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Eccentric Montreal - Finding the Strange & Unusual

Hi, my boyfriend and I are visiting Montreal, staying on Drummond st downtown. I've looked through the posts and found several seemingly good finds but it's always so hard to get a sense of atmosphere & vibe. So far Byblos Le Petit Cafe & Le Club Chasse et Peche look pretty interesting.

If anyone has any tips on more sort of eccentric finds, dark cafes, quirky bars, strange & ecclectic menus or cozy hole in the walls, I'd appreciate it.

We're from NYC & love finding these really hidden gems. What we're NOT looking for is loud, overcrowded, large restaurants; places that serve everything with pork belly (there's so many now in NYC!) or overpriced tourist traps. We love all sorts of food and are willing to try almost anything.

Thanks!!!

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  1. Pork belly - what's that about ? The places you mention are quite different from each other. Byblos is sort of bohemian laid-back, with OK persian food - but very busy for weekend breakfasts. CC&P is expensive and somewhat chic yuppie resto.

    For eccentricity, I don't think you can get more than at Spirite Lounge. Although the food is, hmm, not exactly good - at least the last time I checked, which was years ago. Perhaps someone has a more recent view ?
    The usual recommendation for local flavor is Au pied de cochon - you'll find endless references to it on the board. I like the busy vibe of it, but personally I have found the food underwhelming, definitely not up to the hype - and if you're sick of pork it might not be the best place... Schwartz' of course definitely on the 'eccentric' side, but only late at night when there is no line-up.

    One of my favorite spots for a pleasant sunday afternoon drink has been Else's, on Roy. It was always a sort of quiet neighborhood place, although I went back a couple months ago and it was packed with wankers - must have been featured on some TV show or such.

    15 Replies
    1. re: johnnyboy

      The food at Spirite Lounge is still not good. It's certainly quirky though, I'll give you that.

      Else's is a nice place to go, just be aware you have to order some kind of food (they have some very inexpensive items on the menu to fit the needs of people who are mainly there to drink). And the food is nothing to write home about. I don't really think there are too many wankers there, normally. :) Johnnyboy must have been there on an off night.

      1. re: Keramel

        I think the vibe at Else's depend on the time of the day. During weekend evenings, I find the crowds unbearable noisy (but still wouldn't call them wankers, this is kind of an old partier crowd). During off hours it is a fantastic place to get some scotch, or a pint; and the place gets a very nice afternoon sun. As mentioned, you just have to order some food along with your poison of choice: samosas or a cheesecake that you can set aside and get doggie bagged later so that it doesn't ruin the taste of your beer.

        1. re: emerilcantcook

          The vegan cheesecake at Else's is to die for! Long live Johnny Cheesecake!

          1. re: mainsqueeze

            «vegan cheesecake»

            Does not compute.

            1. re: carswell

              Probably made with soft tofu. Mmmm.... ;-)

              1. re: carswell

                I know it sounds wrong, carswell, but trust me, it is absolutely fantastic. If you ever try it please report back and let me know what you think.

                1. re: mainsqueeze

                  I wouldn't call it to die for (but hey I am not a big fan of any cheesecake). However, I think it tastes pretty good for something you need to order so that you can gain access to your poison ;)

                  1. re: emerilcantcook

                    Only problem is, the last few times I've been there they were out of it.

                    1. re: mainsqueeze

                      Haha, Else's sounds good... we'll find out if Bourban can hang with vegan cheesecake. Thanks for all of your replies everyone! Does anyone have any strong feelings towards Lemeac? I do want one nice french restaurant, but nice as in cozy and romantic.

                      1. re: Jacquelyn

                        Leméac is a board favourite. The food is excellent. I wouldn't call it very romantic because it's a loud and bustling bistro, but other chowhounds have recommended it to people asking for romantic restaurants so I guess it's a matter of taste. Being seated in the booth in the back might be a bit cozier but then again that booth is long and seats three or four tables' worth of people so you wouldn't have much privacy.

        2. re: johnnyboy

          I am very allergic to yuppies so thanks for the tip on CC&P...just really dug their website.

          Everyone in NYC is all about the pork belly. It's funny, soon after I wrote that post, I went to dinner with my sis & her husband and they both requested pork belly be added to their ramen soups. I don't get it.

          Thanks for your tips though!!!

