Tag Archives: Montreal

Le Petit Alep

191 Jean-Talon Street East in Montreal – walk West towards St-Laurent from the Jean-Talon metro station.
Open Tue-Sat for lunch and dinner.

2013: Le Petit Alep Official Website is now online with details and the whole menu.

Great food and excellent ambiance.

Syrian/Armenian food.
Filet-mignon with a special spicy sauce – Chiche Kebab Terbialy. Absolutely the best, this is always a safe choice.
Pureed eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon – Métabal.
Chicken in tahini – Poulet Trator.
Grilled Pita sandwich – Pitas grillés poulet. Chicken, mayo, garlic, with a nice kick – hint of spicy red-pepper?

The terbialy sauce is a nice, medium-to-hot spicy sauce,
and it makes the difference, best on the beef kababs (medium-rare), but also available with shrimp.

And then there are the weekday daily lunch specials with great soups — just remember to get there during lunch Tuesday through Friday.
Kebbe Labanie (Kibbe Lebanese) – large meatballs in yogurt, garlic, mint sauce.
As they describe it: “boulettes de bœuf, blé concassé, noix, souce yogourt, ail, menthe”.
Filet de sole Amandine
Soupe Harira – tomatoes, beef, fennel, cardamom – nice spicy soup.

Their fries, if you choose to order french fries, are amazing too – nice crunch on the outside, and soft on the inside. It is served with mayo which I presume is how they eat this in Montreal but ketchup is available too, just have to ask for it.

Ayran is my drink of choice, buttermilk with salt – “yogourt, eau, sel”. I am not a coffee drinker, most everyone here seems to order the espresso coffee variants, so that is probably very good too.
Wine and liquor is available – wine can be ordered by the glass, half-bottle, or full bottle.

Prices in the cafe are a bargain – $6-$17 dishes (as of 2017), and perfect size servings for one person.

Water is served on arrival – can’t say enough good things about that! So many restaurants are asking us to pay for water now, it is great when you are are greeted with a filled glass of water. They have a twist to this – they will keep a fancy water bottle filled with water on your table. So, no need to keep asking for water when dining on the terbialy-flavored dishes.

For dessert, try the Atayef – petite crépe farce aux noix ou à la crème.

After eating, ask for the check, and the regulars usually then take the check to the bar, to pay it. Like a French cafe, the assumption is that diners can hang out as long as they want, but for those in a hurry, remember, you have to take action to move things along.

This is the one of my regular places for dining, there have been times I’ve been to Montreal and eaten only at two places – Schwartz’s and at Le Petit Alep!

Le Petit Alep is the younger, hipper sibling to the dinner-only Alep Restaurant right next door. Alep has a much larger menu, and the tables get the white table-cloth treatment. It has larger servings, big enough to share, and prices are $15-$25 for the main dishes. Feel free to ask for the dining area menu even if you are in the cafe, you can read the english translations, as well as find something else you may prefer – the main dining menu is 15 pages long, all items can be ordered in the cafe.

Le Petit Alep is open from 11AM to 11PM and the Alep Restaurant is open from 5PM to 10PM. Both are open Tuesday through Saturday, and closed every Sunday and Monday. They may also be closed twice a year for a two week or so stretch, so for your first visit, be sure to call before you go.

Great food and excellent ambiance.

[2007] Alep and Le Petit Alep are run by the Frangié family – the women of the family now run this place. The main Alep Restaurant was opened in 1976 by the elder Mr Frangié who ran it for long time with his wife. They opened up Le Petit Alep in 1995. His wife Jacqueline and their two daughters Chahla and Tania now keep the place running. Jacqueline and Chahla take care of the kitchen and create the excellent food, while Tania manages the tables in the dining areas.

[2008] The place has expanded, the interior is double the size, still gets full at lunch hour too. The new space has an entire wall used for displaying the wines available.

[Updated: 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2017]

Boustan

As their website says: Montreal’s Best Middle‑Eastern Fast Food: Served up with a smile!
And they are right.

Example choices:
Chicken Shawarma (Shish Taouk) – grilled chicken, all-dressed is wonderful. The whole sandwich is grilled, which gives the pita a nice crusty texture.
If you feel like rice and potatoes added, go for the Chicken Plate.
Or the Creation – the Ultimate Pita, which contains eggplant and potatoes along with the standard fillings.

