Tuesday, April 10, 2012

eating meat in Montreal

old montreal. don't know why rob looks so angry.

"three hundred pounds of hongry
down to her house every Sunday
boil them taters and butter them buns
licking that grease right off the thumbs
three hundred pounds
tall as she round
and every pound of that body's so fine
i can hardly believe that it's mine.."

-Tony Joe White, "Three Hundred Pounds of Hongry"

On Wednesday morning, about 150 university students at Victoria Square in Montreal, and marched to the Eaton Centre in protest of the Quebec government's decision to increase tuition fees. According to news sources, when some demonstrators began throwing fire crackers at the police and vandalizing mall property, the police swooped in to declare the protest illegal and arrested over fifty students.

While this classic clash between political dissent and authority unfolded, I was about 800 metres away, getting fat. As much as I love freedom, I had gone to Montreal to indulge in the city`s dangerously delicious culinary scene.

Anthony Bourdain has a food show called the Layover. In his episode covering Montreal, he is the happiest that you will ever see him on TV. Every respected chef, my fiance included, knows that Montreal does food right. And after seven months in southern Africa, I was excited to get in on this.

(Don`t get me wrong. Despite what my vegetarian friends claim, Namibia has great food, including the best game steaks you`ll ever have, and juicy biltong that you just find in (or bring to) Canada. But most days, to save costs I just cooked for myself, and after a while, one gets really sick of one`s own cooking, especially since I lived mostly on vegetables and cheese...and biltong.)

The first place that Rob wants to hit up is Joe Beef, which features prominently on the Montreal episode of the Layover. This is exactly the kind of restaurants we like: less stuffy pretentious attitude, more genuinely good food. The servers wore jeans and hipster beards. The dinner music played was Hank Williams and other great country gods. The menu is scrawled in chalk above the bar. The menu, by the way, is as creative and fascinating to read as a novel:

we like that.

With such an amazing menu, it was hard to pick what we wanted for dinner. We knew what we were getting as appetizers though. Four beautiful words: foie gras double down.

yes. yes. yes.

Two pieces of chicken-fried foie gras sandwiching cheddar cheese and bacon, drowned in maple syrup. Forget KFC. There was literally no ingredient in that concoction that I did not like.

As my main course, I decided on the smoked meat duck. No, it's not smoked duck meat. It is a giant pile of duck breast, sprinkled with smoked meat.

holy Atkins

That was the entire meal. Yes, it was on a very thin bed of rye and garnished with pickles, but the entire meal was more or less a pile of savoury tender meat from two different animals. I couldn't have felt happier.

Rob had the monsieur-size steak, which was a monstrous size. This also made him happy.

all washed down with locally brewed beer. I love Montreal's microbreweries.

For dessert, our server did shots of yummy scotch with us. This is why I like this place. The restaurant was packed, a testament to its no-nonsense-just-good-meat reputation. We were lucky to get a table in the first place. And now, stumbling out of the restaurant feeling like we needed a wheelbarrow to push our tummies in, it was time to meet up with my girlfriends Kerianne and Genevieve in the trendy Mont-Royal Plateau area.

We went for tapas at Baracca, although realistically at this point, I was so full I didn't have much room for food. The place had a great ambience though, and I particularly enjoyed the sign on the patio outside which said something along the lines of:

BIENVENUE SUR LA TERRASSE (welcome to the patio)
Les R├Ęgles: (the rules)
NE PAS CHANTER (do not sing)
NE PAS RIRE (do not laugh)

The rules also forbade gathering in groups of more than five.

Still, it was a fun place nevertheless, and it was great to catch up with my girls.

The next morning, we finally had room for breakfast. I had been to Beauty's, and a number of other breakfast places in the Bagel District, so Kerianne suggested we go for breakfast at Le Gros Jambon in old Montreal. This was a cute, old timey diner that seemed unlikely in the oldest part of Montreal, only a few blocks away from where the Quebec student protests had started. The diner did not seem to be really open, although nobody stopped us from going in. The server behind the counter told us that they only served one thing for breakfast: fried egg and bacon sandwiches. That suited me fine, especially since I haven't eaten North American-style bacon in seven months.

We sat at the counter while we ate, which gave us a good view of the kitchen staff busily preparing onion rings and donuts for the day. It was a lovely breakfast, and a great way to conclude our quick zip trip to foodie Montreal. But not before we stopped by Fairmount Bagels and Schwartz's to bring home bagels and smoked meat, of course. It may be cliche and touristy, but it still remains a Montreal-must.

rob trying to make his way through chinatown