to adequately contain the pile of smoked meat. Compared to Katz’s in New York City, Chez Schwartz lost in every aspect by a huge margin. Do yourself a favor and skip Chez Schwartz entirely.
Another guidebook recommendation is the Qubecoise bagels, which you can find at many places across the city. While perfectly edible, I have found New York bagels to taste better, and they come in rather typical flavors, such as poppy seed.
For some tradtitional crêpes, another classic French food, head to the old port. Jardin Nelson has a nice patio but is a bit touristy with prices of$15+, while Cafe Muru at 362 rue Notre-Dame Est was a little off the beaten path, yet offers a great variety of sweet and savory crêpes between $6-13. It’s worth seeking out crepes for meals that you’d prefer a less formal vibe to, such as dinner after Europea!
As you can see, you won’t go bored or hungry in Montreal! With so much to entertain, it would be an excellent long weekend getaway. What are your experiences with Montreal?