Sunday, 24 June 2012

Notre-Dame Ouest

Tonight I decided to walk a different path. Instead of climbing the Plateau, I decided to explore Notre-Dame Ouest (That's west in French in case all you square heads haven't figured it out.) because in the past ten years it has seen a lot of development and many interesting places have popped up.

Montreal had some working class neighbourhoods just west of Old Montreal such as Griffintown, which used to have a large population of Irish immigrant labourers, la Petite Bourgogne (Little Burgundy) was a neighbourhood with a working class black English community and finally Saint-Henri was a working class French neighbourhood. What they all had in common is that they all developed along the canal that was built to bring cargo ships in to supply the many manufactures in those areas. These neighbourhoods have been poor areas for a long time but have recently gone through a lot of gentrification and has now become an increasingly sought after area to live with its new loft condos and various classy restaurants, bars and cafés. So that's where I decided to go tonight.

I started my walk in Old Montréal at the Notre-Dame cathedral and walked west on Notre-Dame west and the first notable place I wanted to talk about is this little trendy diner called Gros Jambon (Big Ham). It sits amongst a bunch of douchey high class, expensive bistros and bars. The owner must've been very confident to open up a diner like this in the middle of such a place. But it works! Proof that you don't have to open up some fancy place to attract customers and make money. Just good food. Also, I would like to think that the diner is named after the famous song of the same name, which was actually a French spin-off of Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.

The place is quite small and so is their menu of specialized diner food. The owner invited me in to see the menu which listed interesting salads, fancy grilled cheese sandwiches, regular sandwiches, deluxe mac n cheese and hamburgers. They also make breakfasts which, according to many reviews, are amazing. Also, when I asked their specialty, the owner told me they do everything home made on site, especially the bread. So those grilled cheese sandwiches? Yeah, they use fresh home made bread. That sounds really tasty. Inside, all you have are stools to sit on with a couple of counters. The place is well decorated with vintage pictures, pop culture objects and articles. I definitely want to go there someday for some breakfast and mac n cheese. I love mac n cheese. The cheesier the better. Probably because I'm cheesy myself. Or French. Or both. Maybe I'm le cheesy.

Soon after I reach McGill street where there are two places that I like very much, one of which for its micro-brew beer. If you head south just a few meters on McGill you will see the bright red colors of Five Guys burgers and fries restaurant. It's a burgers and fries place, obviously, and they make really, really good hamburgers. They're not particularly gourmet or anything. The beef is just really good, but the condiments are just your ordinary set you find at any diner. They also have big hot dogs as well like bacon cheese dogs and some sandwiches. If you're looking for a simple, yet tasty burger, Five Guys is the place.

And just a few more meters across the street, you will find what I believe to be the absolute best restaurant in Montreal for fish n chips. Also, that place has the best beer I've ever had in Quebec altogether. AND THEY HAVE DEEP FRIED SNICKERS BARS! omg omg omg omg omg!!! The place is called Brit n Chips and they have the tastiest most amazing deep fried battered up fish I've ever had. This is definitely a spot to go to at least once in your life. And for the love of all things fizzy with alcohol, you have got to get their Burgundy Lion Ale. Do it!

 Ok so the place is tiny and you gotta squeeze your elbows with the people around you when sitting down and its super noisy. But, once you take your first bite of the tasty juicy flaky tender delicious deep fried batter grease covered fish, you will be too high on deliciousness to care.

I went back on Notre-Dame and kept heading west. Once you pass the financial district you get in this dark empty area with the Via Rail train tracks passing over the street and a bunch of parking lots. But as you go along you'll be able to see one of the most beautiful views of downtown Montreal's skyline.

At the corner of Peel I find myself on familiar ground. My good ol' university, the École de technologie supérieure or School of Superior Technology. (That's right, our technology is superior, bitches!) Man do I have good memories of that place. I made many good friends here and I miss the good times we had working in the computer labs and hanging out at the school pub watching hockey with a cold pint of beer after class. Oh and on the picture on the right, in the last two floors of that round part is a really nice gym with an amazing view of downtown Montreal. I hate going to the gym, but I really enjoyed going to this one just because of the view.

As I was walking along the school building I peered inside for a bit of nostalgia when I was shocked with horror. I couldn't believe my eyes. No! They didn't! They replaced the small snack cafeteria with a Tim Hortons! God damn you! God damn you all to hell!

