Montreal is a city for enthusiastic eaters, gastronomes, foodie/Instagrammers, food truck fans and everyone in between. To taste old Montreal, you need a taste of neighbourhood life away from Rue Ste Catherine – head for Le Plateau and go on a do-it-yourself bagel tour.
You should include Montreal-style bagels on any visit to Montreal because they are different than their New York cousins. Smaller and denser, they are wonderful. You know you have the real thing when you it’s hand-formed, cooked in a wood-fired oven, and with a larger hole than its NYC counterparts. Many will argue the MTL bagels are better than the doughy carb-bombs from NYC, but I’ll just say they are a perfect portable food for exploring the side streets and diverse neighbourhoods along Blvd Saint-Laurent.
There are lots of places to get great bagels in Montreal, but this do-it-yourself tour will visit the two places that consistently trade the “Best Bagel” crown: Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel in the Mile End neighbourhood of Le Plateau. We did this tour using our 3-day transport passes ($18 in July 2013) on STM, Montreal transit. Both shops are easily accessible from the incredibly convenient 55 St Laurent bus which runs along Boul Saint Laurent and passes through many neighbourhoods worth further exploration.
Fun fact: you can do most of this tour 24 hours a day. Both Fairmount and St-Viateur are open 24-7 (or 24/24 en français), so you can stop to get hot, fresh bagels literally when the mood strikes you. I visited all of these places in broad daylight, but I’ve set a personal goal to do the 4am version the next time I’m in town.
Opening in 1919, Fairmount Bagel (74, rue Fairmount Ouest) has the distinction of being the oldest bagel shop in Montreal. It also has the distinction of being the first bagel in space, when a Canadian astronaut took Fairmount bagels to the International Space Station with him. Space bagels!
The shop is easy to find and very compact. A quick scan shows you everything you need to see, including the full roster of available flavours. Availability changes, so make several stops if you have your heart set on something specific. Since they’re hard to come by elsewhere, I went for the garlic bagels, a rich, pungent snack that will ward off vampires or unwanted suitors.
One block up and a couple of blocks over, St-Viateur Bagel (263, rue Saint Viateur Ouest) is a force to be reckoned with. Their three bakeries churn out bagels around the clock, and they are shipped cross-country daily. There are two St-Viateur outlets on Rue Saint Viateur, and we were about to enter the one at 158, rue Saint Viateur Ouest until a helpful stranger corrected and sent us further down the street to the original location. Thanks, helpful stranger!
They didn’t have garlic when I was there, so I grabbed a couple of plain bagels for the day ahead and we were off. Things move swiftly at both shops, there isn’t time to linger or seats, so it’s best to choose quickly, grab your brown paper bag, and find a park bench nearby.
The verdict: both shops produce equally great bagels!
The other verdict: there is no way I’m ready to pick a winner in this Battle Royale du Bagel. Much, much more research is required.
Beautys: the finishing touch
Once you’ve sampled the contenders, get back on the 55 Saint Laurent bus and head up to Beautys Luncheonette (93, Rue Mont-Royal Ouest) to get the Beautys Special: toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomato and onion. This will give you a true appreciation for the beauty of the Montreal bagel.
How do you pick the best bagel in Montreal? I need some tips for next time!