• The verdict: If you love fries and milder flavors, go to Romados, but if you go for a bolder bird, as we do, hit Portugalia.
What it is: Espresso drinks in particulaar that require the barista to pull a great espresso and top it with milk.
The contenders: Cafe Olimpico (124 St-Viateur West) and Cafe Neve (151 Rue Rachel East).
One morning while waiting for hot-meat places to open in the St-Laurent area, we wandered into the hipster, rustic Cafe Neve. We just wanted to kill some time but ended up enchanted by the buttery croissants, divine bagels with lox (using St-Viateur) and a latte in a bowl ($3.50) that was as beautiful as it was rich and delicious. Turns out they use coffee from Chicago’s famous Metropolis roaster and put a lot of care into brewing it just right and topping it with a flower design.
But could it hold up against the famed Joe at the 42-year-old Cafe Olimpico up in the Mile End area? We went to find out. The large, tin-ceilinged coffeehouse with an Italian soccer theme and a sprawling courtyard was crowded on a Sunday morning. But these coffee lovers seemed unfazed by the dozens-deep line. We were grateful for it — though it moved quickly — because it gave us a chance to rehearse our order for the no-nonsense, handlebar-mustachioed baristas who liked to keep things moving. Their product, however, doesn’t taste rushed at all. The macchiato (espresso with a little foam milk for $2.60) was fantastic, with rich, full-bodied flavor yet no bitter finish. Bravo.
The verdict: For a laid-back cafe vibe, big bowls of latte luxury and delicious savories, go to Cafe Neve. For boisterous atmosphere, lots of soccer and sports and wonderful Italian-style coffee, head to Olimpico.
DEEP-FRIED FOIE GRAS
• What it is: Fatty goose or duck liver breaded and deep fried in what has become a bit of a local trend.
• The contenders: Au Pied de Cochon (536 Ave. Duluth East) and Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre Dame West).
Traditional pairings with foie gras tend to play its richness off of a starch or sweet accent, or both. But in foie gras-crazy Montreal, the chefs instead amp up the decadence with a dip in the fryer.
At the famed Au Pied de Cochon we sampled the foie gras cromesquis ($3.50) that came out like chubby, warm dice with a stubbly panko crumb exterior and a rich, liquidy mouthful of foie gras inside. It was a perfect start to a meal of stuffed pigs feet, blood sausage and duck-fat fries.
At the famed Joe Beef in the Little Burgundy area, we miraculously snagged an empty table one night and steeled ourselves for the infamous foie gras double down, modeled after the KFC sandwich. Hipsters jammed the place, chowing down on roasted bone marrow and lobster spaghetti. Our main objective, however, was to try the two deep-fried slabs of foie gras, drizzled in maple syrup and sandwiched around cheddar, mayonnaise, bacon and lettuce. We ordered the appetizer size ($17) and found that all the different elements overpowered the foie gras flavor to the point where the slabs might as well have been tofu.
• The verdict: Skip the over-the-top double down for the elegant, understated foie gras cromesquis.
• The contenders: Marche Jean-Talon (7070 Ave. Henri-Julien) vs. Marche Atwater (138 Ave. Atwater).
Foodies who want to shop for charcuterie, breads, pastries, cheese and fresh fruit will love Montreal’s public markets. Two favorites are on opposite ends, with Jean-Talon focused on open-air fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, while Atwater is more of an indoor experience featuring more butchers, bakers and cheesemongers. At one we bought a collection of fruit for hotel munching, and at the other we assembled charcuterie, fresh bread and wine for a fine lunch.
The verdict: During the summer, Jean-Talon would be our choice, with its rows of fresh produce tables bursting with fragrant strawberries, onions, radishes, tomatoes, greens, squash blossoms and more. We also loved the restaurants, bakeries, food stalls and charcuterie vendors that line the market.
For winter months — and those with a kitchen — a better bet might be Atwater, where you can visit several meat counters, cheesemongers, coffee roasters, bakers and other vendors to assemble an excellent meal, and then walk along the canal if it’s not too cold.
ONE MORE BITE
For those who come from cities without much Portuguese food, Montreal is a great place to load up on pork and clams, vinho verde, grilled sardines and chicken, of course. On a break from fare for the story, we stopped by the modest Chez Doval (150 Rue Marie-Anne East). We split pork and clams, served in meaty, clammy broth perfect for bread dipping, and a couple glasses of young wine for a light meal amid lots of fries and smoked meat. The restaurant also is known for grilled Portuguese chicken. Too bad we didn’t have room.