I dried the tears of deception off my cheeks as I entered Griffintown. That neighbourhood's architecture still has a hint of Old Montreal in it which makes it really beautiful, but is much quieter and a lot more livable. There has been a recent boom in construction in that part of town where brand new grocery stores and pharmacies and restaurants have popped up due to recent condo development With its proximity to downtown, subway stations and the Ville-Marie highway, this is an ideal area of Montreal to live in.

Right away, I could see the new restaurants, bistros and cafés. They look like very nice places and the decor is beautiful with their antique, yet modern looks. As I was walking around and taking pictures of almost every single good looking place on the street, some restaurant owners insisted I come inside to take more pictures. One notable restaurant was the Bistro Duo.D. Their menu looks fantastic! The staff was super friendly. This is the kind of place to go if you want to enjoy a quiet romantic evening and enjoy French inspired cuisine.

Something else that is noticeable about Griffintown are the antique stores. There are many of them with some very beautiful furniture. I love antique furniture because it has so much more character than today's modern angular square furniture. There's so much more work that's been put into fine details. It's a shame it's so hard to find something like this these days.

In one of the antique stores I found a beautiful piece displayed in the window. It's a camping set with a burner, pots, cups, shaker, plates and utensils all securely packed in a nice suitcase.

Funny enough there was a restaurant called the Gargote des Antiquaires. Gagote is a pejorative word that means cheap restaurant and Antiquaires means an antique store. The front looks terrible, but it has a very nice terrasse (what we call a patio here). Its another French cuisine inspired restaurant but with a Quebec twist. As I walked by the place there was a strong skunk smell and sure enough the owner was shooing a baby skunk out of his terrasse with a broom. The poor thing probably got attracted by the smell of the food and snuck in. The scene was pretty funny and cute.

As I walked on I eventually reached La Petite Bourgogne/Little Burgundy. There were still plenty of bistros and cafés and French restaurants, but one place got my attention. It's a little organic vegetarian place called Bonnys. They have a different menu everyday which is interesting when you like variety. There's a review article on their website that can give you an idea of what they serve and it seems pretty good. I know that I am a meat lover, but from time to time I just like to have a fresh vegetarian sandwich. I will definitely go to this place in the near future to scope it out and try something on their ever changing menu.

Not too far from there was a crèperie. Now what is a crêperie? Do you know what a crêpe is? If not, well you probably know what a pancake is. So a crêpe is a French version of a pancake but the recipe is different and it's cooked super thin. It is usually prepared sweet as a dessert or as a main course for dinner. Hmm.. that gives me an idea for CookingSolo... Anyway, so a crêperie is basically a place that makes or specializes in French crêpes. The decor in this one that I came across reminded me of a Japanese ramen shop. And apparently they have a terrace in the back. This is another place to write down in my book for future foodie visits.

Crossing to the other edge of Little Burgundy, right away the delicious smell of grilled meats, bacon and foie gras fill the air from the local renowned restaurants. Two notable places that I would like to mention are Joe Beef and The Burgundy Lion, which sit across the street from each other.

Now Joe Beef is a world renowned French cuisine restaurant that is so amazingly popular, you have to literally call a month in advance to get a table. Believe it or not, I was lucky enough to get invited there once by a really good friend of mine who bothered to get a reservation in advance for my 30th birthday. I will be forever grateful for doing that. My meal was the best meal I've ever had. I ordered fresh oysters for a starter, followed by foie gras mousse with croutons, for the main course I had bacon-covered quail with roasted vegetables and for dessert it was a light piece of cake with all sorts of mousse on there. I was in heaven. The foie gras mousse was the most delicious part of the meal. I've never tasted anything like it. If you ever go, you gotta try it. Yeah, Joe Beef was outstanding! I didn't take any pictures of the inside because it was packed with people and I didn't want to bother them or make the staff angry.

Like I mentioned, The Burgundy Lion is just across the street. It's an English style restaurant-pub. That place is owned by the same people that own Brit n Chips that I mentioned earlier. So they serve the same fish n chips and a lot more. Plus, they also have their same amazing beer of the same name as the restaurant. The place looks great, but is quite noisy. I've eaten there once and thought the food was good, my experience was bad. I tried to call to make a reservation but no one ever picked up and on their website it said you had to do it online using a third party website. When we got there on time, the place was packed and it was a wednesday! It took forever to talk to a waiter and when we finally got served, I told them about our reservation. He checked and couldn't find it. So that website reservation was a complete waste of time. We stood there for 15 minutes until a table was cleared. When we sat down, the service was painfully slow and once we got our food they barely ever came back to check on us and refill our water. *Sigh* It's a shame because the food is good and so is the beer. I might give the place a second chance someday. Or I might just go to Brit n Chips where they already serve the specialty and the Burgundy Lion Ale and where the service is quick and efficient.

