Here’s the problem: too many of us still equate Old Montreal with horses and buggies, cobblestones, cargo ships, the Notre-Dame Basilica (where a certain CÃ©line Dion got married), kitschy souvenir shops and running shoe-wearing, camera-happy tourists. Yet in doing so, we’re failing to see the mini-renaissance our historic city centre has undergone in the last decade. Hipster restaurants and bars have seamlessly integrated themselves amidst the churches, museums and old-school crÃªperies, and succeeded in getting their designer clad clientÃ¨le to brave the cobblestone pathways to get to them. Meanwhile, boutique hotels, modern lofts and apartments are appearing on every corner, with young professionals and artsy types following their lead. Whether you venture down here at night or during the day, for gallery-hopping, window-shopping or simply to enjoy the scenery &- you’re bound to get hungry, and that’s where I come in. But allow me to warn you and mention that Old Montreal eateries tend to be a notch pricier, since trendiness aside, it remains a popular tourist destination.
Le Steak Frites
12 St-Paul St. West, 514 842-0972, major cards accepted.
How fitting to eat the ubiquitous French steak frites combo in the trÃ¨s franÃ§ais Vieux MontrÃ©al. Despite there being a few Le Steak Frites restaurants scattered around town, the St-Paul location is the original, and many say the best one, too. Unlike most BYOB eateries I’ve frequented, the atmosphere here is not that of a conveyor belt of diners being hurried along by money-hungry employees and a lineup of people shooting you death glances. Le Steak Frites ranks a couple points higher on the upscale chart, coming short of entering pretentious territory. After all, they are renowned for their perfectly crunchy all-you-can eat fries. In terms of meaty main courses, patrons have a choice of two sizes of the classic Le Steak Frites flank steak, filet mignon and confit de canard, as well as a rack of lamb. Otherwise there’s a salmon filet, which my salmon-loving friend enjoyed, and surf and turf. Vegetarians: do not come here. As an appetizer, I sampled the escargots, which were some of the best I’ve had thanks to ooey gooey cheese and amazing garlic butter. For my main, I stuck with the classic flank steak prepared medium. I’ll admit, I’ve eaten better, but given its cost ($17), and the fact I was drinking my own wine, and inhaling french fries &- it was certainly up to par. I do have a bone to pick regarding the sad-looking salad that’s included with every main course. If you can’t manage to cut the massive lump of lettuce, and evenly disperse the vinaigrette, at least try to resuscitate it with a tomato or cucumber. Albeit, attentive service and complementary warm bread did make up for it.
Mains: $15-32 (plus tax).
649 Wellington St, 514-759-1159, major cards accepted.
Located right off bustling McGill St., and nestled in between industrial spaces, and swanky redbrick lofts with steal accents &- Soupesoup’s unpretentious sign is easy to miss. Yet judging by the lunchtime line-up, the spot has quite the reputation with Old Montreal suits and visitors alike. Reflecting the ambiance of the neighbouring lofts, Soupesoup is a massive airy space boasting floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed industrial pipes, and communal tables that are all the rage lately. Now, onto the food: who doesn’t crave piping hot soup come subzero temperatures? It’s comfort food fast, and without the pending danger of a heart attack. The menu changes daily and is limited to several different soups, sandwiches, one salad and a couple desserts. I ordered the Mexican soup with black beans, chicken, coriander, chipotle and cresson. It was spicy but not scorching, hearty but not heavy, and there were real slices of chicken &- not floating slivers. With it I enjoyed half a curry tuna sandwich. The dried raisins balanced the spiciness, while the celery and peppers added a nice crunch. I swear from now on, I’m putting curry on everything. Conversely, the beet and beef soup was too sweet for my taste. And maybe it’s an Old Montreal particularity, but if you come here past 2:30 p.m. (they close at 4 p.m.), chances are they’ll be out of most menu items. A bonus is the take-out counter if you’re in a rush, although the service is notably quick and efficient.
Soup: $5.75, mains: $4.95-6.50, combos: $9.30-13.95.
Olive et Gourmando
351 St-Paul St. West, 514-350-1083, major cards accepted.
Rather than saving the best for last, I’m going to just come right out and say it: most amazing brownie EVER. Part bakery, part brunch/lunch spot &- Olive et Gourmando impressed me the instant I walked in the door. The rusticity and antique allure of Ste- Paul St. continues inside courtesy of wooden tables and counter-tops, a chandelier outfitted from branches, scattered acorns, bright red walls and the aroma of fresh bread. I’ve always been of the view that sometimes the least visually appealing restaurants can house the best food, but in the same breath &- I’m a sucker for spots that the don’t let decorating details slide by the wayside. For example, I love how the glass water bottle reads “Eau de MontrÃ©al, FiltrÃ©e, Gratuite.” Has a nicer ring to it than tap water, n’est-ce pas? Also, following an exam diet consisting of turkey sandwiches and granola bars, it was a welcome change to order a warm goat cheese sandwich with caramelized onions and homemade ketchup with a side of tomato chipotle soup. It didn’t disappoint in the least. I would’ve also loved to try the Cajun chicken sandwich composed of guacamole, tomatoes, spicy mango and Cajun sauce, however, by the time I crawled out of bed and arrived at 2:30 p.m. &- there was hardly anything left on the menu. Two points deducted right there. I guess goat cheese wasn’t too popular that day, because my friend ordered a goat cheese salad served with red and yellow beets, mixed greens and toasted pecans. It looked like art and oozed freshness and flavour. My advice: come early, and don’t make the same mistake I did and buy only one brownie &- stock up!
Mains: $8.95-14, pastries: $2.25-3.75 (plus tax).