They have multiple locations, the two downtown are 2020A (Basement) Crescent St (corner of Maisonneuve) and 19 Ste-Catherine E (corner of St Laurent).

More pictures and full menu are at their website.

Montreal has many places with good shawarma, one in nearly every city block, yet another point in favor of what makes this city fun to visit.
Most of these places are open very late, until 4AM on weekends.

Grillade Farhat

Grillade Farhat – Sandwiches are the best choice, available with brochette of merguez (spicy sausage), chicken, kafta (spiced ground beef on skewers), brochette de boeuf (beef pieces), foie d’agneau (lamb liver).

Order the sandwiches tout-garni – all-dressed. They are fantastic with the harrisa (chilli paste), aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and tomatoes, onions, etc. The key to the taste here is that all the meat skewers are grilled after an order is placed which does mean a 15-20 minute wait. For repeat visits, power tip: call ahead with your order so it is ready by the time you arrive.

For a final touch, they will also grill the whole baguette sandwich after it has been stuffed giving the bread a nice crispy texture.

All the grilling is done over charcoal (grillades au charbon). The baguette sandwiches are around 9 inches, easy to eat one, two if one is hungry. This place has a few tables, but don’t look for decor here. The merguez, chicken, kafta sandwiches are best, the grilled beef meat is avoidable – tough and too much gristle.

Sandwiches are an incredible price – CAD$6 or so [2016]. Plates can also be ordered – with one, two or more brochettes, for around CAD$4 per brochette. Plates come with sides of harissa, aioli, hummus, along with a salad and pita. But the grilled sandwiches are much better, the grilled bread makes all the difference.

[2016 Note: They recently relocated, the old address was 5595B Côte-des-Neiges, 514-738-4999, (three blocks west of Côte-des-Neiges metro). All the web information, include Google results, have the wrong address. Use the new address above!]

Old Farhat location and pictures:

New Year’s Eve Montreal

2016-12-31 New Year’s Eve at the Village Mammouth, Montreal Olympic Stadium.

DJ, Music, Skating Rink, Food Truck, Beer, Rum.

Much better than Old Montreal since the Stadium is much easier to get to using the Metro, just off Pie-IX metro station.

And while it was cold, they had a number of heated areas that provided the hand-warming when needed.
Not to mention the no-lines at the port-a-potty cabins!

Kids to adults, all can have fun. Highly recommended over the crowded and inaccessible (but more popular) Old Montreal spots.

Video: https://goo.gl/photos/g6xEsnJbd3CVzxATA

Getting Around

Montreal has an excellent métro (subway) and bus system. Visit the STM site – Tariffs for details on tickets.
2016: Credit cards from the US now seem to be accepted at the Metro ATM vending machines.
Before this the Metro would only accept Canadian credit cards.

For three consecutive days, the 3-day pass is good deal. For tourists visiting for a week and starting on Monday, the CAM hebdo – a weekly commuter pass is a good deal. Other useful passes including a evening pass starting at 6PM and a Fri-Sun weekend pass.

On the tickets subway to bus transfer or vice-versa is free to continue a journey, remember to hold on to your ticket for the entire ride. More details on the Metro at the STM Metro and Bus official web site.

2016: Slowly rolling out the new AZUR Metro Cars! They are great! Here’s a video on YouTube with pictures and video of both the old and new metro cars.

Bixi Bicycle is a great option if you have a working smart phone with data plan in Montreal. T-Mobile or Google Project Fi is a good choice for US residents. Bixi is only available in the non-winter seasons, though. The reason you need a smartphone is to get a quick map of all the Bixi stations around your location when you need to return a bike.
Be sure to read the How it works section on the Bixi page carefully, especially the part about how to return the bike. The bike has to be firmly inserted into the dock, and it may fail sometimes and the led light turns red. Do not leave – remove the bike and insert it again until the led is green! If this fails, note down the number at the Bixi web site and call, otherwise you will be responsible for a lost bike.
While buying a daily pass each day would be fine the advantage of buying the 3-day pass is that you will be charged the hold on your credit card for the bike deposit only once. The 30 day subscription is a great deal for 6+ days of Bixi use, but it seems tourists may not be able to use it since it comes with a Bixi key but that can only be mailed to a Canadian address. May be worth a call to Bixi to explore alternatives for those vacationing for more than a week in Montreal.
Bixi is great deal now that the daily pass price has been reduced to $5 and there are far more Bixi stations than previously available. Google Maps also now works pretty well and tries to show directions using streets with bike paths, which is very useful in the crazy-car-drivers world of Montreal.
Biking on most of the East-West roads will encounter flat roads, while most of the North-South travel will run into inclined streets, especially around south of Sherbrooke to north of Mont Royal. Ave du Parc is one tough bike ride.

