I'm a big fan of the New York Times' "36 Hours" travel features where they provide readers with a recommended 36-hour itinerary in a particular global city. In our recent trip to Montreal, I realized that we might have an opportunity to create our own version of a "36 Hours" agenda, seeing as we were driving (yes, driving) up to Canada on a Friday and would be returning on Sunday morning.
Needless to say, we ended up spending most (okay, all) of our time eating and going to the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix, the main reason why we were visiting Montreal in the first place. So while this certainly didn't turn out to be a real 36 Hours feature, here are some of the choice (foodie) bits:
Friday evening, 6:30pm - Joe Beef
For those at all familiar and into meaty, over-the-top protein-based gluttony (who isn't?), the evil geniuses at Joe Beef need no introduction or explanation. Every single person we'd asked beforehand for restaurant recommendations (including the incredibly obliging Canadian sommelier at Del Posto) listed Joe Beef as a must-try. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, I discovered that tables were completely unavailable even several weeks out, as thousands of tourists streamed into town for F1 race weekend.
Despite the odds, I was determined to give it one more shot when we arrived at our AirBnB in the Little Burgundy neighborhood. I downloaded an app called DINR, which basically uses the HotelTonight concept but except for last-minute tables at hot restaurants in town. Unlike other similar apps here in the US who charge for last-minute bookings, the tables that crop up on DINR are geo-located to your location and using the app itself is free (you do have to put down a credit card so the restaurant is able to charge you a no-show fee, which is fair enough.) Through a complete stroke of luck, I found that two seats had opened up at the bar at Joe Beef and I jumped on the opportunity. Even more fortuitously, we discovered that our AirBnB apartment was three blocks away.
As we squeezed ourselves onto the tiny bar stools, we availed ourselves upon our very friendly (and bi-lingual) server and our carnivorous journey began - hover over for captions.
I wasn't sure Joe Beef was ever going to live up to the enormous (and I mean, endless) hype that surrounds it but I was very very pleasantly surprised and very very full as we rolled back to the apartment. I can't wait to come back.
Saturday afternoon, 1:00pm - The Canadian Grand Prix
After a quick croque monsieur (mais, bien sur) at the local farmer's market, we headed off to the F1 track, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve which is situated on an island. We watched lots of incredibly fast cars go around, got a tan, drank overpriced beers and didn't eat anything.
Saturday evening, 7:00pm - Sparrow, Lawrence
It was time to head over to the Mile End neighborhood for dinner. Mile End, from what we'd heard and read, is kind of the Brooklyn (yeah, I know) comparison neighborhood in Montreal. Parts of it are still up and coming but there are tons of great restaurants and bars and the area has a really cool, eccentric vibe. When I arrived I was actually struck but its similarity to different parts of East London, Hackney and Shoreditch in particular.
I fired up the handy DINR app again and got us a 9:00pm table at Lawrence, a cozy spot which serves up modernized British cuisine from a Brit expat chef. Not wanting to waste any time, we headed over to Mile End earlier to scope out the scene and (mainly) to get some cocktails, which is when we stumbled upon Sparrow, or Le Moineau.
With an ambience that I can really only describe as "hipster-chic" (sorry, sorry), our friendly bartender quickly rustled up some excellent libations, including my now new favorite cocktail, the Bloody Caesar - basically a Canadian version of a Bloody Mary, except with Clamato.
After a great conversation with our bartender about Montreal's industry and culture, we reluctantly peeled ourselves away from the bar and headed down the street to Lawrence. The place was tiny and still absolutely buzzing at 9:00pm. We experienced some pretty iffy service which I'll put down to the busy time of year and the crowded restaurant but enjoyed (mostly) the food, nonetheless.
After a quick pit stop for a souvenir bag of Montreal bagels, we headed back to the apartment for a quick few hours of sleep before hitting the road again.
I'm definitely looking forward to spending more time in this charming city - if the food we packed it in 36 hours is any indication, there certainly is quite a bit more to experience.
One woman's journey to eat all the food. Or at least, most of it.