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The Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep

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Every city needs a ridiculous roadside attraction, and Montreal’s is the Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep. Found on the side of the Décarie highway near the metro station Namur, this three-story orange sphere is impossible to overlook. We decided to stop by and see if its famous julep was any good.

Giant Julep Montreal

The Big Orange has been part of the Montreal landscape since 1945, when it was built by Hermas Gibeau next to the highway to advertise the frothy orange beverage he’d been selling since 1932 in downtown Montreal. The structure proved a hit, and soon Gibeau was erecting similar giant oranges throughout the city.

Today, only the original Big Orange on Décarie remains. It’s still a popular restaurant, serving up greasy-spoon style burgers and fries. The food is pretty good, but the reason people come here is for the julep. This creamy drink is served with every meal; in fact, you’re not even given a choice when ordering your menu. It’s safe to assume that if you’ve come to the Big Orange, you’ll be drinking the julep.

Giant Julep Montreal

As far as I can tell, the drink of Gibeau’s is practically identical to the Orange Julius we have at Dairy Queens across the USA, although I’m sure there are some connoisseurs out there who would be aghast at the comparison. The julep is made with milk, orange juice and loads of sugar. It’s delicious, and I wasn’t surprised to see people waiting in line with big plastic containers to fill up and take home.

For a long time, the Big Orange featured rollerskating waitresses, although that practice stopped a few years ago. It’s become known as a gathering spot for classic muscle cars and motorcycles, and hosts a few events every year. In the summer, it’s open around the clock and, despite having only outdoor picnic-table seating, remains open all year long. Not even freezing temperatures and snow are going to keep Montrealers from enjoying their favorite drink.

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Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
Giant Julep Montreal
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July 12, 2016 at 6:23 pm Comments (3)

Montreal’s Best Food … Is Asian?

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In the future, when we look back on our favorite culinary experiences in Montreal, we’re not going to be thinking about the city’s bistros or pastisseries. We won’t even be remembering poutine all that fondly. No, we’ll be thinking about the restaurants of Chinatown, where we ate constantly and never once had a bad meal.

Montreal does have great cuisine. I mean, this is a city with its heart in France, so food is a central part of its identity. But we didn’t always love the traditional French-Canadian meals we ordered in the city. Often they were overpriced, simply not that good, or both. And we found that poutine, while delicious, is always served with heavy sides of self-disgust and regret.

But there was one place where we were always able to find a meal that was delicious, affordable and relatively healthy: Chinatown. We lived close to this neighborhood, and whenever we didn’t feel like cooking, or had just dropped way too much cash on another uppity hipster joint, we returned here.

It’s not just Chinese food that you can find in Chinatown: there are restaurants specializing in Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian and Hong Kong cuisine. We had incredible ramen, hot-pot, dumplings, bibimbap, shabu-shabu and pho. We loved every restaurant we ate at, and although we quickly gathered a few favorites, we never ran out of new places to try out.

If you’re looking for great places to eat in Chinatown, here are some of the restaurants we can recommend:

Nouilles de Lan Zhou – Found above an excellent Asian supermarket, this is a small place with incredible hand-pulled noodles served in huge portions, with a rich broth. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Sumo Ramen – Japanese ramen done correctly is always difficult to find, but Sumo Ramen knows what’s up. They also make a Sumo-style poutine. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Orange Rouge – The only Asian restaurant in Chinatown where the staff and clientele are almost entirely white; it’s more expensive than its neighbors, but the food is outstanding. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Chez Bong – Excellent Korean food. We had bibimbap and kimchijjigae, and felt both were as good as the meals we had while living in Busan. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Kagayaki Shabu Shabu – Stylish and fun, with delicious boiling pots of broth, this is a great place to come with a small group of friends before a big night out. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Mai Xiang Yuan Dumplings – Scarfing down dozens of fried dumplings is probably not the healthiest option in Chinatown, but sometimes it’s worth it. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Pho Bac 97 – They put the pho in front of me. I dunked my head into the bowl and didn’t take it out, until all the pho was gone. It’s called a “pho-chug” and, yes, that’s something I just invented. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

Nudo – More incredible hand-pulled Chinese noodles, and the nicest staff you could hope for. Massive portions for such a small price, and extremely delicious. [Location]

Montreal Asian Food

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July 8, 2016 at 12:54 pm Comment (1)

The Pinnacle of Human Cuisine: Poutine

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We figured that Quebec’s food scene would be strongly rooted in the fine culinary traditions of France. And to a point, it is. You can certainly find French-style bistros and boulangeries in Montreal, as well as market stalls offering a selection of pates and cheeses. But the dish for which Quebec is most known definitely does not hail from France. No, this is a New World invention, through-and-through. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet poutine.

In case you aren’t familiar with Quebec’s contribution to world cuisine, allow us to describe the classic poutine: a pile of French fries, topped with cheese curds, and covered in thick gravy. This is the basic version, although there are countless variations on the theme, including Italian (with bolognesa sauce), Chinese (with black bean sauce and tofu), and Pizza Poutine (with mozzarella). We’ve had Japanese-style poutine, smoked meat poutine, and sweet potato poutine. “Potatoes, sauce and cheese” is a base which lends itself well to improvisation.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that poutine is at least partially derived from French cooking. I mean, it uses French fries. And thick gravy is a common feature of French cuisine. And many of Montreal’s poutines use a red-wine based gravy… ooh-la-la! And, yes, the topping might be cheese curds, but still: cheese. Cheese equals French.