          1. re: Jacquelyn

            I quite like Lemeac, and so do a lot of people on this board (try a search) - especially good is their 20$ (or such) Table d'Hote after 10PM. However it is a bit on the 'chic' side - I once went there and was seated a couple of tables from Jean Charest (Quebec prime minister). It's not stuffy though, but if you don't like the yuppie crowd this might be a bit challenging !

            1. re: johnnyboy

              «However it is a bit on the 'chic' side - I once went there and was seated a couple of tables from Jean Charest (Quebec prime minister)...»

              Dunno 'bout a direct Charest-chic relationship. I once bumped into him waddling out of Bar-B-Barn.

              1. re: carswell

                Hahaha...too funny! At least, he's been frugal with our tax $ on one occasion!

                1. re: carswell

                  Point taken - but at least he's a couple of notches above the hockey players at Queue de cheval...

          2. Else's is a great place for drinks, speaking from an occasional wanker point of view. I would not recommend eating there, though (you have to order at least *some food* to get served drinks - they have pizza for $2 to comply).

            Not too far from Else's, across from Schwartz', La Cabane, another cheapie drink place that makes a nice stop while roaming up St. Laurent.

            Nyks on Bleury just below St. Catherine is a cozy pub-type place. Never ate, but the food looks and smells great.

            Eccentric, quirky, ecclectic, hole in the wall defines Sylvesters (aux delices de st. maurice)
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/529259.
            It isn't a culinary destination but BYOB cheap eats. Gets peculiar just after closing. Not quite sure if its an appropriate schlepp for visitors staying downtown, though.

            9 Replies
            1. re: porker

              I actually have eaten at Nyks and it's my go-to place when I am in the area (like going to see a show) andeverything I have had there was delicious. They have pub-fare (burgers and wraps, but with a gourmet feel) but also some delicious poulet de cornouailles, or a nice sausage plate (last time I went was ostrich). I recommend it to anyone wanting to have dinner in the area.

              1. re: porker

                I work 30 seconds away from Nyks and only go when with a group. I've always found the food to be subpar or just ok. Service is really sketchy, always having to ask for bread or butter or anyhting for that matter. Penne al arrabiata made with pickled banana pepper is not exactly my definition of good. In the same price range, I take Sur Bleury in a heartbeat. The place has more breathing room, the food is better. Maybe just a matter of taste.

                For something different, Petit Alep is a good option. Syrian food made with care and packed with flavour.

                1. re: Campofiorin

                  I was going to recommend Petit Alep too, but I always say that so I felt lame saying it again. It is REALLY delish and has as nice atmosphere.

                  1. re: Keramel

                    Keramel, not lame at all! Petit Alep and Alep (the more formal sister resto) are such gems. I would highly recommend either. I would comment that Petit Alep can get a little noisy, Alep is more sedate. I am getting old, and so sedate is appealing to me. Plus, I love the kibbe nayah so much (Syrian beef tartare). You aren't always guaranteed to get it at Petit Alep. And Anything covered in the terbialy sauce is to die for. Spicy, powerful and memorable. I love terbialy sauce.

                    Would also have to agree that Bouchees Gourmandes is a very quirky original place. The pastries are very buttery and delicious, and the caramel sauce and jams are great. Be wary of overeating!

                    1. re: moh

                      Trust me I love sedate! And my boyfriend loves anything tartare so this sounds like a good opt...thanks!

                2. re: porker

                  Hmmm..sounds intriguing! Thanks for the tip. What would you consider a schlepp? An hour or more?

                  1. re: Jacquelyn

                    If you have a car, Aux Délices de d'île Maurice (aka Sylvester's) is a 10-15-min drive from downtown, in a suburb called Verdun. It's also prob. a 30-40-min metro ride. So I'd say it's just well off the beaten tourist path, but not physically far from downtown at all. But keep in mind it's a real hole-in-the-wall, quirky, odd place!

                    1. re: kpzoo

                      Reminds me of another island ie île de la Réunion and another resto that could be deemed unusual... Le Piton de la Fournaise. I've never been, so I cannot judge. I believe it's BYO, as well.
                      A mention (there are others).
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/98293

                      They have an (long un-updated) blog
                      http://pitondelafournaise44.blogspot....

                      1. re: kpzoo

                        Verdun 30-40 minutes from downtown?!?! More like 20 maximum!

                  2. Yes to Le Petit Alep. Plus the Jean Talon Market is just across the street.

                    A few other places to add to the list:

                    Combine your meal at Byblos with a visit to Le Fromentier bakery and Fous Desserts and Les Saveurs du Plateau pastry shops.

