The Gage Hill Crafts crew decided to take a mini vacation in Montréal last weekend. The primary purpose was to attend the annual beer festival, Mondial de la Bière, held each year, but as usual we found time to do lots of walking and eating. I said “as usual” but this time was different as it was the first time Nancy had been to Montréal. In fact, it was the first time she had left the country since she was a student living in Germany. She got her passport last year in anticipation of our trip to Scotland and Wales later this summer, so why not break it in with a quick jaunt to Canada? Parfait!
After making arrangements for our friend Ryen to take care of our menagerie, we set up out early Thursday morning. The weather for the drive was beautiful, and there was practically no traffic until we arrived in the city. Even so we arrived at our favorite hotel, Hotel Château de L’Argoat, a bit too early to check-in, but since one of the rooms was ready they let us park the car and we stowed the luggage in that room before heading out to explore.
We were all hungry, so lunch was on the agenda, but we weren’t sure where. Montréal, and specifically the Plateau area of the city, is packed with so many different restaurants, so picking can be a challenge. We decided to go in the direction of Le Réservoir even though we suspected they wouldn’t be open yet. Confirming that to be the case, we scoped out some places on St. Laurent Avenue — an area with which we are most familiar — and decided on Jano. Jano had been one of the places our friend Nick had suggested for dinner that night, and since we had opted for a different place, we decided to check it out anyway for lunch. The staff was very nice and helpful, but the menu was a bit heavy on shellfish, of which Sarah is allergic, so it limited our choices. I had the Sandwich au steak de porc Bifana, with frites. Sarah and Nancy split a simple, large, salad and a plate of gigantic sardines.
After lunch we still had a bit of time before Le Réservoir would open its doors, so we wandered down rue Deluth to check out some of the shops. We stopped in La Maison du Tibet, a cute little place with a sweet owner. We chatted with her for a bit and Nancy bought a small piece of jewelry. As we walked a little further down the street, we nearly turned around, but decided to go as far as St. Denis. A half a block later I caught a glimpse of yarn out of the corner of my eye and alerted my knitting companions. The store, La Grande Ourse, ended up not being so much a yarn store, but a children’s store. It has all sorts of little handmade toys made of fabric and wood. Nothing from the sweatshops here. We quickly struck up a conversation with the owner, a sweet, older woman. She asked us about our sheep, and about our plant-based natural dyes. We purchased a few small items — including a top for Nick & Jenn’s daughter — and exchanged business cards before departing. We promised the owner we would contact her when we had some samples we could send her.
By now it was definitely time for Le Réservoir, so we stopped in for a pint to cool off. I had their IPA, Sarah had a cream ale, and Nancy cooled of with an iced tea. Whilst sipping our beverages we received a text from Rich & Carol stating they had arrived at the hotel. We told them we would sip slowly and they eventually met up with us, so we had to have another round. We departed shortly after so we could check in to our room, and change for dinner. They planned to explore some more and meet us at the restaurant.
After freshening up in our rooms, we hopped in the car, and drove toward the Mile End neighborhood. The plan was to meet Nick and his daughter at the restaurant, Nouveau Palais. Unfortunately Jennifer was out of town and wouldn’t be joining us. Traffic was light, but parking in Little Jerusalem was tight. We eventually found a spot, and negotiated the large groups of children playing and riding their bikes on the sidewalk. We were still a few minutes early, and the first to arrive, but the staff showed us to our tables. The place is an old diner, so no pulling up tables to make one large enough for our group of seven. We did; however, have two tables across from one another. Since Rich does such an excellent job of reviewing restaurants, I will simply link to his review and say I agree with him. The dinner was delicious, the service was good, the atmosphere was a little odd. The old diner hasn’t seen an update in decades, and the brown panels, and stuffed animals weren’t all that appealing. But I still very much enjoyed myself, and would go back again.
