Where to eat:
Poutine is perhaps the most known food to come out of Montreal — and for good reason. I lost my poutine virginity at Reubens Deli, and I'm still in a state of afterglow. The messy pile of fries, gravy and cheese curds isn’t new, but in recent years, it’s experienced a renaissance, spreading across Canada and beyond. Gourmet versions have appeared in trendy gastro-diners worldwide. Not great for swimsuit season, but if you have one too many late night martinis at jazz fest, there's nothing quite like it.
Da Emma is off the beaten path, but that's probably part of why celebs like George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp have been flocking to try Emma's Italian food for years. The setting, originally a woman's prison, is hauntingly beautiful, as is the authentic Italian cuisine. From the starter bruschetta (complimentry!) that arrives fresh from the kitchen before menu selection begins to the house specialities, homemade fettuccini with porcini mushrooms or gigantic veal meatballs, everything is delicious. Hands down the best Italian food I've ever had — in any city.
Montreal's red light district would be expected to contain exciting corners, but not necessarily the most exciting kitchen. Society Des Arts Technologique's Labo Culinaire FoodLab is crazy fun; it serves creatively contrived meals — hence the lab concept, new-media performance center. Creative duo Michelle Marek and Seth Gabrielse are crazy talented chefs who love to play, they simply make whatever they're passionate about at any given moment. The night I was there? Jerusalem. You haven't lived until you've tried their high-concept falafel.
Montreal is home to a huge Jewish population, and their different-than-New-York bagels are incredibly popular. Montrealers are super passionate about their bagels, which are smaller and more dense than their famous New York cousins. The Montreal-style bagel is wood-fired, and many of the city’s bagel joints do their baking within view of the seating area. Fairmount vs. St. Viateur argument has gone on forever, some say one is sweeter, the other more savory — there's a disagreement on which is which, though. Either place will get you no-frills hot bagels fresh out of the oven, ready to be enjoyed. (Or, er, inhaled.)
Don’t make my (rather embarrassing) mistake and call it pastrami — it's not, and that's OK. Montreal’s most popular sandwich looks like it escaped from a Brooklyn kosher deli, but there are key differences in the process and spices used to cure the beef brisket and in the resulting flavor. Most will tell you the king of smoked meat is Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen. Schwartz’s has been slicing and serving since 1928, and it’s still in its original location on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. The obvious order is a smoked meat on rye with spicy mustard — it's an 80-year-old tradition, and for good reason. Our advice? Get a side of hot cherry peppers with your sandwich! Honorable mention, too, to the delicious smoked meat on rye at Reuben's Deli, where you can also get salads as large as your face when you feel like being a more waist-conscious person. (BTW, they'll happily throw smoked meat on your greens, as well.)