American chef, writer, and television personality, the late Anthony Bourdain traveled the world seeking out stories about food, and the cultures and people behind it. When it comes to Canada, Bourdain showed an affinity for one city in particular: Montreal.
Bourdain visited Montreal on three different television shows: No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. Each time, he proclaimed his love for the city, and the decadent foods and quirky personalities it’s known for.
We’ve put together a little Montreal food tour inspired by Bourdain’s travels to the city, including some choice quotes from the man himself taken from each of the episodes.
When you’re visiting a new city, you need to try the foods that make it famous, and you can bet Bourdain made the rounds of Montreal’s icons.
On both No Reservations and The Layover, Bourdain makes a pit stop at St. Viateur bagel, one of two renowned bagel shops (the other being Fairmount Bagel) that earns Montreal a spot atop the global bagel capitals alongside New York City. But, in the words of Bourdain, “the great debate, who has the better bagel, Montreal or New York City, is a completely ridiculous, apples and oranges discussion, because they’re very different creatures.”
As a New Yorker, you might guess where his allegiance lies, but he says Montreal bagels are crispier, sweeter, and “very, very good.” He’s also enjoyed a bagel topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion at breakfast staple Beauty’s Luncheonette — an amazing place to start any day in Montreal.
If you’re looking for lunch, no trip to Montreal would be complete without a stop at Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat. “You can’t not do this when you come to Montreal. There’s no way out. Gotta do it,” Bourdain said, before digging into a smoked meat sandwich, which is almost like a pastrami sandwich, but with a secret, local mixture of herbs and spices.
You’re on vacation, so you might as well let loose a bit, right? That’s where poutine comes in. This stereotypically Quebecois dish, made from fries, cheese curds and gravy, was enjoyed by Bourdain on a visit to La Banquise, a 24-hour joint with more than 30 varieties of poutine. What did he think of his glutinous, but definitely delicious meal? “You know you shouldn’t be doing it, but it feels so damn good,” Bourdain said.
In addition to the food, Bourdain seemed to be drawn to Montreal because of the chefs and personalities he has befriended there over the years. Sitting atop that list are Frédéric Morin and Dave McMillan of Joe Beef. Bourdain hangs out with the dynamic duo, who are legends for showing visiting chefs a good time, on both The Layover and Parts Unknown.
While much of their time together is spent laughing and drinking, Bourdain can’t help but enjoy the decadent food that has landed Joe Beef on so many best restaurant lists. The menu is “wonderful and unapologetically over the top at times,” he said, before diving right in, eating, among other things, the almost-famous double down. Inspired by the KFC dish of the same name, Joe Beef’s double down sandwich consists of bacon, cheddar cheese, chicken skin mayonnaise, and maple syrup in between two lobes of foie gras, earning from Bourdain a description as “an obscenity and a crime against God but it’s delicious.” Of course, you can also eat slightly less out there dishes, from incredible oysters to lamb, and steak to lobster spaghetti.
Bourdain was also close with Chef Martin Picard, who he dubbed “one of the most influential chefs in all of Canada.” At Picard’s restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon, Bourdain enjoyed foie gras in more variations than you could possibly imagine on No Reservations, but the restaurant is “a temple to all things fatty, porky, and duck related.” So go and indulge in some beef tartare, duck in a can, or a “happy pork chop.”
Rounding out the fine dining restaurants visited by Bourdain are Le Club Chasse et Pêche (translated to the hunting and fishing club) and renowned chef Normand Laprise’s Brasserie T!,. Both of these incredible spots to enjoy meat in all of its splendor. Sorry vegetarians, but don’t forget that this is a Bourdain-inspired tour.
Don’t just eat; drink
When chefs are done working, they tend to head out to enjoy a few drinks with the only people still up that late: Other chefs.
Bourdain took part in this tradition on several of his trips to Montreal. Unfortunately, most of these were enjoyed in less traditional locales, like an ice fishing shack (recommended) or the back of a pickup truck driving around the city (not recommended).
One bar, Dominion Square Tavern, does get a shoutout in No Reservations. This spot first opened in 1927, and it remains a throwback to the Roaring Twenties, complete with traditional decorations and classic cocktails. Grab a seat at the long bar and have a great time.
Montreal is full of great bars, so you won’t have trouble finding the perfect spot to perch yourself on a stool for a few hours. After quenching your thirst, you’ll probably want to soak up a few of those drinks with the help of Grumman 78’s awesome tacos. You’ll thank yourself in the moment, and in the morning.
Non-restaurant food stops
You might think the foodie buck stops with restaurants and bars, but that’s simply not the case.
For one, you can trace your meals back to the source. Montreal is home to a number of incredible markets, featuring a multitude of fresh produce, meats, and cheeses. Bourdain made a pit stop at the Jean-Talon Market to sample some of the goods, and also gave a shout out to the Fromagerie Atwater, which sells more than 850 varieties of cheese. “In Montreal, enlightenment about cheeses still reigns,” he explained in The Layover.
If you’re an aspiring chef, you might want to follow in Bourdain’s footsteps on a trip to Quincaillerie Dante, a specialty cooking supply store located in Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood. Or, for the casual foodie, there’s Appetite for Books, where you can find an extensive collection of cookbooks and food-focused literature — what better souvenir after an incredible eating adventure in an incredible city.
Can’t get enough of Montreal’s food scene? Check out our Foodie’s Guide to Montreal.