And finally – remember to bring your helmet!

Parking is a major hassle on the streets downtown, and parking lots are very expensive. Moreover, driving downtown is just no fun, especially along Ste-Catherine (always avoid), or the lower part of St-Laurent. Avoid driving as much as possible. For any street parking, be sure to learn enough French – names of the days of a week at least – to navigate the multiple signs that apply to street parking. Paying for parking since 2010 is nice and easy now that they accept credit cards. The street pay parking stations accept US credit cards.

East-West street addresses in Montreal will have an East (Est) or West (Ouest) designation. The street that separates East from West is boulevard St-Laurent, also known as the Main. This is very important because looking for 4400 Jean-Talon without knowing if that means East or West of St-Laurent would mean a lot of time spent in searching to find the right place!

Poutine

A dish unique to Quebec. BBC article: How the Quebecois came to love poutine.

Fries, Gravy, and fresh Cheddar Cheese Curds (fromage en grains) make poutine! An exclamation point seems necessary for this dish.

The process of making cheese from milk goes through a step that results in curds. These are small chunks of solid cheese that are not yet pressed into molds for the final aging process. Fresh cheese curds only last a day or two, therefore are only available in places where a lot of cheese is manufactured. Cheddar cheese curds are available widely in Montreal, and it is the key ingredient of poutine. Fresh cheese curds are easy to recognize – they will make a squeaking sound when you eat them.

From fast food joints to celebrated chefs, there is no shortage of places to get poutine in Montreal. Montreal Poutine has good information on all poutine places in that city.

Poutine fries should at least start crispy, and have sufficient amount of gravy to smother the fries.
The run-down looking Poutine Lafleur has pretty good poutine. This is the standalone place on Rue Wellington and not the chain of the same name. Maamm Bolduc was not as good – not enough gravy or cheese – but many consider it one of the best, so worth checking out. Many places that claim to be famous, or are very old diners that should probably have good poutine, do not. French fries may be limp and not crisp, sauce may be tasteless, and they dish may not be warm enough. So for a short visit, just try the known-to-be-good places, do not experiment.
La Cantine, closed in 2012. This bistro on Mont Royal had excellent poutine, in very nice surroundings. The fries stay nice and crispy to the last bite. There is a photo provided below, which now serves as a memory only!

Surprisingly, some fast food joints have good poutine too – such as La Belle Province (the Ste Catherine @ St Laurent location). And Frite Alors! has amazing fries, and good poutine too.

2013: Schwartz’s has gotten onto the poutine act with Schwartz’s Poutine. It is essentially fine as a novelty item, but the basic poutine elsewhere, and the smoked-meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s, are both best eaten without anything else added to either dish.

Schwartz’s

Is this one of the best foods in the world, or what!
Schwartz’s Jewish Deli on Boul St-Laurent and its smoked meat!

As I write this paragraph sitting in Boston, I am reminded of the taste of those excellent smoked meat sandwiches — tender, succulent meat that falls apart easily with the touch of a fork, the exquisite mild pepper spices… accompanied by a black cherry soda or hot tea, it is truly an unique experience! Take a seat at the bar-stool at the deli counter, and enjoy the food amidst the hustle and bustle. The interior of Schwartz’s is kind-of run-down, but that, with the extremely busy waiters, and the tables where you will find yourself doubled up with strangers because space is so tight, is what creates the unique atmosphere of enjoying smoked meat at Schwartz’s.

The protocol: order a medium (sandwich is understood), black cherry, pickle, and french fries. My exact order is a medium, hot water + tea bag, and a pickle (no fries).

The medium is a medium-fat sandwich. Lean is available, but what is the point? Fatty is available, but if you eat here 3-4 times a week, that would be foolhardy. They also have plates, with bread served on the side, but the sandwich is better with the meat warming up the bread, which tastes nicer.
Most people drink the Black Cherry Soda with it. But black tea without sugar or milk is definitely healthier (not that anyone comes here to eat healthy food!).
And easier to ask for hot-water and a tea-bag, since asking for just tea seems to cause the staff to be somewhat surprised.

