The following post was written by, Hillary Wickline, our marketing coordinator.
Montreal is a vital city to the Quebec province known for its French history and unique cuisine. Colonized by the French in the 1500s, the city became a fur trading post in the 1700s, after signing a peace treaty with local Iroquois also known as the Great Peace of Montreal. Much later, the city served as an outlet for nearby Americans as an escape from strict prohibition laws. Today, it is the perfect mix of old European influence and modern culture.
My trip started off well with a quick stroll through Old Montreal. Many tourists congregate here in search of brasseries, la basilique Notre-Dame, and cheap souvenirs. After a quick nap, I headed over to Dominion Square Tavern, a 1920s inspired bar with speak easy-esque cocktails. Drinks are carefully crafted and the menu items are exquisite. These guys know what they’re doing and it’s a must when traveling to Montreal.
The next day, I travelled to one of Montreal’s best open air markets, Jean-Talon, via Bixi bike. Bixi bikes are essentially bike shares in Montreal and quite possibly the best way to get around the city. Renting is easy and cheap – only $7 for a whole day! There are over 400 Bixi bike stations throughout the city and each station accepts credit cards and cash, making it easy to hop on off the bike as you please. The bike lanes in Montreal are also quite impressive. Isolated from the driving lane, two-way bike lanes wind throughout the city, encouraging citizens to bike everywhere and anywhere.
Back to the food…
Jean-Talon is very similar to Reading Terminal Market, but much larger. It seems like anything can be bought here, including sandwiches, desserts, marinated mushrooms and olives, herbs, garden supplies, ethnic food, local and international cheeses, fish, meats, and all kinds of local produce. The best part? Samples are encouraged! Each produce stand had platforms that featured their local produce. Not sure if those tomatoes are quite ripe? Try it! Looking for the perfect avocado? Let the produce guy cut one open for ya! Seasons come and go pretty quickly in Montreal so citizens place an emphasis on quality.
On Monday, the rain began, which seems to be pretty common in Montreal. I took the subway over to Shwartz’s deli, the Katz’s of Montreal. Shwartz’s opened in the 1920’s and the neighborhood at the time, not surprisingly, had a large Jewish population. The line can seem intimidating, but it’s worth the wait! After about 20 minutes (a short wait in the scheme of things), I was seated. I order a smoked meat sandwich with mustard, French fries, cole slaw, a pickle, and a cherry soda… all absolutely necessary.
The rain cleared up by the time I was finished my late lunch at Shwartz’s, another commonality in Montreal (the weather is quite bipolar). I took this opportunity to walk around and observe more of the residential neighborhoods. French influence is most observant through the architecture, houses often equipped with French balconies, iron gates, and spiral staircases. All the streets were lined with blooming trees, local brasseries and pâtisseries, and, of course, bike lanes.
That night, I continued my indulgence, by visiting L’Express, a local brasserie near Shwartz’s. Hands down, one of the best meals I’ve had in my life, and I’m not exaggerating! Without a reservation, we were politely ushered to the bar and greeted by the bar tender. We ordered pâté and a warm goat cheese salad to start, followed by shrimp risotto, poached salmon with chervil, and a delicate bottle of white wine. Throughout my trip, I was very impressed with the service. Even at times of frustration, I was always greeted with a smile and carefully tended to. The Philly attitude I’m used to at home was not in the least bit detectable.
The following day, our last day in Montreal, we headed over to Beauty’s Luncheonette, a diner located near Mount Royal park, the largest park in the city. Beauty’s has been open since 1942 and is still owned and run by the same family. We walked in and were seated by what seemed like the owner. He dominates the counter and politely dictates where each customer will sit, while his close-knit staff scurries around with hot coffee and fresh bagels and sandwiches. Determined to try a Montreal style bagel, I order a bagel with lox and cream cheese. In true diner fashion, Beauty’s also offered a number of homemade lunch items – the lentil soup with croutons and rice pudding sounded too good to pass up.
After lunch, we headed over to Mount Royal Park. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to hike to the top to see one of the best views of the city. Regardless, it’s just as beautiful and serene.
While I was fully impressed by the cuisine and people of Montreal, the part I loved the most about Montreal was its conscious effort of sustainability. Recycling and compost bins could be seen all over the city. As I mentioned before, alternative modes of transportation are encouraged, such as renting a Bixi bike or taking the metro. The emphasis on local food is also highly admirable – open air markets pop up on street corners and push local produce and products into the sight of consumers (us!). Montreal is impressive and sets high standard for sustainable cities.
Travel to Montreal – it’s an absolutely beautiful city, filled with incredible food, culture, and people.