                    Bouchées gourmandes http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/453992

                    Bouchonné comptoir à vin http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/467564

                    Pop! a Danish Modern wine/cocktail bar with great nibbles and unusual desserts. www.popbaravin.com

                    Pintxo for Basque style tapas www.pintxo.ca

                    Café Myriade http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/568023

                    Don't forget our neighbourhood bistros (Bistro Bienville, Au Cinquième Péché, Les 3 Petits Bouchons and Le Jolifou top my current list). Not exactly strange but eclectic, cozy and unique to this city.

                    And check out these oldie-but-goodie threads:

                    Quintessential Montreal?
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/399473

                    Best of Montreal?
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/464435

                    Montreal Locals - What do you consider the best small hole in the wall resto?
                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/411132

                    Boston hounds need help for Montreal visit
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/534107

                    ...an endless banquet's food guide is also worth checking out, especially for off-the-beaten-track type places with good food:
                    A-M http://endlessbanquet.blogspot.com/20...
                    N-Z http://endlessbanquet.blogspot.com/20...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: carswell

                      This is perfect! Thanks so much Carswell!!!

                    2. It's not for everyone but the Scratch Kitchen at the Copacabana is one of my faves. The place is essentially a dive bar but the Indian food is DELICIOUS and unique. It serves as a great local pub and a good place to watch a hockey game; it hasn't been too crowded or loud recently. And, I'll say it again, the food is great - some of the best cheap food on St. Laurent.

                      And you can't get much stranger than eating in the lobby of an apartment/office (?) building. But that's what happens at L Corridor - some great Jamaican food and, really, you can eat and watch the tenants and theatre-goers come and go. Another cheap St. Laurent institution.

                      1. If you are set on going to Byblos, I would hit up their dinner (especially on a Sunday to get some of the special items) as opposed to the brunch. I found the Brunch to be really really disappointing.

                        If you like Indian food and are near the Jean Talon Market, take a walk over to Indian Curry House (996 rue Jean-Talon Ouest) and get a mixed plate (thali). Cheap and approved by friends recently emigrated from India.

                        If you want to get a great pint of local beer in a neat part of town, check out Saint Bock (1749 rue Saint-Denis). It doesn't usually get that noisy often, but it can at nighttime.

                        Since I have moved here, I have found that the things Montreal does stupidly well, food and drink wise, are the local microbreweries and the midpriced restos. I might recommend serring clear of asian food (with the exception of Jun I) and anything too high end.

                        Good luck and enjoy this awesome city.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: The Chemist

                          Haha, we live in Chinatown so we get enough Asian on a daily basis - not that I'm complaining, just want something different. Thanks for the tips!

                        2. If you're looking for a good, old school greasy eats, the Green Spot Diner in Little Burgundy is probably about as eccentric as it gets. Local and unpredictable, but the steamies are worth it. Make sure to get a booth as the jukeboxes still work!

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: jagbbq

                            Oh, and on the 'old school greasy eats' front, I think La Binerie Mont-Royal deserves a mention - it's a pretty accurate representation of what our grandparents used to have for lunch - both the food and the decor...

                              1. re: Shattered

                                "Ragout of Pellets?" "Paste Chinese Ox with Vegetables?"

                                The World Lingo translator is made of Fail. :)

                                1. re: rcianci

                                  Hahaha.

                                  Meatball stew & shepherd's pie are closer. :-)

                                  kp

                                  1. re: rcianci

                                    he he he. The french language site is packed with spelling mistakes as well.

                                    1. re: johnnyboy

                                      I've even written to them about it and offered to correct them. Having such mistakes on a commercial site is unforgiveable.

                                      1. re: Campofiorin

                                        Oh, I don't know. In their case I think it adds to the authenticity !

                                  2. re: Shattered

                                    Oh my. Binerie would be the last establishment to have a web site in this web site challenged universe of Montreal restaurants. I am in awe.

                                    They are indeed a good choice if you'd like to indulge in a very rich, comforting and no-nonsense breakfast. Have the beans. It is not hard, they come with most orders.

                                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                                      Now that you mention it: Am i the only one who's extremely annoyed by all the over-Flashed, overwrought, overmusical websites that seem to be de rigueur for Montreal restos ? Fer chrissakes, if I want a bloody movie I'll go to Guzzo, just give me the menu ! And not putting the prices on there ? I'm sorry, that's not classy, that's the height of parvenu-ism in my book (yeah XO, I'm talking to you).
                                      I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

                                      1. re: johnnyboy

                                        Hear ya! If I ever become a hacker, my one and only target will be those restaurant web sites that automatically start music, have unnecessary flash animations and force people to download pdf files every time they want to see a menu.