Some guidebooks will mention that the waitstaff is curt, even rude. Not true in general, but there are some who do fit this description. One guy in particular, has been working here for decades, always refuses to serve hot, black tea, his response is – what is this, a hospital? ☺ Black hot tea actually goes very well with smoked meat, especially on cold winter nights. I continue to ask the guy for hot tea, and for years now, he has always refused to serve this item that is on their menu! [2008: I believe his name was Peter, and seems like he is now retired.]

In the sandwich picture, the slices that look whole will taste very tender, given the fat with it.
The broken-down crumbs are the lean variety, and there is an abundant amount of black pepper spices seen on the meat. So each bite can be medium, lean, spicy, just as you like it. And wash it down with the Black Cherry Soda, or black tea works well too.

It is this combination of hand-sliced meat, meat that fall apart easily, and the small slivers of lean meat, and the special spices that make the Schwartz’s experience so different from other smoked meat places which seem to have a more orderly, sameness in consistency all across, and spices not as good – Schwartz’s beats them all in taste and experience. The color is the first indicator – smoked meat that is pink or light red – and not dark red – never tastes as good as the dark red smoked meat.

Those with a larger appetite can order the small plate, which is equal to 2-3 sandwiches. There is also a large plate, but that is probably best when shared with multiple diners.

There is a marked difference between the smoked meat at Schwartz’s and other places in Montreal. Ben’s is the other place that is mentioned a lot, but it closed down in 2007. Lester’s at 1057 Bernard West, Snowdon at 5265 Decarie, The Main at 3864 St-Laurent, Reuben’s at 1116 Ste-Catherine, and Dunn’s at 1249 Metcalfe are other contenders. They have good smoked meat, but Schwartz’s is just much tastier. The difference is that Schwartz’s is spicier, and it has more interesting taste and texture. The marbling, the fat, is visible in Schwartz’s sandwiches, and they are a dark red color. Other places have meat that is more of a pink color, and the consistency of meat is too uniform. Of course, some people may like it, but if you like spicy meat, and looking for fantastic texture in the meat, stick to Schwartz’s. In a pinch, if cannot get to Schwartz’s, I will go to Dunn’s which has a very convenient downtown location just off Ste-Catherine, and their smoked meat is pretty decent, nice red color but it has a very uniform texture, lacking the character of the Schwartz’s variety, but sometimes and for some people certainly, that may be a good thing.

[2004-2008] I used to pack up a pound of the smoked meat for taking back to Boston, but since 2004 US customs no longer allows even cooked meat to be transported back into the USofA, sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.
[2009] Meat import selectively lifted. Visit the US Customs Know Before You Go page for current information. Note: the customs officers at the roadway entry areas and the US pre-clearance at Montreal airport may apply different rules than the customs officers in US proper. So be warned that this whole thing is quite a mess…
As for Cott’s Black Cherry Soda (probably an off-brand, generic brand soda), I initially could not find it in any grocery store in Montreal, it but finally discovered that most Dollarama stores sell Cott’s Black Cherry Soda – 3 cans for $1 in 2004. [Same price in 2009 too!] [2013]: So many years have gone by, but still a thrill to visit Montreal and eat this sandwich.
[2016]: Dollarama is no longer offering Cott’s. Dollarama seems to be moving upscale with $2 and $4 items now, so maybe they decided they could not use up space with 3 for $1 items. ☹

Sampling of the price of the sandwich in CA$ – an inflation indicator!
September 2006: $4.55
November 2007: $4.95
February 2012: $6.15
July 2013: $6.65
July 2014: $7.75
November 2014: $8.70
February 2015: $9.35, so more than doubled in 8.5 years. 9% annual rate of increase, higher than inflation which was 0.5% to 3% over this same period.
May 2016: $9.60

BIXI Montreal Key and Dock

How to use the BIXI Montréal system with a subscription key.

The key is shown on the left top of the picture.

Insert the key into the key slot. The LED indicators will start blinking orange and then turn green on a successful unlock and then the bike can be removed from the dock.

Be sure to remember to take the key with you! It is very easy to forget it, and that could turn out to be a very expensive $1000+ mistake if someone uses the key to “permanently borrow” a bike

If the LED indicators turn red instead, as happened to me a many times, just remove the key from that dock and try another one.