We were all rather tired by now, and Nick’s daughter was approaching her bedtime, but there was still time to take a quick trip to Cheskie’s. I was full but enjoyed the awesome smells coming from this famous boulangerie. Each time the door opened the smell of chocolate wafted through the warm, dusk, summer air. Nick and his daughter went in for cookies, and Carol joined them for an evening snack. We all parted and we drove back to the hotel. As we were warned there wasn’t a space in the hotel lot behind the building, but after dropping off Sarah and Nancy I found a great spot right in front. The hotel’s evening manager met me at the door and assured me that I was fine there until 9 the next morning. We all planned to get up early for breakfast, so it wouldn’t be an issue.
We hooked up with Rich and Carol again, this time to go to Le Cheval Blanc, which I had heard of, but hadn’t realised was only a block away from the hotel. As Sarah said this place is the love child of a 1950s diner and a Chinese restaurant with the neon clocks and green faux marble laminate on the walls. As expected with Mondial de la Bière in full swing, the place was noisy and packed, but we were lucky to find a table. The beers were amazing, and in hindsight some of the best I would have all weekend. We only stayed for one round before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the beer festival the next day.
In the morning, as we got ready to meet Rich and Carol to go to a favourite breakfast spot of theirs, my back went out. I don’t know if it was the soft bed or some other reason, but it hadn’t gone out since we helped neighbours clean up after Tropical Storm Irene. Bad timing to say the least, but I was at least glad I had the forethought to bring my back brace. Sarah had to help me with my socks and shoes, but I gritted my teeth and off we went. We met in the lobby and all piled into Nancy’s car. I drove, dropped everyone off in front of the Le Restaurant L’Avenue, and searched for a spot to park. The spaces out front were out of the question due to street sweeping, so I had to drive around the neighborhood. As I got further from the restaurant I started to fear the long walk with my back aching, but luckily I was able to find a space only a block away, and found the others waiting in front. We were some of the first people there, but it because apparent that Rich and Carol were correct to suggest we get there early as the place filled within moments. Our waiter was very nice, and since the menu was exclusively in French, we all helped each other with translations. The place is famous for it’s oeufs Benedict, and I think Rich, Carol and I all selected some variation — mine with smoked salmon. Sarah had scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes, and Nancy had an amazing dish of pancakes “Américaine” which included granola and Canadian maple syrup. We all enjoyed our meals, and after a trip to the freaky restrooms, we were on our way. Rich has uploaded his Offbeateats review for those of you looking for more detail.
Rich and Carol decided to explore on foot, and we made plans to meet them at the beer festival later. Sarah, Nancy, and I climbed back into the car, found a bank to get some cash, and headed back to the hotel just long enough to drop Nancy off and to check Google maps for an idea on how best to get to the Palais des congrès de Montréal where the beer festival was being held. Once we arrived at the bus station, something felt wrong and we spoke with a gentleman in the information booth. He confirmed that the information Google maps had given us was wrong, and that we really didn’t need to take a coach bus a travel a few blocks. He gave us instructions on how to grab the Metro to go the two stops, and we left. It ends up it would have been faster and possibly less walking to have done the entire trip on foot, but by now we were at the Berri-UQAM Metro station, so we boarded a train and got off at the stop adjacent to the Palais des congrès. A quick check of Find Friends, and a text from Carol, and we attempted to meet up with them. Again, we did more walking than should have been necessary and it appeared that all attempts to help my now seriously aching back would be for naught. But we found Rich and Carol, just as the ticket booth opened, and we were some of the first few people to enter Mondial de la Bière.
Being first has its advantages, but it was also quite overwhelming. We later decided that choosing which beer to spend one’s first and last tickets on is the most difficult. I won’t go into detail about the many delicious beers we sampled over the next few hours or so. You can follow me on Untappd if you are really interested. Suffice to say we had a great time, I didn’t have a single bad beer, and all the alcohol and walking really seemed to help my back loosen up. Sitting meant it stiffened up again, but the good beers and great company helped me forget. The venue was great. There was an indoor section in the convention hall as well as a garden area outside. The outside area had trees and park benches. It was nice to have options, but we ended up preferring the beers and the atmosphere of the indoor section; and no smokers inside.
When we left, we again parted ways with Rich and Carol as they went on to explore one part of town and us another. Sarah and I walked a great deal, most of it uphill, to return to the Plateau before making our way back to the hotel to rest for a few hours, and shower to wash off the sunscreen.
