Awake at the crack of noon, we roamed up and down the nearby street of St-Laurent—abuzz with the lunch crowd and other wanders of midday. I was impressed by the number of Portuguese restaurants and even counted four of them on one block. Ryan had an agenda for lunch which he sprang on me as we headed into Schwartz’s, the deli in Montreal. Well I don’t know if there’s any other delis in montreal since after trying Schwartz’s I was afraid to try another sandwich shop just in case word of my disloyalty would make it back to Schwartz’s. Then they might cut me off.
The first thing you notice, even before the meager storefront, is the fine bouquet of smoked meats which can be smelled down the block on a good day. Other dinners also notice this and it may be hard to find seating during lunch and even in the afternoon. Schwartz’s doesn’t mess around and only has two sandwiches, turkey and smoked meat, but also serves a complement of deli pickles, peppers, coleslaw, and what not, and a collection of steaks.
Ryan directed me to order a smoked meat sandwich but we also ordered a side standard, run-of-the-mill fries and also some peppers, which although they were overpriced, were good and burned your mouth in all the right ways. The star was the sandwich and it became a highlight of the trip and we would return a couple more times. On our way out I noticed that some customers were requesting lean or fatty sandwiches, I would remember this for later dining.
Lunch was followed up with a shopping excursion to St-Catherine, a boutique street where you can spend those polychrome dollars, but this was needed as I had no winter boots with me (yes, I knew there was snow, want to fight about it?). After taking longer then we wanted, we then set off to be social with the McGill corps of anthropology grad students. First stop was Thompson house, a university run pub for grad students, that made sure you knew it was university ran by the wood paneling, grand fireplace, and a large painting of some academic straining to look casual sitting on his desk. The place didn’t mess up my gin and tonic which is enough for it to pass my inspection.
We followed that up with a sojourn to a housewarming party that was being thrown by a fellow Portlander. Funny how I traveled thousands of miles and going to be hanging out with a Portlander complete with a vegetarian habit. So fortified with rum and whiskey, we set out into the hostile winter night and blitzed down St-Laurent to the Portlander’s house but a block away from the party, the scent of poutine fired my procrastinating synapses into gear and, hell, we don’t need to be on time! Ryan agreed since this place was Patati Patata a well known poutinerie, that he recommended, so we stopped.
Settling in at the bar was just like Au Pied and Schwartz’s and, just like those establishments, patrons were generously left the room to breath and once you push and squeeze yourself into the chair there is no hope of making a quick escape but why would you want to with sizzling burgers or poutine covered in a cornucopia of vegetables? Choices are simple for poutine, you can get the classique or one covered in vegetables and then you can get meat on top and since we were going to a vegetarian party we made sure to stock up on the meat. So we tried both the classique and the vegetable poutine with ground beef and both dishes were done before we finished half a pitcher. All in all, it was a good place for poutine and the other dishes looked good, but alas we had plans and off we went.
Arriving fashionably late, we archaeologist mingled with the cultural anthropologist for awhile and I did my best to sound informed. Eventually things wound down and I was happy to make the acquaintances of both Canadians and US citizens alike and Ryan and I headed off into the night. We stopped briefly at a hookah lounge to enjoy some nice double apple shisha and a pitcher of strong, dark Montreal beer.
Saturday brought colder temperatures and snow. We left early(ish) to go out to eat at a Portuguese restaurant that we saw the day before. Jano was not too busy at one o’clock so we were seated instantly and the server, although cold at first, gave us some recommendations as well as a dish of pea-sized olives. I ordered a chicken, which I was told us what they were known for, and lamb dish and Ryan and I split some mussels that were boiled in some fragrant tomato broth. Next came the chicken/lamb plate with french fries and I have to say they had it wrong, it wasn’t the chicken that was worth coming in for but the lamb that stole the show. It was nicely seasoned and cooked just enough to keep in the succulent juices that required more bread to soak it up. Also served on the side was some chili oil with a brush to assist in smothering your food with what looked like just oil and crushed red pepper flakes. The meal was good and comparable to meals I had in Lisbon and Portugal.
We wandered around for some time. I saw Mont Royal and some of the old town Montreal but we would come back to see more the next day which was promised to be even more eventful—today we both were recovering from hangovers. Hungry (again) we stopped at a Mochica, a Peruvian restaurant styled around the Moche people of coastal Peru. On the walls were replica golden masks and Moche pottery and there were even plexiglass cutouts in the floor that showed mock archaeological excavations. They even served pisco sours and soon we both had one sitting in front of us.
We started off with some potato rolls with some aji sauce on top. Very Peruvian. For dinner, I ordered a roasted llama which was seasoned very well and cooked nice and tender. It was also served with some risotto that was prepared with ashes which gave it a unique gray color but also a nice taste. The server was friendly and talked to us about Peru and apparently, for what its worth, the restaurant was very authentic since the owner was from Lima and the chef was from Cusco. Good times and good food.
That night was another social call and I was happy to meet some more grad students and see what life at McGill was like—at least for the grad students. First things first though and that was liquid heat in the form of scotch and you will understand why scotch was invented when you face the chill of a winter’s night. Again we arrived late but the wine was flowing and the cheese was out and people were enjoying themselves—so our presence was not missed. Things went quickly and soon we found ourselves with a new friend named Hamed who was eager to go out at 3:00 am and get some poutine. Thankfully he was sober and had a car so the trip was made significantly shorter and we soon found ourselves at La Banquise Resto.
Its a good sign when a place has a line out the door at 3:00 am. For a moment there was a test of our true grit, if we were going to stick it out, but the Quebecois in front of us clearly heard us and struck up a conversation. Sure, the place was good and worth the wait, and yes, he was drunk. Then he proceeded to offend all of us by saying a few select things about certain ethnic groups but what can you do when you are in line waiting for food? Next he taught me some choice cuss words, which I guess raises my opinion of him slightly. For the moment he was fun but I couldn’t handle more then thirty minutes. We sat with him in a booth pushed far in the back that had us crawling over other patrons. I’m not sure they could fit any more tables, chairs, or benches if they wanted to. We were elbow to elbow with the next table and had to lean in whenever the server went by to bring food. This seems to be a common trend in Montreal.
I ordered the Kamikaze, a spicy medley of sausage, hot peppers, and tabasco with even more chipotle tabasco on top. Others at the table ordered the Elvis, topped with ground beef, green peppers, and mushrooms, and the dan dan, complete with pepperoni, bacon, and onions. La Banquise did things right and their new take on poutine was welcomed since I was tired of just eating the classic mix. Also, if you go there, make sure to bring cash to avoid the hassle we had. Our new, politically incorrect friend, Simon, said it was too late and departed and we did shortly after letting out a sigh of relief and having a good laugh all the way back to the apartment. Dreary eyed and poutine stuffed, I took a look outside the window at the approaching light, cursed, and went to sleep.