Jürgen and I have eaten in roughly 0.04% of the restaurants which serve poutine in Montreal, totally qualifying us to judge which is the best. The top poutine we had was at a restaurant called Poutineville, on Rue Ontario close to the Parc La Fontaine. That name sounds like a joke, but this really was excellent poutine, with the richest gravy, and crispiest chunks of potato. I ordered a Greek Poutine, with feta cheese and gyro meat, and it was incredible.

But we’re not exactly experts; we ordered poutine maybe half-a-dozen times. This simply isn’t a plate you’ll want to consume daily, unless you’re a serious slob. There’s nothing healthy about poutine, and usually, after finishing a serving, I feel bloated and gross for the rest of the day. But once in awhile, a big, slopping plate of gravy-drenched, cheese-topped potatoes sounds too good to pass up.

Location of Poutineville

Make your own Poutine!

Best Poutine Montreal
St Josophe Oratory Montreal
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June 28, 2016 at 8:45 pm Comments (0)

The Bagels of St-Viateur

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This came as a surprise to me, but Montreal is apparently famous for its bagels. It makes sense, given the city’s strong Jewish community, but still: when I think “bagels,” New York is what comes to mind, not Montreal. That unconscious mental association might have changed forever, though, now that I’ve been introduced to the bagels of St-Viateur.

St-Viateur Bagel Montreal

St-Viateur was established in 1957 by Myer Lewkowicz, a Polish immigrant who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. Based in the Jewish neighborhood of Mile End, his was one of the first bagel shops in the city, and was an instant hit. After Myer’s passing, the company was sold to Joe Morena, an Italian immigrant who had worked for years at the shop. Joe kept the recipe and bagel-making process the same, and St-Viateur has grown into a veritable Montreal institution.

St-Viateur is a perfect representative of Montreal’s multiculti nature. It was founded by a Polish immigrant, and is now run by a man who was born in Italy. The manager who we met with, Saul, moved to Canada from Columbia as a child. And the guy shoveling bagels into the oven was from Sri Lanka. The shop itself is in a neighborhood with a huge population of Orthodox Jews, and everyone inside is speaking French. And this crazy mixture doesn’t just work, it thrives.

St-Viateur Bagel Montreal

But are the bagels any good? Consider this: while we were taking pictures, a woman blew through the doors. Upon her grand entrance, Saul went around the counter and wheeled out two suitcases. He opened them, revealing that they were packed full of bagels. She was headed back home to London, and wanted to bring as many of St-Viateur’s bagels as she possibly could. I was astounded; it seemed so over-the-top. “Won’t you get in trouble with customs?”, we asked.

“Who cares?! For these, I will pay the taxes!”

There’s no great mystery to St-Viateur’s recipe; no secret ingredient. “It’s all in the process,” Saul explained. After mixing, the dough is hand-rolled into bagel form, then left to rise for a few minutes. It’s boiled in honey-water and then thrown into a deep, wood-fired stone oven. After fifteen minutes, the bagels are done, and the cook uses a long plank called a “shibba” to bring them out and dump them into the a metal holding bin.

The shop is small, and split roughly down the middle between the customer zone and the kitchen, which allows you to watch the whole process while waiting. And the bagels are wonderful; smaller and sweeter than New York bagels, with a perfectly crusty shell around the bread.

Before leaving, we grabbed a dozen, and memorized the bus number which had brought us here. Twelve bagels would last us roughly two days, we reasoned… next time, we’d have to bring a suitcase.

Location on our Map
St-Viatuer Bagel – Website

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St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
St-Viateur Bagel Montreal
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May 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm Comments (3)

A Stroll Down Crescent Street

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Downtown Montreal’s Rue Crescent extends for just three blocks, from René Levesque in the south to Sherbrooke Avenue in the north, but a lot is packed into its small area. Bars, clubs, restaurants, and a line-up of quaint Victorian houses make Crescent one of the city’s most attractive streets. We took an initial tour on one of the first sunny afternoons of spring, and couldn’t believe the number of other people who’d had the same idea.

Crescent Street Montreal

Rue Crescent is a study in contrasts. If you start at the bottom of the street, at René Levesque, you’ll wonder what the big deal is. At this end, the buildings are ugly and modern, while the only establishments are sketchy-looking bars and the types of massage parlors which advertise themselves with three X’s.

The middle third of Crescent beings to improve, with a number of popular restaurants. And I do mean “popular”: we showed up on an early Thursday afternoon, at 3pm, and every single outdoor table was taken. Les 3 Brasseurs, Thursday’s, Sir Winston Churchill Pub, Brewtopia… “Mike, what’s that you’re writing in your notebook?” Oh nothing! Certainly not a list of bars I plan on later dragging you to!

Crescent Street Montreal

The final stretch is Rue Crescent’s most beautiful, with an uninterrupted run of Victorian-style houses on both sides of the street. Most of these have today become eateries or boutique shops. But although these buildings would make splendid homes, I’m guessing not a lot of people want to actually live on Crescent Street, because it’s known as one of Montreal’s premiere party zones. That’s particularly true in the summer, and particularly when Rue Crescent hosts its huge Grand Prix party, which unofficially kicks off the city’s festival season.

Location on our Map
Rue Crescent – Website

Framed Montreal Photos

Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
Crescent Street Montreal
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May 2, 2016 at 10:56 pm Comments (0)
The Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep Every city needs a ridiculous roadside attraction, and Montreal's is the Big Orange of Gibeau Orange Julep. Found on the side of the Décarie highway near the metro station Namur, this three-story orange sphere is impossible to overlook. We decided to stop by and see if its famous julep was any good.
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