After brief naps, we reconvened in the lobby with Rich, Carol, and Nancy before walking along rue Orleans to Chinatown. Rich had been eager to try a noodle place called Nu-Do [Rich’s OffBeatEats review], where they make their noodles fresh and in front of you. We were not disappointed. We each got a noodle soup, some kimchi and some dumplings. When we arrived we were all mumbling about the heat wave and the lack of air conditioning, but by the time we finished our spicy meals we barely noticed as we sweated it off. Again we got there just in time as the place filled up quickly with eager diners. After paying our tab, we wandered off thinking we might search for ice cream, but by the time we reach Bld Sherbrooke we said goodnight to Nancy and pointed her in the direction of the hotel before deciding that brownie sundaes at Le Réservoir were in order.
We walked miles again, and my back was screaming at me, but it was worth it. Rich, Carol, and Sarah squatted on a table downstairs while I checked in vain to see if the rooftop had any openings. We ordered two brownie sundaes, made with a sauce that includes their in-house stout, and a round of beers. Being Friday night it was packed and loud as people enjoyed themselves on this hot summer evening. We stuck to one round, before calling it a night, walking the back streets to avoid the hustle and bustle of the crowds making their way out for the evening.
Once back at the hotel, we said goodnight to Rich and Carol and confirmed the time for the morning’s excursion. I quickly got ready for bed and collapsed onto the bed, giving my back a much-needed rest from a long day of standing and walking.
We rose early Saturday morning, packed and made our way down to the lobby to check out. We saw from the window that our car was behind 2 other vehicles and we wanted to give the staff plenty of time to free it so we could get to Lawrence before the line got too long. It ended up we arrived with plenty of time, so we parked and walked across the street to our new favourite dépanneur to buy beer. The staff was very helpful as we check the stock against our notes from the beer festival the day before. We packed up our haul and put it in the car, and then Nancy and I got in line at the restaurant while Rich, Carol, and Sarah walked to Fairmount Bagel around the corner to stock up for the trip home.
A member of the Lawrence staff took everyone in lines name and the number in their party and we were all allowed in en masse shortly after. We asked for coffees (cold brewed and lattes) and two orders of beignes — each order coming with a chocolate, lemon, and custard — while we drooled over the menus. I ended up getting the full English breakfast which came with bacon, a sausage, black pudding, bubble and squeak, eggs and toast, and everything (as always) was delicious! The staff at Lawrence is amazing as they attend to you as a group. Your water glass is never empty, your finished plates never stay long, your coffee cup is filled as soon as it is emptied. And despite always being busy you are never rushed. We savored our coffees after finishing our food, settled our tabs, and made our way to our next stop as we attempted to eat our way out of the city.
A stone’s throw from Lawrence is Boulangerie Guillaume, a cute little neighbourhood bakery with a large variety of savory and sweet baked goods. The front of the store is small, but on this warm morning the sliding doors were open allowing us to not only see the selection but smell it. We took turns going inside and came away with bags filled with treats to take home.
We had planned to go directly to the hotel on our way out to drop off Rich and Carol, but decided he just had to get some chocolate to complete the trip, so we stopped at La Vieille Europe, a gourmet shop catering to ex-patriots from Europe it seems. They have an amazing selection of cheeses, wines, chocolates, nuts, coffees, etc. Parking was at a premium, so I dropped everyone off and drove around the block until I found a spot in a 15-minute zone across the street. The place was packed, so it took a while for the group to emerge, but once they did we were on our way. We dropped off Rich and Carol at the hotel, and began to navigate our way out of the city.
Before we had phones with GPS and map apps this was nearly impossible, and Sarah and I recalled our first trip when it literally took us over an hour to find our way to the highways leading out. Apple Maps did a great job of keeping us on course (For those keeping track, Google Maps 0, Apple Maps 1) and we were on our way. There didn’t seem to be much weekend travel traffic, and we were out of the city in a matter of minutes it seemed. The trip home was uneventful. The lines at the border weren’t bad, and we were home in under 3 hours. What an amazing trip, even with my back going out. Sarah and I plan to return again in October for our wedding anniversary.