Last Saturday, my husband and I dropped our son off at my sister’s house in Lake George, NY so that we could savor a single kid-free night in Montreal while he enjoyed some cousinly mayhem. We haven’t yet taken any longer grown-up vacations, though we know plenty of people who enjoy week-long trips away from their two-year-olds. What can I say? We’re wimps.
But you’re not here to read about parenting. You’re here for the food. And we did have some incredible food.
There is much that I love about Montreal, but four things stand out:
1)It’s close enough to go for a weekend.
2)Using foreign currency makes it feel farther away.
3)People let me prattle on in broken high school French.
Montreal is home to four wonderful indoor/outdoor food markets: Jean-Talon, Atwater, Maisonneuve, and Lachine. I’ve only ever visited the first two, and I liked them so much that it seemed worthwhile to return once more. The others will have to wait for next time, hopefully soon.
Jean-Talon, located in the Petite Italie neighborhood northeast of Mont-Royal, was the first stop. By most accounts, this is the favored market in the city, more workaday and less touristy than Atwater, though stocked with an incredible array of cheeses, meats, charcuterie, vegetables, fruits, maple syrup (Canada produces about 80% of the world’s supply and most everyone was celebrating the arrival of this season’s sirop d’erable), Moroccan pastries, spices, olives, and ciders. I skipped over to an enormous apple display, hoping to find some exotic Canadian varieties but seeing only familiar Cortlands, Macs, and Empires. But I did have the best crepe of my life at La Creperie du Marche–a pile of cheese, egg, tomato, and caramelized onion on a fragrant buckwheat pancake, washed down with a cup of cider.
We had less time at Atwater (so much to see in just 24 hours!), but there were delicious cheeses and pates at Fromagerie Hamel. By the way, am I the only one who has noticed that with every successive visit, Montreal grows more exclusively French. Everyone is graciously willing to speak English if you ask, but the street signs, the shops…there’s a stronger sense of French identity, which makes the city even more appealing.
We admired the gorgeous Atwater produce displays (see the photos at the right), bought some more hard cider and ice cider at the government-controlled liquor store. And then we breezed through Premiere Moisson, which is like the Quebecois version of our Au Bon Pain or Panera, only so much better that it almost breaks your heart. And I say that as a relative fan of our own restaurant chains. Stop here, or at one of the other locations, for a light lunch or a pastry. The breads are beautiful, the jams and chocolates tempting, the pastries delicate. The (organic) flour is even produced by Moisson in partnership with a local milling company. And the l’erable festival was in full swing with maple tarts, maple muffins, maple cookies, and a croissant stuffed with maple cream.
It was so hard to leave, so lovely to come home.