As stoked as I was to dig into Montréal’s poutine, smoked meat, and bagels, nothing compared to the excitement and anticipation of sitting down for a meal at Au Pied de Cochon. Chef Martin Picard’s temple of all things meaty, unctuous, and over-the-top came highly recommended to me by my brother, the Kung Food Panda, and every food lover who’s ever traveled to the area. Dining at “the foot of the pig” is a Montréal must-do, especially for those with a penchant for decadence.
According to the New York Times, Au Pied de Cochon made a splash onto the dining scene back in 2004 when Chef Picard gained notoriety for topping poutine with a fatty lobe of duck liver. Since then, the chef has expanded his unorthodox foie gras preparations to include pizzas, tarts, and hamburgers. In fact, there’s even an entire section of the menu dedicated to engorged duck livers. If it weren’t for my level-headed dining companions, The Astronomer and Nina, I would’ve surely gone overboard with the foie gras offerings.
To start, we were brought a warm and crusty baguette tucked inside a napkin with softened butter served alongside. Although we didn’t plan on eating much of the bread and butter due to the impending spread, it proved too enticing to resist.
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I learned during my stay in Montréal that the locals are quite proud of their bagels. The Jewish immigrants who came to the city from Eastern Europe before and after World War II brought with them a distinct tradition of bagel making that continues today.
Montréal-style bagels are hand-rolled, boiled in honey-infused water, and baked in wood-fired ovens. In contrast to their American counterparts, the ones in Montréal are smaller, sweeter, and denser, with a crisp and smokey crust.
Since two of the city’s most famous bagel shops are located in the same Mile End neighborhood, The Astronomer and I, along with our lovely friend Nina, set out on a bagel tasting. Our first stop was at The Original Fairmount Bagel Bakery. Opened in 1919 by Isadore Shlafman, Fairmount is the city’s very first bagel bakery.
The moment we stepped into the shop, we caught sight of a baker transferring a batch of freshly baked bagels from the oven to a plastic bin using a long wooden slat. The man’s swift motion ensured that all of the bagels ended up in the bin and none on the floor.
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Besides poutine, the thing to eat while in Montréal is smoked meat. There are a handful of purveyors around town, but Schwartz’s Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen is the most well known and highly regarded.
The restaurant was opened in 1928 by a Jewish immigrant from Romania named Reuben Schwartz. The smoked meat is prepared using a secret blend of herbs and spices and marinated for ten days. Schwartz’s has employed the same recipe and techniques for over 80 years and takes great pride in serving a preservative-free product.
The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Nina, Linda, and Dan, made our way here for lunch on our first full day in the city. Even though we arrived well past lunchtime, there was still quite a lengthy line outside the restaurant. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we were finally ushered in.
Due to the restaurant’s limited space and immense popularity, smaller parties are usually seated with strangers along the long narrow tables that occupy the room. Our group was large enough this afternoon to merit our own domain.
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I intentionally ate very lightly while traveling from Los Angeles to Montréal so that I would be prepared to gorge on poutine the moment I stepped onto Canadian soil. Packed in my bag were two lahmajoun from Old Sasoon Bakery and a container of slightly stale kale chips. I rationed my provisions throughout the long day on the road, and by the time our plane landed a little past midnight, my stomach was growling and begging for a caloric hit.
After our friend Nina picked us up from the airport, we zoomed to Restaurant La Banquise. Open all day and all night, La Banquise specializes in classic and outlandish varieties of poutine. When we arrived at the restaurant around half past one, a line of hungry revelers was snaking out the door. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones in town in the mood for a Québécois treat.
The menu at La Banquise features 25 varieties of poutine that build upon the classic. Between the three of use, we decided to order two small plates to share.
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