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Jan 29, 2009 05:40 AM

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.


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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)
            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).

                      They have an (long un-updated) blog

                      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

                    Bouchonné comptoir à vin

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

                    Pintxo for Basque style tapas

                    Café Myriade

                    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?

                    Best of Montreal?

                    Montreal Locals - What do you consider the best small hole in the wall resto?

                    Boston hounds need help for Montreal visit

           endless banquet's food guide is also worth checking out, especially for off-the-beaten-track type places with good food:

                    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!