When I was a child, one of my fondest memories was visiting Montreal. Like many immigrant families who heavily emphasized the importance of education, visiting a new city also meant visiting the prestigious universities that graced the city.
After my first trip to the island, I decided that someday, I was going to attend McGill University – a dream I never let die. But in all honesty, after arriving at McGill, I realized that what while I had achieved my goal, like many things in life, it was the road it took to get there that was the most fulfilling. A school is just that, a school, no matter how renowned.
What did live up to its hype, however, is Montreal. With its streets lined with cozy cafes and colourful Victorian homes, the city is bewitching, and I was easily charmed by her.
Now that my Master’s Degree is gone and done, it’s sadly time for this anglophone to move back home to Toronto. But not without saying thank you to this gorgeous city that I’ve fallen in love with over and over again.
I suppose this article is less of a “Top 10 Things to Visit in MTL”, and instead, my way of saying à la prochaine. I’m going to leave out the obvious spots and sites, such as the Old Port and the Oratory, and instead get verrrrry specific about my favourite things in this city and what I’m most thankful for during my time here.
1. Coco Rico’s Potatoes
I’m going to go out and say it to get it over with, Montreal’s poutines are just okay. I know, I know, they should have kicked me out sooner.
I liked the poutines, but the potatoes at Montreal’s Portuguese chicken restaurants take the crown for the superior rendition of the versatile root vegetable. My favourite ones are the potatoes at Coco Rico. While there are many great dishes in the city, my favourite is these little round balls of comfort.
2. Terrasse St-Ambroise
A friend and I once had three-and-a-half pitchers here. Two girls under 5’4 and 6.6 litres of beer. Great view, great drinks, great foggy memories.
3. Picnics at Westmount Park
Even though the pandemic closed down establishments for most of the warmer months, I am thankful for the forced outside time. Located in Westmount, a wealthy Anglo city surrounded by Montreal, this park has it all and was my perfect spot for a summer picnic.
The catch was that you had to prove you’re a resident of Westmount to use any of its facilities, which include a pool, tennis court, and a gym. However, what was free to be used by the plebs of Montreal was a very nicely maintained bathroom that never ran out of toilet paper. Oh, the extravagance!
4. Ferme Mattheews at Jean-Talon Market
I truly don’t know how I will ever shop at a supermarket again after having experienced farm-fresh fruits and veggies in Montreal, the best being Jean-Talon Market. Sure, Toronto has a few markets in the summer, but they don’t quite compare.
My favourite stall, Ferme Mattheews, not only carries the best broccoli and cauliflower of all shapes, colours, and sizes, but also a very sweet shop keeper. Did you know that cauliflower came in purple?
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5. Chez Baptiste’s $5 pints
During the tiny window between the first and second lockdown, Ricky and I moved from Downtown to the Plateau and discovered the Mont-Royal location of this warm and inviting pub.
They serve a variety of local microbrews, and for Happy Hour, which is anytime before 8pm (yes, all day before 8pm), you had a choice between their own Blonde à Baptiste or a Griffon Rousse for $5 and some change.
Ricky and I spent more than a few nights on their patio during the month of September. What can I say, we’re suckers for a cheap drink and a terrasse.
6. The Wonders of Plaza Côte-des-Neiges
A friend of mine, who’s lived in Côte-des-Neiges for many years, brought me here to pick up groceries once and changed my life.
The plaza itself makes no sense to me, as it is currently under renovation. Some parts of it look like it’s straight from the 50’s, while other parts of the mall are brand new, as if a child started a school project and their parents finished it.
Nevertheless, this place is truly a Montreal gem that has everything anyone may need within its walls: a Walmart, a Canadian Tire, a Chinese grocery store, an Ardene (that recently sadly closed), a Cine Starz cheap seats, a Dollarama, an eclectic food court, and the cherry on top: a giant second-hand store, Renaissance. It’s a weird and wonderful place to spend an afternoon.
7. Sam at Café Code Noir
When I first got to Montreal, the most important thing for me, as a brooding graduate student, was to find a cafe that I can call my own.
Montreal is literally lined with cafes and boulangeries on every corner, and each has its own charm. In spite of Ricky’s self-proclaimed princedom, I’m a fairly low key, no-frills kinda girl, and my favourite things often reflect that. Café Code Noir is just that: unpretentious, homey, and remarkably calm.
Prior to the pandemic, I spent countless hours in the common work areas “writing papers and studying” (i.e., mostly chatting with friends).
The owner, Sam, is perhaps my favourite part of the cafe. A friendly man who remembers your name and always greets you with an “it’s so nice to see you again”. If you go in, make sure to get the Turkish coffee – he’ll read you your fortune after!
8. Boulangerie Cheskie’s Cheese Crowns
I’m lactose intolerant, so I am very selective about what gets to hurt me in the morning. These delicious pastries from Cheskies, an iconic Mile End kosher bakery, are among the few sweets that make the cut for me. Think of the lightest cheesecake you’ve ever had, cupped in a muffin-sized crumbly short crust shell.
While you’re there, grab a few rugelach for later. These small half-moon-shaped flakey pastries are filled with jam or chocolate; my favourite are the raspberry.
9. St-Viateur’s Rosemary & Sea Salt Bagels
Of course, a Montreal classic.
I never really understood the hype about bagels until coming here, but St-Viateur’s Bagels, especially the rosemary & sea salt flavour, have won me over. Boiled in honey water and then baked, these bagels are perfectly crispy and golden.
There is a longstanding rivalry between St-Viateur and Fairmount Bagels, which are supposedly the OG Montreal bagel joint, but to me, Fairmount bagels are just a little bit too sweet.
My favourite Montreal mornings include a walk to the Mile End, waiting in line at St-Viateur, and getting my rosemary & sea salt bagels fresh from the wood-burning oven – a simple pleasure that I will fondly reminisce on.
10. Mont-Royal Cemetery
In a previous post, I wrote about my love of visiting cemeteries around the world. There’s often so much beauty in the statues and monuments built to remember loved ones who have passed, especially in a place as religiously diverse as Montreal.
The Mont-Royal Cemetery grounds are adorned by hydrangeas and located on the hillside, making it a very peaceful walk, filled with loving and thought-provoking glimpses into the lives of those who are no longer with us.
Something else I love about this particular cemetery is the air-conditioned bathroom at the entrance. It may be the second time I’ve mentioned bathrooms in this post, but it’s truly a luxury to die for on the long walks through the city that Ricky and I love.
And Finally, My Friends
My year in Montreal would not have been the same without the incredible group of friends that I found here. Everything is thanks to them, and I miss them dearly already.