Of all the lists describing the great culinary countries, you would be hard pressed to ever come across one that include Canada. While pasta is synonymous with Italy, rich creamy sauces with the French, Canada has…. maple syrup? Thankfully this is not the case and one Canadian city that sets the bench mark for Canadian Cuisine is Montreal.
It was only a short hop over the border from Vermont to get to Montreal and once we checked into our accommodations in the Plateau district we set out on our first mission. A week prior I had made the phone call to Au Pied Du Cochon, an infamous restaurant with a cult like following hoping I would be able to secure some reservations. My initial plans of a late Saturday night dinner were halted when I found out that the entire weekend had been booked except for one seating at 5:00pm on Friday night. After seeing the gluttonous Anthony Bourdain describe the place on his TV show over 2 years ago, I vowed that the next time I was in Montreal I would eat here. The seating could have been at 6am, I was not going to miss out.
My idea was to go all out and order everything that sounded good. Bad idea at this restaurant. Portions come hearty and heavy. This is not a healthy dining option or a light meal in any sense. Foie Gras, the fattened liver of a goose or duck is a specialty here and despite the controversy surrounding the product, Martin Piccard has an entire section of his menu dedicated to this rich fatty organ meat. First up was Foie Gras Poutine.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Poutine, this is the quintessential French Canadian indulgence. Fries smothered with gravy and cheese curds make a tough to beat combination and I have long been a fan. Au Pied Du Cochon steps it up a notch adding fries fried in duck fat with gravy, curds, foie gras sauce and of course a massive lobe of foie gras layed over the top. Pure insanity!
After such a light entree, my idea of a multi course meal had gone out the window. It would be a shame not to sample some of the pig products, after all the translation of the restaurant name is At the Pigs Foot. The foot was just about the only part of the pig which didn’t make it into my next dish titled the melting pot. Pork belly, blood sausage, pork chop and sausage come together on top of some of the richest mashed potatoes I have had. All this with a white wine sauce and served in a cast iron pot. Lianna opted for something a little on the safe side with some piglet ribs and mash. Desert was certainly not an option as we waddled our way through downtown Montreal to hopefully burn some calories off.
Despite the rain the following day we continued to explore the city on foot. We wandered in and out of the many bakeries, boutiques and charcuterie shops all the while baffled by how different Montreal seemed than our home city of Toronto.
When the rain proved too much to handle, we were lucky to be near Montreal’s most famous Deli. No trip to this city would be complete without a stop at Schwartz famous for its smoked meat. I first developed a taste for this stuff when my mom would return home from weekends visiting friends in Montreal with pounds upon pounds of the stuff wrapped in butchers paper. Over the following few days this would be my breakfast, lunch and dinner. Montreal smoked meat is similar to pastrami (actually im not sure of the difference) and tourists and locals alike jostle for space inside the tiny deli. The atmosphere of a crowded bustling cafeteria are just as good as the food itself.
Our last stop on the “Foodie Trail” was purposely saved until our last few minutes in the city. After we packed up our things and loaded the car we drove to the Jewish part of town for Montreal’s most emblematic baked good. Bagels.
St. Viateur has built a reputation of baking some of the best bagels in town and they come out of the hot oven in the dozens. Good thing too cause by the time we left we had 3 dozens (minus a few enjoyed on the way home) that needed to go right into our freezer at home.