MONTREAL — Sure, you can see a city by bus or on foot; but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about sailing down cobblestone streets, belly full of fois gras and poutine, the cool wind off the St. Lawrence River tousling your hair.
Montreal is a city that strikes that delicate balance between the indulgence of eating and the benefits of a healthy body, and you simply cannot visit what many call the Paris of North America without taking advantage of both elements.
Grab a bike
Montreal’s Bixi bike share program is Canada’s largest, and makes navigating this foodie hub’s myriad restaurants, bars, and markets a breeze. In a city known as one of the world’s bike-friendliest, you can hop on one at virtually any point, and find stops online (montreal
.bixi.com) or with the Bixi iPhone app. Bikes cost $7 for 24 hours, and can be dropped off (for when you need both hands to shove delicious food into your mouth) and picked up again at any of the city’s stops. We take you through a typical day of stops along a bike route.
For 70 years, Montrealers have been starting their mornings at Beautys Luncheonette. Most days, 90-year-old Hymie Sckolnick, who bought the corner luncheonette with his fiancee, Freda, in 1942, still greets patrons at the door. For the truest taste of the city, get the Beautys special: cream cheese, fresh smoked salmon, tomato, and onion on a St. Viateur’s bagel. The mishmash, eggs scrambled with salami, green pepper and fried onions, is another classic choice. Beautys Luncheonette, 93 Mont-Royal Ave. West, 514-849-8883, www.beautys.ca
If you’re looking to bike off that hearty breakfast, head up the street to Mount Royal, Montreal’s mountainous version of Central Park (which were both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted).
While away the morning with a Fair Trade coffee or tea from Santropol Cafe, one of Montreal’s most beloved cafes. Started by a tenant of the old brick buildings on St. Urbain to keep his apartment from being demolished, Santropol has become a thriving gallery and restaurant that is a cozy, inviting respite from a long bike ride or a winter storm. Santropol Cafe, 3990 St. Urbain St., 514-849-8883, www.santropol.com
Lunch, Part 1
Poutine, the uniquely Quebecois mess of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds, is a must in Montreal. Among the best (and most affordable) spots to dig into the local dish is Patati Patata, a teeny-tiny burger-and-fries joint that will throw you right in the mix with locals. Keeping with the teeny-tiny theme, burgers are slider-sized and make a great addition to a heaping plate of poutine. Be sure to bring cash, and watch where you put your elbows. Patati Patata, 4177 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, 514-844-0216.
Lunch, Part 2
In a city with so many signature dishes, you may have to double up on the courses. Schwartz’s may single-handedly be the reason that Montreal smoked meat (known as corned beef or pastrami in some stubbornly US circles) has achieved such fame. The seasoning-crusted, thickly sliced beef is perfect with mustard on rye. Pickles and karnatzel (spicy sausages with lots of garlic and spices) are great snacks — and perfect for eating on the go later. Schwartz’s, 3895 St-Laurent, 514-842-4813, www.schwartzs
Chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon devotes a full section of his menu to fois gras and another to pork, making him one of Quebec diners’ darlings. Book a reservation a few weeks in advance, because Picard’s flagship restaurant in Old Montreal should have a velvet rope out front. It is that hard to get in, and worth it once you do. Au Pied de Cochon, 536 Ave. Duluth Est, 514-281-1114, www.restaurantaupiedde
Montreal loves its bars, and La Distillerie, a tucked-away spot in the city’s Latin Quarter, draws a line of discerning drinkers even on a Tuesday night. The bar’s charming, French-speaking bartenders have buckets full of showmanship, and use high-quality fruits, herbs, and liquors to concoct potions served in giant mason jars. Half sizes are available for the faint of heart, but they’re seriously discouraged. La Distillerie, 300 Rue
Ontario Est, 514-288-7915, www.pubdistillerie.com
Don’t leave the city without some culinary gifts for those back home (or for your own kitchen). Atwater Market is a treasure trove of maple syrup treats, desserts, meats, and cheeses, many unpasteurized in true French style. Stock up as much as you can carry on your bike, or park your Bixi and take your haul in a cab. Atwater Market, 138 Atwater Ave., 514-937-7754, www.marchespublics-mtl
Talia Ralph can be reached at