Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great White North Eh?

Have you ever seen the movie Strange Brew? I know. Random question. Random movie. You probably haven't seen it. But you must. You simply must see this movie. Take a minute right now to put it in your Nexflix cue......go ahead......I'll wait.

Strange Brew is nothing short of hilarious. It's full of great lines like, "This movie was shot in 3B...3 beers and it looks good eh". It's also FULL of more "hosers" and "eh's" than you can count(actually, come to think of it that would make for a good drinking game...note to self...try the "Strange Brew 'eh" drinking game tonight...scratch that, Friday night, yes, that's more responsible). I used to work with a guy named Ross who would google lines from this movie whenever he needed a good laugh. Then we would just sit there in stitches for 5 mins or so reliving our favorite parts of the movie over and over again. Ok, back to the story. So, this movie portrays Canadians as, well, rednecks of the north(but slightly dumber and a whole lot uglier). In reality Canada(at least around the major cities, as I have personally run into some "rednecks of the north" in some rural Canadian areas) is full of intelligent, well spoken and very gregarious individuals. So if you've never thought of visiting I highly recommend a trip. I'm going to focus on Montreal this time around(Quebec City is next you hosers).

If you were blindfolded and flown into Montreal, having never been to Canada and having the "rednecks of the north" misconceptions about it, you would never believe your eyes. It has a great mass-transit system, which is one of the things that my husband and I adore when traveling. The people are friendly. And the food...oh the food...let's just say I had trouble fitting into my jeans for the trip home.


Poutine: Cheese curd anyone? Might this offer be more tempting if I put the cheese curd on piping hot french fries and covered the whole shebang with brown gravy? Yah, I thought so. This strange yet oh so yummy dish is called Poutine. It's a local favorite in Montreal, and if you're in Montreal and you don't stop for a plate literally overflowing with Poutine, you're missing out big time. I know, the cheese curd part sounds like a turn off but it's not. Actually, if you're going to offer me a dish that's basically cheese fries, I would take real, honest to goodness cheese curd over radioactive orange fake cheese whiz any day of the week. It melts slightly on the fries and lends an ooey, gooey, texture to the dish. We had it au-natural. Just the bare bones Poutine with a side(or two) of ice cold beer. However, they do offer more Poutine variations than you can shake a stick at(and I mean it...we ate here: http://www.restolabanquise.com/index.php?langue=an and the menu says it all).

The Montreal bagel:
I grew up in central NJ. There were some ups and downs to growing up in New Jersey, but as far as I'm concerned, I would have put up with a lot more downs for the bagels alone. I adore bagels, and the corridor between Philly and New York is absolutely lined with some of the best bagel shops ever....yes, I said it...ever. There was a bagel shop called Kramer's in a town adjacent to mine. They stayed open all night on Saturdays. Yup. They baked straight through the night. Thank you Kramers. I would leave a bar around 1:30am or so and head over to Kramer's for a little "snack". You would walk into this place, already a bit hazy from your night out, and it was surreal. It was the only place open in the entire(pitch black by now) strip mall. This small, poorly lit shop was a beacon for the bar crowd...like moths to a flame we'd walk towards the light. Once inside, the all night skeleton crew of Kramer's was hard at work.....and listening to the most obscure Pink Floyd you've never heard. With bloodshot eyes the guy behind the counter would slather whatever bagel just came out of the oven with cream cheese and hand it over to me. I would sit there and enjoy that bagel into the wee hours of the morning. Just me, a few friends(quietly savoring their snack), the "Pink Floyd dude" and the sweet smell of bagels, wafting through the air. If this doesn't sound like heaven to you I can understand. But this place was an institution. My parent(pre-me) went there too.....after a bar, before Saturday Night Live, and enjoyed the same bagel joy I spoke about. So even now as I think back on it, it was wonderful....pure and simple.

How does this story tie in with Montreal(or anything at all) you might ask? Well, in Montreal, they believe they have the best bagels in the world. Ok. I'll let them think their bagels are the best. I think Kramer's are the best so we're already at an impasse. I can't effectively judge this so I'll just tell you a little about them....and I'll also tell you that my husband and I sat on a bench outside the shop(Fairmount Bagel http://www.fairmountbagel.com/eng/index.htm ) and ate about 8 of them....just tearing pieces off the bagel and dipping them in a tub of cream cheese....so yes, they were good. The Montreal bagel is much denser than NY style bagels, and noticeably sweeter. They get their sweetness from being boiled in honey spiked water, then they're finished off in a wood fired oven. They're also smaller and thinner, perhaps about the diameter of a pretzel. They're a whole other breed of bagel. Good...in a different way. So give them a shot while you're there. Like I said, we ate our share of them, so decide for yourself. BUT if you're say, from North Carolina, visiting Montreal, and have never had a bagel from the PA/NY/NJ section of the I-95 corridor please don't make your final "best bagel in the world" decision quite yet. Be sure to bite into a few more bagels first.

