Austin and I like to plan a little getaway for our anniversary (see: last year in Paris). And we hadn’t been on a proper vacation — minus a winery getaway for a friend’s wedding — since our month-long travel to Europe over the summer (ages for us). Keen to conserve vacation days but itching to get away, we booked off a Friday to enjoy an extra-long weekend in Montreal.
The last time I visited Montreal was at the tail-end of university for a conference I helped to organize. Austin visited as a teenager, but hasn’t memorably spent time in the city as an adult. (No, we don’t count our botched layover in Montreal from an early-2015 trip to Morocco… though we did find a really nice hotel as a result). Montreal seemed like the perfect not-too-far-away place to explore.
We took a mid-morning Friday Porter flight (YTZ > YUL) that landed us in Montreal by early afternoon. Since we’d be in town for three days, we took advantage of the $18 three-day transit pass — a total steal that can be purchased at a kiosk right in the airport. We easily got our money’s worth with that pass.
Once in town, we situated ourselves at our Airbnb near the UQAM campus and close to the Old Port. It was the perfect central hub for our weekend activities — close to Berri-UQAM Station, one of the busiest metro stops. Our first stop of the day was an obvious one — to Schwartz’s Deli for their famous smoked meat sandwiches. We expected that our late-afternoon meal time would mete out a shorter line and less crammed restaurant, and we were right. Seated within 10 minutes, we tucked into smoked meat sandwiches, poutine, pickles and cherry soda. Perfect fuel for an afternoon of exploration.
We walked south to the Old Port, stopping off at the Notre Dame Basilica to take in all her pretty lines. I mused innocently at one point that “she’s a beauty, but she is no Notre Dame” — referring to her eponymous sister in Paris — and Austin had a good chuckle. It was a clear, crisp and sunny day, so we took advantage, walking the length of the waterfront along the Old Port, before heading back to our apartment to clean up for early dinner reservations.Austin and I had one coveted dinner reservation for this trip — the celebrated Au Pied de Cochon. Even making reservations some weeks out, only an early 6:30 PM seating was available, so we snagged it. Au Pied was everything we hoped for and more: pickled pig’s tongue, guinea fowl liver mousse, a textbook venison tartare and the celebrated “PDC hot pot” with four preparations of pig — boudin noir, smoked shoulder, sausage and loin draped atop show-stopping aligot and braised onions. We ended the night with tarte au sucre served with vanilla bean ice cream made on the spot.
Austin keeps a running “favourite non-Michelin-starred-more-off-the-beaten-track” list of restaurants (i.e., the kind he enjoys most) and easily decided that this meal was up there with his tip-top favourites — Hugo’s in Portland, ME and Dill in Reykjavik, Iceland. High praise, indeed.
Saturday morning began with a walk to the Mile End neighbourhood for a bagel showdown — the doubly-iconic St. Viateur vs. Fairmount. We collected our specimens — sesame and everything with a tub of cream cheese and dug in to compare. No contest. St. Viateur won in a landslide. These were hot, sweet, chewy, salty, perfect bagels.
Our plan (or, lack of plan, sometimes those are the best…) was to leisurely stroll some neighbourhoods through the day, stopping for coffee and into the shops to keep cozy. We wandered through Mile End, along Saint Denis (Montreal’s hopping food/shopping street in the Latin Quarter), and through the gorgeous and hilly McGill campus.
Two memorable little coffee shops along the route were the offbeat Cagibi Cafe in Mile End and La Petite Cuillère on Saint Denis, which served a mean chocolat chaud. For the Kusmi Tea lovers amongst us, Saint Denis is home to the only North American boutique outside of New York City. Stock up! That night, we did what any self-respecting Montreal visitors would and hit up two institutions — craft brewer Dieu du Ciel! and Poutine la Banquise for … poutine, of course. Austin and I have done a couple craft brew dinners hosted by Dieu du Ciel! so we knew we loved their brews already. We similarly enjoyed the friendly, drink-happy vibe of their little brewpub. La Banquise was exactly what poutine should be — heaping portions of perfect house-made fries, thin flavourful gravy and squeaky curds. (And the leftovers made for an awesome breakfast, cold from the fridge.) By this point we were sated and spent, but with a little more energy, you would have found us at Barmacie for a nightcap.
Since we had an early-evening flight to catch on Sunday and there was a slight chance of rain, we opted to make it our museums day, spending time around the Concordia University campus. We started the morning at the stunning Canadian Centre for Architecture, a small, well-curated museum located in an architecturally marvellous new-meets-old building. We browsed the collection in a bit over an hour — feeling lucky to have the entire place to ourselves.
Bellies rumbling, we walked a couple of blocks to Qing Hua, a hole-in-the-wall dumpling house Austin discovered that’s known for its soup dumplings. This was a platonic lunch on a dreary day — piping hot morsels stuffed with shrimp, scallops, pork, mushroom, cabbage… we slurped our way through two big baskets.Happily full, we readied ourselves for a few hours at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal (Museum of Fine Arts). In the realm of large-scale museums/galleries, the Art Institute of Chicago is always my standard-of-quality measurement. It’s less intimidating than, say, the Met’s enormous collection, is thoughtfully curated and presents a good mix of periods and styles in a beautiful physical space. The musée happily met standard. I was especially smitten with the Asian Art collection and large holdings of intricate kogo incense boxes.After a quick stop at Plougastel for croissant and Americanos, we hopped on transit to the airport. A tiny dent made in our long list of things to see and do in Montreal, we already are itching to return.
Eat & Drink
Neighbourhoods: Mile End, Latin Quarter (and Rue Saint-Denis), Old Port, McGill Campus
My Montreal board on Pinterest (so many more great spots!)
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