                                        1. re: emerilcantcook

                                          If your boyfriend likes anything tartare you might want to go to Marché 27 for their tartare bar .. pick your raw flesh/fish, pick your sauce and off you go. Good martinis too. The steak tartare with frites at L'Express is good although for strange and unusual I'd pick their os à moelle first.

                                        2. re: johnnyboy

                                          I'm pretty much always listening to music on the computer, so I hate any website that imposes its "musical" tastes on me. Flash is only slightly less annoying, especially when looking for information in a hurry.

                                          Pdf is the worst of all, though. Completely unnecessary unless it's a map, and even then it had better be the entire STM network. Unless it's something I really want to know, I don't click on pdf. Are you listening, web designers?

                                2. I'm a little surprised noone has mentioned Fuchsia. I haven't been in a long time, but it is a great place on Duluth (just east of) St. Laurent and they have a different lunch item every day with a desert for $10. From what I recall (and again, its been a few months) its all organic and local. Definitely worth stopping by.
                                  http://www.epiceriefleur.com/indexEN.php

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: MickFlanagen

                                    No one's mentionned Wilensky's, either. Going on off hours and having the staff just stand silently behind the counter staring into the distance whilst you eat your tepid special is definitely strange and unusual.

                                    1. re: SnackHappy

                                      "Tepid" Guh. Guess I'm not missing anything by missing this Montreal "institution" then, am I?

                                  2. HI Jacquelyn, what did you find? I'm headed to Montreal this weekend and looking for the same types of places you were in your post above. Would love to hear about your adventures!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: cdadante

                                      Hey all, we have just begun our adventure in Montreal and are eager to try out all of these great tips! We got in sort of late so we just ate at Le Paris down the street which was fantastic, quiet, courteous, very good duck magret and cassoulet...mmmm Tomorrow we are going to try and venture outside of this area which, although pleasant, is a little consumer crazy for the escapism I wanted. I guess rue de capitalism runs across the countries these days.

                                      1. re: Jacquelyn

                                        Hi Jacquelyn,
                                        Don't know if there's more than one Le Paris in Montreal, but your post did catch my eye.
                                        I remember reading about its demise a couple of months ago, but noticed it being open about 10 days ago. "What the hey?" I thought.
                                        Then this past weekend, there was a review in the Montreal Gazette on Le Paris
                                        here
                                        http://www.montrealgazette.com/Life/P...
                                        (new owners revived it

                                        )

                                        Just curious to know your take on it compared to the review. To be honest, I never ate there, so I'm just wondering.

                                        1. re: porker

                                          Hmm... I can't really say how it's changed since I've never been there but for me it was certainly a nice way to ease into our vacation and met all of our expectations. My boyfriend and I frequent many French restaurants in NYC so we do have something to compare to but neither of us have been to Montreal so I'm not quite sure of what the standards are for French food here.

                                          I can give you a brief breakdown of our night and you can judge from that. We cam in close to closing and the staff greeted us very friendly and seated us near the window which was nice. Our waitress was very sweet and originally from France. She gave us a great wine suggestion and we chatted a bit after our meal about food and where we were all from. She also went out of her way to inform us the meal may take 10 mins (I'm guessing because of the cassoulet) which was not necessary since we would not have noticed one bit. We were having such a good time soaking in the ambiance and enjoying our wine, it could have been 30 mins and we would not have complained.

                                          The food came out beautifully prepared. I had the duck magret with a bit of green, mashed potatoes (so soft!) beets, and apples. Delicious! It was very juicy and steak like and the pairing of fruits and veggies were on point. My boyfriend had the cassoulet which he confirmed was the best he'd ever had (and he gets this at least once a month) I'm sort of squeamish about red meat but I did have a taste of the beans and they really were incredibly flavorful.

                                          Overall, I would say the reviewer probably just had a bad experience and would be unlikely to happen again. It's also hard when you're used to a place being one way and it changes. You're constantly comparing and seeing the differences-usually negative.

                                          Your call but we give it two thumbs up!
                                          :) Jacquelyn

                                          1. re: Jacquelyn

                                            Some of your points seem at odds with the review, so yeah it seemed like a different experience.
                                            I'm glad you guys had a great time.

                                            Let us know of some of your other exploits!