Moving on, I saw a brightly coloured antique shop. Upon further inspection I found a treasure trove of old toys and classic crap that I would love to spend all my money on. I mean they had a bust of Elvis in the store window!!! How cheesy is that?! The place is called Retro-Ville and inside I saw they had full sized old GI-Joe action figures, old soda pop and beer brand clocks, model cars from the 50s and 60s and and and... I have shivers just thinking about it... There was some very special sci-fi antique toy in there that I must get my hands on. I do not want to talk about it on here in case someone gets any ideas and goes to buy it before I do.

EDIT: Well, I didn't end up buying the thing after all and I don't think I will as my place is already cluttered with junk I need to get rid of. So I thought I'd just say what that special piece was. It's a 1930's Buck Rogers Atomic Disintegrator toy gun. A real classic. It's the most amazing classic retro sci-fi piece I've ever laid eyes on.

Finally, I was reaching the end of the road in terms of interesting stuff to see, and I can finally finish this post which took a million years to write. But, of all the places I've seen on Notre-Dame Ouest, I had to travel to the very end of the street. It's not an antique store, nor is it a French Cuisine Bistro or café. The place stands on the edge of Little Burgundy just before Saint-Henri, where the streets become dark and shady-looking, and frankly quite scary at night. But, the last place I found definitely made it worth it travelling this far. It's a very old, classic and very authentic diner like I've never seen before in Montreal. It's called The Green Spot. The menu includes your typical diner foods such as full breakfasts, burgers n fries, hot chicken sandwiches, poutine and a lot more. I haven't eaten there yet but it's definitely on my to do list.

When I started taking pictures outside, someone whom I guess was the owner, invited me in and gave me a grand tour of the restaurant. When you walk in, you immediately feel the authenticity of the place. You can sit at the bar and chat with the staff or sit at a table, which actually have individual juke-boxes! How cool is that?! And look at that ceiling! Those are metal tiles. It's beautiful!

They still have all the original signs up from when the place opened up, and the guy told me they still chop up their cabbage for the hot dogs by hand using this slicer they got hung up on the wall.

My tour guide was really eager to show me a couple of articles that had been put up on the walls. One was an interview with a local French actress, Marina Orsini, who claimed this was one of her favourite places to eat and that they had the best hot dogs in town. Another article was from the Reader's Digest and it claimed this restaurant was one of the last standing authentic diners you can find in the city.

Finally, when he showed me they still served soda in big glass bottles. Not the tiny little ones they sell at the grocery store. The taller ones, the original size. That's when I decided to sit at the bar and order a cool and tasty Coca Cola. I swear, there is just something about Coke in a glass bottle that tastes different from Coke in a can or plastic bottle. It's so much better.

As I drank my Coke I got to talk with a very nice girl named Abby who was working at the cash. When I finished my drink I thanked them all for being so nice and bid them good night. I walked up Atwater street to Sainte-Catherine and walked back east until I reached the Guy Concordia metro station and I went home. This night got to be a very interesting one where I have discovered many, many good restaurants that I would like to revisit at some point. Namely:

  • Gros Jambon for their grilled cheese sandwiches on home made bread,
  • Duo.D for their French inspired cuisine,
  • Bonnys vegetarian restaurant because I sometimes enjoy a good vegetarian sandwich,
  • Crêpe et Gourmet for a tasty crêpe dinner,
  • The Green Spot fora delicious breakfast or a couple of tasty hot dogs and a hearty poutine.


  1. My old neighborhood! I used to go walking there every day when I was on my maternity leaves, summer or winter, rain or shine.
    I have bequeathed the neighborhood to Michael, I am sure he will take great care of it.
    The Green Spot has great hot dogs, the poutines are good but the gravy is weird, almost black! My brother in law swears their club sandwiches are the best in town. His combo was club sandwich, diet coke and Journal de Montreal. St Henri style!

  2. I passed in front of the antique store the other day and it would seem like the Buck Rogers disintegrator gun disappeared. Maybe someone bought it?