Ahhhh the classics. The infamous institutions. The legendary landmarks. The restaurants, cafés and bakeries whose tradition we love, and whose line-ups we love to hate. Here are some of my favourites, although a few who I didn't include (Orange Julep, Café Italia, Beauty's) also deserve mention, as all of these classic little gems have helped shape Montreal into the great city it is today.
Schwartz’s Deli (est. 1928)
If you are a tourist visiting la Belle province, you’ve probably already heard about this place… 185746 times. I am not joking, literally everyone who finds out you are a visitor will advise you to go. Even if they, like me, haven’t been in years. And when you return, anyone who has ever been to Montreal will ask you if you’ve been. Schwartz’s is sort of like our Eiffel Tower, just less beautiful and covered with schmutz. It is synonymous with Montreal and one of our biggest attractions. And while I’m not obsessive about smoked meat, I do understand why my brother simply MUST make the trip every time he comes. Their famous smoked meat sandwich, barely held together by two slices of seedless rye, is slathered with mustard and must be hand sliced for the delicate meat to stay intact. And that meat – cured for 10 days with their famous mix of spices – is worth every last minute standing outside in their perennially long line ups. But if you don’t want to wait to sit at the communal tables of their 84 year old establishment, go to their 4 year old take-out shop next door for fresh smoked meat on the go!
Schwartz’s Deli | 3895 St-Laurent blvd | Montreal, H2W 1X9 | (514) 842-4813 | www.schwartzsdeli.com |
The Original Fairmount Bagel Bakery (est. 1919)
The first bagel bakery in Montreal spent thirty years on the boulevard before moving to its current location, a two story brick cottage in Montreal’s Jewish quarter where founder Isadore Shlafman moved in 1949. As the story goes, Shlafman occupied the second floor with his family and built the main floor brick oven himself such that “when Grandfather Isadore went to work, he went downstairs and baked the bagels right there in his house.” Still family-owned and using Grandpa Isadore’s original recipe, Fairmount remains one of the best places to pick up a warm bag of the densely sweet and sesame-flecked delicacies fresh from the wood-fired oven.
Fairmount Bagel | 74 Ave Fairmount O | Montreal, QC H2T 2M1 | (514) 272-0667 | www.fairmountbagel.com |
St. Viateur Bagel (est. 1957)
The other popular bagel shop in Montreal is the more open concept St. Viateur bagel, housed on the street that bears its name. Opened by Myer Lewkowicz in 1957, the St. Viateur business has grown at a marked pace, with 4 shops reportedly producing up to 12,000 bagels a day (and now available at many Montreal grocery stores as well.) The dough, made from malt, egg and honey, is dipped into honey-sweetened water before baking in the wood-fired oven, where flames seal the sugary glaze and give the bagel its marble toasted appearance.
St. Viateur Bagel | 263 Rue St Viateur Ouest | Montreal, QC, H2V 1Y1 | (514) 276-8044 | www.stviateurbagel.com |
Wilensky’s Light Lunch (est. 1932)
I have such fond recollections of Wilensky’s and hoisting my pudgy little self up on to their counter at the tender age of four. If it wasn’t for their cherry cola and the infallible Special that followed, I don’t know what my childhood memories of Montreal would’ve consisted of. Opened in 1932 by Moe Milensky, the luncheonette and soda fountain originally contained a cornerstore, barbershop, and delicatessen in one. But when a client asked Moe to “make [him] something special,” the famous sandwich, consisting of one slice of bologna, two slices salami and a small dollop of mustard pressed between a cornmeal dusted pletzl, was born. Originally 12¢ and now just under $4, the special is best served with a glass of cherry cola and a side of pickles. And while Moe is no longer around, his beautiful wife Ruth (see tribute to her here) or their daughter Sharon will greet you at the nine- seat counter that hasn’t changed a bit for as long as I can remember. How’s that for nostalgia?
Wilensky’s | 34 avenue Fairmount Ouest | Montréal, QC H2T 2M1 | (514) 271-0247 | Wilenksy's facebook page |
Moishes Steakhouse (est. 1938)
The oldest and most respected steakhouse in Montreal, tucked in on St. Laurent Boulevard, was founded by Moishe Lighter in 1938, when he originally named it Romanian Paradise. Rumor has it that Moishe, a Romanian immigrant who worked at the restaurant's predecessor bussing tables, won the restaurant in a card game some time after. The name was changed simply to "Moishe's" after WWII, and has continued to be a staple of Montreal culinary tradition for decades. Prime Ministers, celebrities, and local patrons can be seen eating here, where the menu and extensive wine list garner praise, including a nomination to Forbe's "Best Steakhouses in the World" List.
Moishe's Steakhouse | 3961 Boulevard St-Laurent | Montreal, QC | (514) 845-3509 | www.moishes.ca |
Eaton's Ninth Floor (est. 1931)
This art deco wonder, "the" restaurant in its day, was commissioned by Lady Eaton herself and designed by Jacques Carlu. Its gorgeous, streamlined interior was thought to have been inspired by the transatlantic ocean liner Île-de-Frances, on which Lady Eaton travelled. The space, featuring sky high ceilings, large Italian alabaster lamps and murals painted by the Carlu's wife, was protected as a historic site shortly after Eaton's closed in 1999. Sadly, it has been moth-balled since, and efforts to petition for its reopening have fallen short. I remember dining there as a child with my Grandparents, who enjoyed the five star service and afternoon tea. Many hope to see its revival soon, once some wise restaurateur finally decides to capitalize on this beautiful landmark. It is said that, on its opening day, more than a fifteen hundred people queued for lunch - I can only imagine how many of our grandmothers would love to do so again.