The day after our lengthy #pastryparkpubpoutinecrawl, we went on a food tour. Yes, we know that’s basically just another crawl with a slightly more refined name, but this time we had an expert leading the charge.
Ronald of Montreal Food Tours met up with us in the afternoon and took us around St. Henri, a traditionally working-class neighbourhood located in the southeast. It has some of the city’s most affordable housing and is therefore still quite diverse, though all that may change as the area becomes more popular. For now, at least, it maintains a pleasing level of quirk.
There are tidy homes, boarded up theatres, abandoned warehouses, artsy shops, old factories, trendy cafes, and new restaurants. The neighbourhood’s history dates back to the 17th century, when the leather tanning industry setup along the Lachine Canal. By the early 20th century, a community of immigrants and labourers had settled there, however the Depression took its toll and the canal closed in 1959.
With an influx of people seeking a lower cost of living, only now is St. Henri experiencing a sort of revitalization. Of course, some people are happy about that, and some people are not. It’s a common urban story across the continent.
We began our neighbourhood walk with a visit to Leche Desserts, a bakery dedicated to donuts (hurrah!).
Owner and pastry chef Josie Weitzenbauer (who’s only 30) makes dozens of yeast-style donuts each day, offering them in a range of flavours including white chocolate mousse (the most popular), pistachio cream, peanut butter & jelly, Mexican hot chocolate, and miso sesame. Our favourite was the maple syrup glazed - simple, classic, and Canadian.
Next up was Rustique Pie Kitchen. When we visited their shop, the power was temporarily out, and while that may have been a pain for them, it could not have been more enjoyable for us.
The bakery was calm and absolutely quiet, with natural light coming in through the windows and illuminating the treats.
When Ronald swept his hand towards the counter and said, “Have whatever you like,” I realized I was living my childhood dream. I was standing in a perfect bakery full of endlessly perfect treats, and someone was telling me to have whatever I wanted. I nearly passed out.
Instead, I ate. We tried a white chocolate coconut mousse tart in a chocolate crust, a piece of blueberry pie, and a peanut butter chocolate ‘wunderbar.’ They were all wicked.
We followed this second round of sweets with coffee at Café St. Henri, a roastery and coffee bar with church pews for seating.
I drank my second (gasp!) coffee of the trip, and Dana bought a bag of beans to take back for her roomies. It’s definitely a café to spend an hour or two in.
A few doors down was Sumac, a casual, modern Lebanese joint.
For just $10, we split a huge vegetarian platter with falafel, quinoa salad spiked with barberries, spicy carrot salad, zaatar-dusted pita, pickled turnip, and a big dollop of hummus. It was so good, we were begging the owner to open a shop in Vancouver. Apparently, he’d received the same request from some Berliners earlier that day.
Sumac – WE ARE OBSESSED WITH YOU. Don’t go to Berlin – Vancouver wants you more!
We headed further east down Rue Notre-Dame, with its signage reading like a who’s who of Montreal food, old and new. There’s Tuck Shop (to the west), Satay Brothers (though technically they do not have a sign, it’s that hip), Restaurant EVOO, Green Spot, Toi Moi Café, Liverpool House, Joe Beef, Pub Burgundy Lion, and Patrice Patissier, where we finished off with Dessert: Round 3.
The patisserie was opened by pastry chef Patrice Demers; he is young, and he has a talent that is overwhelming.
He owns the patisserie, has two cookbooks, and runs cooking classes out of the shop.
Within a few minutes we were seated at a table covered in pastries, and after exclaiming “However can we eat this all!?” we proceeded to eat it all.
Well, almost. We were full, but it was so startlingly good that we just kept eating. Chef Demers has thought of every last way to make the eating experience an extraordinary one; the textures, flavours, and colours were combined in a way that almost felt miraculous. And no, I have never used the word “miraculous” to describe pastry before. But you know what? It’s deserved.
We ate a choux à la crème (filled with chocolate cream, crunchy wafer, and caramelized bananas),
a kouign amann (we went with the classic, but he has several varieties),
a cannelé (which, he says, are so labour intensive they’re probably not worth making, but they do anyways simply because he loves them),
a vanilla bean mousse and apple tart,
and one of his desserts called “The Green.” This, we truly lost our minds over. It was made up of layers of chopped green apple, olive oil, white chocolate yogurt cream, pistachios, fresh apple and lemon granita, and micro cilantro.
I don’t know how you ever arrived at that combo, Chef Demers, but we ate the entire bowl, decided we could easily eat it every day until the end of time, and are a little bummed out we don't get to.
After we’d plumped ourselves up and purchased some salted caramel sauce to go, Patrice said goodbye with two brown bags filled with “breakfast for tomorrow.” The next day, we opened them on the plane and discovered maple financiers - small French cakes made with ground almonds and flour. He’d substituted buckwheat for the flour, and the result was a sweet, almost ‘toasted’ tasting cake with a crunchy exterior and dense, maple-soaked crumb. It was a truly delectable way to say goodbye to Montreal, a city that fed us so well.