While Montreal offers visiting foodies plenty of gourmet attractions, it’s somehow the city’s no-fuss comfort food that is most resonant in the minds of travellers. Poutine – that late-night plate of French fries, doused in a gravy-like sauce and melting cheese curds, could well be called the city’s best-known dish. Montreal’s excellent bagels and smoked meat sandwiches also attract the ravenous hordes – it turns out that New York isn’t the sole king of classic Jewish deli fare.
For those looking to hunker down and warm up with some of the city’s most comforting dishes, we’ve handpicked a few of the best places to try some beloved staples in our Montreal food guide.
Poutine is likely the top culinary offering associated with Montreal. Though its origins are murky at best, it first cropped up in the 1950s, and has been feeding the city’s hungry (and frequently intoxicated) denizens ever since. While there’s no shortage of places around town serving up poutine, one local favourite is Green Spot. This classic diner serves, count ’em, 27 different styles of poutine. And for even more options, La Banquise’s poutine array clocks in at 30 choices, including La Frank, which adds merguez sausages, and La Bacon, which...well, you get the idea.
Visitors to Montreal would also be mistaken to miss out on sampling one of the city’s bagels. For the uninitiated, Montreal bagels are distinctly different from their New York counterparts. Where the latter are large, airy whorls of dough, Montreal’s bagels are smaller, thinner, and crunchier. Boiled in water laced with honey and baked in wood-burning ovens, they’re also typically topped with fistfuls of sesame seeds.
Montreal’s bagel devotees tend to fall into one of two impassioned camps: those who flock to St.-Viateur Bagel, and those who swear by Fairmount Bagel. The two are located mere minutes from each other in Mile End, Montreal’s historically Jewish neighbourhood, and are both open 24/7 in case of bagel emergencies.
On to the final member of the Montreal food guide triumvirate: the smoked meat sandwich. A cousin to New York’s pastrami on rye, and England's salt beef, the smoked meat sandwich is different for a few reasons. Made exclusively from brisket, it’s served in thick slices that range from lean to fatty – diner’s choice. Given that it’s both cooked and smoked for longer, it’s also that much more of a flavour bomb. Schwartz’s, which bears the distinction of being the oldest deli in Montreal, is the undisputed champion of the smoked meat sandwich, and their iteration – served on rye with a bit of mustard – is hard to beat.
Montreal also does comfort food gone haute. One of the city’s best-reviewed restaurants is Joe Beef, located in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood and a favourite of celebrity foodies the likes of Anthony Bourdain. An unabashed celebration of meat, meat, and more meat, the restaurant is the ultimate destination for the devoted carnivore. Au Pied de Cochon is another classic eatery that melds high and low influences. Famous for topping poutine with foie gras, the restaurant also serves poutine temaki, which wraps the fries in a sushi-style hand roll.
Bizarre, over-the-top, and totally inspired: in this city, there are seemingly endless ways to enjoy comfort food. Leave some extra room in your schedule (and your stomach) – you’ll need both for this culinary quest.
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Whether it's poutine, bagels, or smoked meat, what's your favourite Montreal comfort food? Have you visited any of the places mentioned in our Montreal food guide? Tell us in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen
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About the author: ClaireBullenClaire Bullen
Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen