Places like Montreal are the reason why I regret not taking more French than I did back in high school. I mean I have up to grade 10, a measly year beyond what was required, but that’s hardly enough to get me to a conversational level. Luckily for me, the Montrealians (is that the term?) I encountered were at least bilingual. It warms my heart to know that independent businesses are able to thrive in a big city like this. I recently learned that Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, behind Toronto. During our weekend, I don’t think I saw a single Starbucks and maybe only a handful of Timmies and McDs. The trips here with the Western Mustang Band all those years ago for the St. Patrick’s Day parade seem like forever ago and I never got the chance to discover this city. Not that I think I really have, but this was certainly the first time I got to try. I did a little bit of research before our trip; which mostly consisted of reading blog posts of “15 up and coming restaurants of Montreal,” or “101 restaurants to try in Montreal before you die,” or “Must-try eats in Montreal you can check out in a weekend.” Very food-centric. But before eating our way through Montreal, there was an even more important reason for our visit.
Heather and I are both avid fans of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and when I checked out the schedule for this season when it was released back in October and noticed our team, Les Canadiennes du Montreal were playing at home the weekend of our anniversary, I got planning. I’m not sure I could have anticipated a better set up of games than what ended up happening. Les Canadiennes were playing the Calgary Inferno and prior to the weekend they were both atop the league; Calgary was first and Montreal was second and only a couple of points separated the two. Montreal won both its games that weekend and took the lead; and man they were an intense pair of games. It was a privilege to watch so many Olympians (Shall I name a few? Wickenheiser, Ouellette, Poulin, Labonte, Chu, Mikkelson, Saulnier, Jenner, Larocque) take the ice together and it was nice to know our money was going towards an organization that needed support. Bonus, the proceeds from Saturday’s game and a silent auction went towards a charity for breast cancer research. We also took the opportunity to pick up some Les Canadiennes merch. Nothing like saving on some shipping! Turns out the youth XL hoodie fit Heather just fine so I guess that’s another way of saving money.
City planning in Montreal really is next level. As we made our way during the 6 hour bus ride from Toronto, I looked up public transit options and, lo and behold, there was a $13 weekend pass that went from 6pm Friday to 6am Monday. The subway and bus routes were comprehensive as was the companion app. There were buses along every major road running in a grid-like fashion AND they were dependably on time. I don’t think we once waited more than 10 minutes.
After settling in at our AirBnB (conveniently located across the street from the sport complex the games were being played at), we picked up some dinner and breakfast supplies at a nearby grocery store then headed over to St-Viateur for some fresh bagels.
The aroma of fresh baked bagels hits you as soon as you walk into the place. There are a couple of things in fridges you can buy but the bagels were the star. The place was simple, an isle to allow for a line-up and no room to loiter and a deep wood burning oven in the back that you can tell has been used lovingly for years. Bagels were made fresh on site all hours of the day since it’s open 24/7.
The next day we ventured out to a cafe we’d heard about and were dying to check out: Cafe 8 oz. on Rue Saint-Hubert, just a quick bus ride closer to the subway station we were near.
I think it was here that I started describing everything in Montreal as disgusting and gross because I couldn’t handle how charming this city was anymore. As the kids say these days, “this was my aesthetic AF.”
A short 10 minute walk from the cafe, we discovered a small shopping area that covered 4 or 5 blocks filled with restaurants, boutiques, and bookstores we could peruse. There was a Montreal smoked meat restaurant we wanted to check out and we were really glad that we ended up avoiding expensive touristy areas and got a chance to see more local culture. I know how massive smoked meat sandwiches can get so when we arrived at Le Roie Du Smoked Meat, I opted for the smoked meat sandwich on a bread roll… but still…
After lunch, Heather was on the hunt for more caffeine. So we hopped into a super cute cafe called Candide which we passed on the way to lunch. I think Heather was drawn in by the cute sheep theme while I’m a sucker for musical theatre references. She ordered a large mocha for us to share and got to choose the type of chocolate. She opted for the dark but it was really rich… she ended up drinking it by herself.
I mean look at that! Disgusting.
After the first game, we checked out this awesome microbrewery called Boswell for dinner. I got a sample of this beer that was super sour and I really didn’t enjoy it. The waitress was kind enough to give me a small taste so I didn’t waste it and I ended up getting a more familiar IPA. Unfortunately they were out of some of the daily specials that we wanted to try but we loved what we ended up getting just the same. I got a marinated grilled chicken wrap and some fries but I didn’t take a picture because I was so impressed with what Heather got.
Aside from the hockey games, the highlight of our weekend in Montreal has to be our visit to Juliet et Chocolat. Located just south of The Village, we had no idea we were in for such a treat. This place really blew our socks off.
There is a small seating area to the left as you walk in and on the right is the welcome counter as well as the kitchen area where fresh crepes are being prepared; the smells really catch you while you wait to be seated. At around 10pm, the wait wasn’t too bad but they were certainly busy.
Their menu was the most varied dessert menu I’d ever seen. An entire section on hot chocolates made from chocolate from all over the world and at whatever percentage of darkness you’d want. Entire sections were dedicated to cake, brownies, crepes, waffles; even a section on platters of combinations of those sections or a variety of each different section. It took a long time to peruse through but we eventually managed to decide.
We left happily with our bellies full.
I think the aspect I enjoy most about the independent business culture of Montreal is the relationship developed between owner and customer as well as the responsibility they feel towards each other. There seems to be this unspoken promise amongst themselves that a certain standard must be kept in order for them to remain competitive with each other… and that standard is high. We ended up returning to Cafe 8 oz. on Sunday morning and they recognized us! I know this because he greeted us in English.
Montreal served to be a wonderful backdrop for our weekend together and we were impressed at how good everybody’s English was. After all, all of their signage and day-to-day things are in French and they’re under no obligation to know English either. Everyone was so nice too! I was especially impressed with the bus drivers, but then I thought, “it’s probably because no one treats them like shit here.” Good point.
I still have to get my fill of authentic Montreal-style poutine… didn’t end up having enough time to grab some before we had to catch our bus. I wish I took some more pictures of my surroundings too instead of just the food we were eating. Already looking forward to returning!