And on returning the bike make sure the LED turns green before you leave the dock.

The BIXI smartphone app is also an essential tool, so set that up beforehand. It shows a map with available docks and bikes on a map and can also be used to keep track of all your trips in real-time so can be used to check the start time of the current bike rental.

BIXI

Visiting Montreal between Spring and Fall means it is BIXI bike season!

While the BIXI web site does not make it clear, it is possible for US residents to sign up for a BIXI subscription.
30-day membership is CA$30 for the 2016 season and it is worth it even if you are just visiting for at least 7 days in a 30-day period. These subscriptions also offer 45 minute rides instead of the normal 30 minute rides.

Sign up for the subscription a couple of days before your arrival. The sign up page will ask for a Canadian address. Use your hotel address. You’ll receive an email confirming subscription and if the email says that they are going to mail the BIXI key to the address, then call the BIXI customer service center and tell them not to send the key and that you’ll pick up the key personally.

You can pick up the key from a handful of main STM Metro Stations during normal working hours. Berri-UQAM is one of the stations that is also open on the weekend.

Once you have the key, call up customer service and they will attach the key to your account and activate it.

BIXI key instructions has a picture and instructions on using the key – ready to ride!

Be sure to read the FAQ and the Instructions at the BIXI web site. Any mistake can end up with $1000+ charge on your credit card. Be sure to check that the LED indicator turns green after you return and dock a bike.

Disclaimer: The above instructions worked for me in 2016. Be sure to read up all the BIXI rules on their website and also call up the customer service center for any additional information.

In addition to the key, it is quite critical to have a smartphone with a data plan since the BIXI phone app is critical to have. Many times you’ll find docks full or no bikes at docks so having an app to quickly see all nearby BIXI stations with available bikes or free docks on a map is essential.
The BIXI app also allows you to rent a bike without the key. It has an button on the app to generate a code which can be used to unlock a bike.

Avesta

This Turkish restaurant has a unique window display of the cooks making lavash – basically huge chappatis/tortillas.

The appetizers – Mezze platters – are good enough for a meal, many choices to pick from, and come with a freshly made lavash bread. The appetizers include Baba Ghannouj – charbroiled eggplant puree with pomegranate paste and roasted vegetables, Hummus – chickpeas puree with tahini, lemon, garlic, olive oil, Muhammara d’Alep – pomegranate paste with mixture of walnuts, pine nuts, pepper.

The borek – Turkish feuillette – is excellent. These are flaky phyllo dough pastries filled with feta and spinach or beef and potatoes along with a splash of hot spice – really good. The spinach and feta borek is a great accompaniment to main dishes like Manti, or to a sampling of the mezzes. With a main dish, you can request an half-order of borek so you have chance of finishing it all. 2015 update: They heard me! Now the borek is half-size – a single large square instead of two, so it is now the perfect accompaniment to Manti. 2015 Manti and Borek picture.

Manti is listed in the specials section – small meat filled dumplings in a thin yogurt sauce with mint, and melted pepper butter paste on the top. Looks nice, and tastes great. It does take 20-30 minutes to prepare this but the wait is all worth it. 2015 update: Looks like they redid the whole menu, and also tweaked the recipes a bit. They are better prepared to make Manti and now takes just 10 minutes or so. And it is no longer a mix of hot dumplings and cold yogurt – the yogurt now seems to be room temperature. Still the best Manti around. Even NYC does not have this good a version.

Gozleme – two lavash breads with feta and spinach sounded good – but this was a bit too dry and lean – not enough feta or spinach in it. This would work well when taken along with the appetizers. The borek is much better in that it is more balanced in having sufficient quantity of fillings and is not dry like the gozleme.

The main dishes are listed as Sach Kavurma – sauted meat with vegetables, and Tava Kavurma – sauted meat with onions and eggs. These are served with pilau – bulghur wheat. And to top this all, they also serve sandwiches, and have items for breakfast also.

[2007] Prices range from $8 to $15 for the major dishes, Manti for example is $9. Entrées are just under $4 for one, and get two or more in a platter, and get a borek thrown in for free. In fact, the mezze platters can be a full meal- select 3-4 varieties, and add the excellent feta and spinach borek. The mezze platters also come with the lavash bread.
[2012] Add around $2-$4 to the prices above. Manti is $13 for example, and it still is a great dish.
[2015] Manti is around $16, Borek is $3.