Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Eating Your Way Through Montreal
November 20, 2014 -- Quebec is close to my home in Maine, so little getaways to Montreal really do feel like international trips--albeit without checked-bag fees and annoying security checkpoints. On our last visit, my wife and I discovered so many good restaurants and food stores that we're already planning another trip in the spring. But in case you get there before us, here's some of what we found.
We stumbled into Accords because it was close to our hotel, the hour was getting late and we didn't have the slightest semblance of a plan for the evening. But don't let the menu-carrying sidewalk greeter's efforts to draw passersby inside fool you into thinking that this is just an Old Montreal tourist trap. Accords serves up some tasty, innovative dishes indeed. The Guinea Fowl Leg Confit Agnoletti ($19) is an absolute must-try. The expertly prepared pasta was light and delicate, the filling spot on flavor-wise. The Beef Macreuse ($19) was also excellent, served alongside wonderful roasted yellow beets, pickled onion, chimichurri sauce and watercress. Business lunch more your speed? You could do a lot worse than this place. Accords even offers a $25 lunch special that includes soup or salad, a main course (such as Grilled Yellowfin Tuna or Panfried Scallops), and coffee or tea. One other thing: Accords is basically a wine bar/small plate kind of deal. The wine list is interesting, but the portions are not, shall we say, super-sized.
My wife and I used to live a 10-minute drive from Newark's famed Portuguese district known as The Ironbound. On Sunday afternoons we'd drive over to Newark and pull up a stool at the bar of one of our favorite restaurants. Then we'd while away the afternoon sipping red wine and sampling the most fabulous and authentic Portuguese foods outside of Lisbon. Montreal isn't blessed with anything close to the Ironbound, but it does have a small Portuguese community on the Boulevard Saint-Laurent (known to locals as The Main), a six-kilometer stretch studded ethnic foods and restaurants of many types. For a very nice meal of authentic, rustic, honest Portuguese food, go to Casa Minhota. We sampled the grilled octopus, the pork with clams and a few other traditional dishes. We enjoyed every one of them. Plus, in a city where wine can be quite expensive, Casa Minhota's house wines ($28/litre, $17/half) are, if not fabulous, perfectly enjoyable.
No stroll along The Main is complete without a stop at Schwartz's, also known as the Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. Opened in 1928, the deli specializes in "smoked meat"-- cured, spiced beef brisket--and has lines out the door for hours on end. Don't expect a full-line Jewish deli here, though, as the menu is sparse and the accommodations a bit on the tight side. If you're dining alone or with only one other person, try and nab seats at the counter. Don't bother looking at the menu. The smart play here is the smoked meat ($8.70 for a sandwich, $12.50-$15.95 for plates), Homemade Fries ($2.99) and a pickle ($1.95).
Joe Beef may be the most sought after dining spot in all of Montreal, but its newer sister restaurant, Liverpool House, may be its equal. Liverpool House is just feet away from Joe Beef, in the gentrified Little Burgundy section of Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough. The atmosphere is lively (if a bit loud) and cozy (cramped, in other words). But the food is top-notch, inventive, even daring. We sampled the calf's liver, fresh in-shell sea urchin, rabbit confit, beef tripe and a superb local cheese course. Liverpool House also serves a horse steak that's supposed to be fabulous and a lobster spaghetti that draws raves. Traditionalists be warned, however: There are no printed menus or wine lists. A single chalkboard, oddly positioned in the back of the restaurant, must be visited (and stood before) in order to view the evening's food offerings. Another chalkboard along a side wall (and above diners' heads) lists the wines. Both menu and wine list are written in French. My advice? Plan ahead as much as possible, but do try and eat at either Joe Beef or Liverpool House.
At the very top of Boulevard Saint-Laurent you will find two food shops that no self-respecting food lover should miss. One is Marché Milano, an astoundingly well-stocked Italian food market, one that rivals the best I've seen in the New World.
Marché Milano boasts a great butcher shop, produce section and prepared food counter. The cheese shop is fabulous--and it sources its burrata from Italy, which is no small feat. But the real draw of is the depth of all kinds of merchandise. Marché Milano doesn't stock a respectable assortment of vinegars and oils; they carry hundreds. They even carry a select group of Italian health and beauty products. (I bought a tube of Proraso men's shaving cream from Florence and I'm hooked.) I cannot stress how highly I recommend stopping in this amazing place.
Further up the road and off to the right is the Jean-Talon Market. Open year-round, it's part farmers' market/part food stall paradise. Around the perimeter of the market are restaurants and prepared food shops where you can eat a more substantial meal if you're not in the mood to graze the food stalls.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.