Au Pied De Cochon:
Women. Let's face it. We all have a fantasy man out there somewhere. No matter how much we love our husbands or boyfriends, we still can't help but look at the Brad Pitts of the world and drool a little. And we all have our "type". Some like athletes. Some like movies stars. I.....like funny guys and chefs. And looks don't play any part of this. They can look like the back end of a horse for all I care. So when chef Picard of the famed restaurant Au Pied De Cochon in Montreal, stopped me on the way out of his restaurant, tenderly grabbed my hand and said "merci beaucoup" I just about squealed like a 12 year old at a Jonas Brother's concert. I literally skipped down the alley behind the restaurant as my husband just giggled. Thanks for understanding Nick ;)
Au Pied De Cochon(which means "the foot of the pig") is probably one of my favorite restaurant concepts of all time. They take the meat we all really love. You know. The fatty, moist, delicious meat. And serve it to perfection. Looking for a salad? Don't go here. Looking for fancy presentation and a snobby wait staff? Don't go here. Looking for good meat and lots of it? Ok, YOU can go here. I loved this place. They offer dishes like "duck in a can". I'm pretty sure you don't need me to describe this, but I will. They take a duck. Stuff it in a can. Cook it. Then serve it to you. They don't waste energy on radish blossom garnishes here. Oh no. All of their energy is focused on making the best damn pork, duck, Foie Gras, etc. dishes this side of....well....I guess I'd say Makebelieve Land, because it seems too good to be true. Just now as I'm re-reading the menu online I noticed that for $4.75 you can get a side of fries......cooked in duck fat. Why didn't I get that when I was there? No worries. I'll just have to go back. While we were there we got the Foie Gras special(I always get the special...always) which was a big, hunk of Foie Gras, seared and set atop a nutty flavored flapjack of some sort then drenched in one of Canada's finest exports...maple syrup. It was good :) My husband won the prize this time around by ordering this cassoulet type dish. I think it might have been called "The Melting Pot" but they could have called it "Pig Anus Stew" and it would have still flown off the shelves. I can't believe that I didn't get a picture of it. I'm sorry folks...but breaking out a camera didn't even enter my mind...breaking out a bib, on the other hand, did. I can only assume that chef Picard came up with this recipe one drunken evening, perhaps after getting back home from a night out on the town. I picture him walking into his big, beautiful kitchen and opening the refrigerator looking for a late night snack. He saw leftover bood-sausage, pork belly, bits of fatty pork chop(and other lovely things), couldn't decide which he wanted, stuffed them all into a casserole dish, covered it with meat flavored sauce and baked it. This thing was superb. So please, pretty please, with a cherry on top...if you find yourself in Montreal, visit Au Pied De Cochon. You'll need a reservation(I'm talking a few weeks in advance), and you'll play hell finding it(it's housed in a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy, unassuming space, with about the smallest sign you've ever seen) but it's worth it. Here..... http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/ Start drooling now.

Go to Le Plateau-Mont Royal. It's a maze of quaint neighborhoods lined with bars, restaurants and shops. We spent a lot of time wandering around aimlessly, trying to look like locals. It's very charming and well known for it's duplexes and triplexes that house what seems like most of the Plateau's residents. They have distinctive exterior staircases that are apparently an architectural must-see. Honestly, we walked around for at least an hour looking for these suckers(pic left)....like suckers. When we finally realized that the houses we've been passing on every block were the houses we were supposed to be admiring we were anything but impressed. However, the neighborhood is lovely and the restaurants and bars will keep you busy(you can find Poutine AND Montreal Bagels on just about every block).

Ride the subway all day. It's a wonderful subway and it goes everywhere(and where it doesn't go...like the casino(always a must-see on my husband's list) on one of the islands...it drops you off at the bus that does in fact go there). So get a map, grab a tourist pass($9/day) and hop on and off when and where you like. AND if you're visiting in the winter there is a veritable underground society in the basement of the subway lined with shops and such. We were there during a warm spell, but I can imagine escaping the blistering cold by stepping into this underground sanctuary.

Go to Old Montreal. It's quaint, European-like cobblestone streets are charming. There are plenty of prix-fixe options at the restaurants there as well. Enjoy the architecture, do a bit of shopping and grab a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe. We stayed through the afternoon and into the evening and I think it might actually be more beautiful at night.

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