(or, Montreal-Love: Part 1.5)

In June, we went to a Burner event in Squamish, and camped by the Elaho river. We were up all night partying, as one might expect, and we watched the sun come up while sitting in dusty lawn chairs on a ridge overlooking the river. We bundled up in blankets, listening to the vague thump of electronic music still playing somewhere, and were entertained by the rhythms & music that environmental sounds can make when you’re sleep-deprived. It reminded me of the imagined techno music in the engine of the school bus that I rode home after my first rave, so many years ago.

We nodded off there, in the chairs, and the sounds around me were both chaotic, and ordered simultaneously. The river was laughing – Laughing and singing. I could hear it’s voice so clearly, almost words: “downtheriverafter, downtheriverafter”, and wondered if it was from a song or a poem that I couldn’t remember.
What I did remember though, was that I am a River Girl…. born on a little piece of earth floating in the middle of a river. I’d never really thought of myself that way, but there I was, letting the river sing me to sleep, and despite my odd relationship with water, it was so familiar and loving. Saint Lawrence River Girl. Montreal. Home.

It struck me then that I needed to show Frank a Montreal-summer. Some of that crazy July heat, Tam Tam, rainstorms. The homesickness hit me so hard, and had so much of my identity packed into it that I wondered how I could live so far away from it. I listened to the river singing to me, and I thought about the water I grew up near: stagnant, polluted, and so very quiet; almost no voice at all anymore. Not like this river… free and laughing.

It’s hard for me to flow in Montreal too. Much as I love to visit, and would like to spend longer chunks of time visiting, as a place to live, it feels too constrained to me. The trees are tight and gnarled from cold winters, and the waters are confined to canals. I need the influence of the west coast: tall, lush trees that drink too much rain, and fast moving waters that laugh.

But I honestly believe that it’s by contrast that we develop appreciation, and I think it’s that contrast that gives me such an acute appreciation for both cities. I love being a West-Coasting-Montrealer.

Montreal-Love: Part 1

My step-sister-in-law is a super smart cookie, and she’s been accepted to McGill (woot!). Since that means she’s moving to my beloved hometown, I felt compelled to write her up my Big List of must-see/must-eat Montreal favourites. As I’ve got another friend traveling there in October, and it seems folks I know & love go there more often than I do, I’ve decided to make my Big List public, for your enjoyment.

We’ll start with the food… because everyone needs to eat. And if you’re in Montreal, and reading my list, you’re going to eat a LOT. Try to balance it out with some exercise, ok? I don’t want you all coming home & blaming me for those extra pounds.

Claire’s “Love To Eat” List

Cafe Santropol
3990 Saint Urban
This is always at the top of my list. I have a bit of a sandwich fetish, and it super-sucks that I have a wheat sensitivity – but honestly, Santropol is worth it. Don’t let the unusual fillings scare you off – just order a Midnight Spread and a lemonade, sit in the garden, enjoy the atmosphere, and prepare your tastebuds to be blown away by awesomeness.

Schwartz Deli
3895 St. Laurent
In tough competition for the number one slot, is Schwartz. There’s lots of argument over smoked meat joints in Montreal… some (like myself) will say Schwartz is the best, but some will say Ben’s, Dunn’s, or The Main… and yes, all are good. But my heart belongs to Schwartz. Order up a hot smoked meat sandwich, with a Kosher dill and a cherry soda.

Fairmont Bagel
74 Fairmont West
You really can’t get a bad bagel in Montreal. You just can’t. Fairmount is my favourite, but St. Viateur & Mount Royal are equally fantastic. I love to take a walk up to Fairmount, order a dozen sesame seed bagels and a tub of dill cream cheese. Eat one or two on the way home, still hot out of the brown paper bag. Get ’em home, toast one up & top with too much cheese, thinly sliced tomato, salt & pepper. Goddamn that’s home.

5843 Sherbrooke West
My friend Jack knows his food, and many years ago he showed me the best place for all-day breakfast, and still, when I want breakfast, it’s Cosmos I want. It’s a real greasy spoon, fulla charm, but very small – so plan to wait and make sure you get the hashbrowns. And not those pathetic little Denny’s shredded pseudo-potatoes – I mean real potatoes, randomly chopped & smashed right on the grill, with onions & bacon grease, cooked right next to your eggs, any way you like ’em. Years later, Jack is still showing me awesome places to eat and I thank him for starting me off right. On recent visits, Jack’s taken me to a Thai place & a Vietnamese place – both were great, but I can’t remember what/where they were.

Connie’s Pizza
801 Charlevoix
Paul Patate
2606 de Coleraine
I spent my childhood living in Pointe Saint-Charles, and for about eight years, I lived in the same block as these two restaurants. My elementary school was on Coleraine Street too. The school is a condominium now, but the restaurants are both still there, still run by the families that served greasy French fries in paper bags to us scruffy Pointe-kids. Poutine from either of these places will rock your socks.
Get a classic all dressed pizza from Connie for me… pepperoni, mushrooms, green pepper and lots of mozza. And they still put a little bun in the middle of the pizza to stop the box-lid from sticking to the cheese. Nom.
When my family would send me to Paul’s to pick up an order, I’d sit at the bar with my sketchbook & doodle while I waited. I went in last time I was there, and they still remember me. Get 2 steamies, with coleslaw, mustard & relish, definitely have the fries, and say hi for me.

The best part about all of these places isn’t just the bread, the cheese, and the grease… it’s the memories. For me, all of those places are tightly associated with friends, and when I think about Montreal food, I am reminded of them and feeling full – full of food and full of love.

Dammit, I’m super homesick now. 😉

My next Montreal Love post will be about the places I love to go.