This is the second in a series of Field Guides to Montreal. While I can't promise that if you go to any of these places, you'll have a life-changing good time, I can promise that these lists of mine will take you off the beaten path and to parts of Montreal you just hadn't thought about visiting before. You'll find Part 1, my field guide to Mile End, over here.
The first time I set foot in St-Henri was for a job interview. I had taken a 6am train to get there on time, I was tired, and I was WAY out of my element (not to mention that I wasn't actually all that sure where I was). But my confusion and uncertainty lasted for just a minute as I worked my way out of Station St-Henri and wandered towards the tall, imposing, unusual Chateau St-Ambroise. Little did I know that hours later I'd be committing to moving to the city so I could spend the next two and a half years working out of that space.
A little history
St-Henri has, for the most part, been a working class neighbourhood for most of its existence. Nestled just below Westmount - home to expensive houses, wealthy residents, and cute boutiques (It's Montreal's version of the Glebe) - the community is a little bit gritty, a little bit gentrified, and full of interesting characters. If you want to get to know it a bit more, the documentary St Henri the 26th of August has some greatness to offer.
Where to eat
Satay Brothers - Atwater Market from May - October; St-Jacques from November - April
What started as a city-market-sanctioned food stand has turned into full--blown, year round malaysian/indonesian indulgence. People come from all over the city to eat at the Satay Brothers' stand in the Atwater Market (or in winter at their location on St-Jacques). Try the Laksa (SO SO SO GOOD - it knocks the Singapore - Ottawa's sole source of laksa - out of the park), the Papaya Salad (xx, please), and the Veggie buns and you'll leave both full and happy. Their tofu steamed buns are the best I've ever had. Bonus: they ALWAYS remember your name if you visit more than twice. Never fails to make me feel special.
Tuck Shop - Notre-Dame @ Delinelle
A few years old, this market-fare spot with an ever changing menu is incredibly popular and a great place to step it up when you want to do something a little splurgey for dinner. Everything I've ever eaten here has been delightful, and their cocktails list will leave you wanting just one more.
Joe Beef - Notre-Dame b/w Charlevoix and Vinet
If you haven't heard of Joe Beef, you may have been living under a culinary rock for the last few years. Long story short: reserve WAY in advance, bring an appetite and your best friends. They'll do the rest.
Burgundy Lion (Notre-Dame @ Charlevoix)
One of Montreal's most reliable British-style pub. Order the scotch egg -- and a pint -- and then order another one. They have a petite terrasse out front, but the sweet spot is the interior patio. Go there, drink pints of Quebec cider (sorry -- no strongbow here, it's not allowed!), have curried things, and enjoy the antics of the bar staff. Everyone is friendly and chatty, so if you're looking for a good excuse to practice your Francais, this is a risk-free place to try it out.
Campanelli - Notre-Dame @ Parc George-Etienne Cartier
In Ottawa, pretty much everyone knows that the place to go for a fantastic sandwich is Dirienzo's. In Montreal, Campanelli should be just as revered, yet most people I talk to have never heard of it before. No matter -- now YOU have. And you should get yourself there, post-haste. Their roast beef sandwich is most delectable sandwich I've ever had, and that's saying a lot, since I'm mostly vegetarian-leaning. Treat yourself to an espresso and a sweet treat from their counter display. Eat inside, or in the park. Go on, you'll thank me later.
Ludger - Notre-Dame @ Couvent -- St-Henri Metro
Extremely new so I haven't even tried it. Which is exactly why you should! (and report back, please!)
What to do
Before moving to Montreal, Brett and I both downed many years of pints at Ottawa hangout the Manx, and our beer of choice was often McAusland's Apricot Wheat. So, imagine my surprise when I realized that their brewery was literally STEPS from my office, complete with tours, a gorgeous terrasse right on the Lachine Canal, and even the occasional bike-in movie night! It was such a great neighbourhood find. A popular spot, it's also a bit off the beaten path, next to NO transit at all (not even a bixi stand). Bixi to Atwater market, head just over the canal and then walk along the pathway to the west and you'll arrive at the St-Ambroise brewery in no time (you'll see it, around about the second canal bridge). Or, smartly bring your very own bike and lock it up behind the brewery. You can drive there, too, but what's the fun in that?
Stroll through Atwater market - Atwater and St-Ambroise
Smaller than the Jean-Talon market with a more artisanal focus, the Atwater market sits at the end of Atwater and St-Ambroise. Brimming with some small farmstands in the summer, the really exciting part of this market is the vast amount of cheese. BEAUTIFUL QUEBEC CHEESE, I MISS YOU SO (I'm only half kidding -- Ontario seems to not totally understand that there's good cheese *just* over the border in la belle province). Check out the fromagerie atwater, or pop into the pizza shop that sells macarons (?) for a quick Point G Macaron pick-me-up. Visit the food stands at the north end (ref: Satay Brothers, above) or head up to the Premiere Moisson to grab a loaf of freshly baked baguette. Top it all off with a double-scoop cone at Havre aux Glacées and a stroll along the canal and you'll have had a perfect afternoon.
La Drinkerie - Notre-Dame between Atwater and Charlevoix
Pop in for a 5 à 7 or stay until the wee hours. Bring many friends, and an appetite for great drinks. Sometimes rowdy, often entertaining.
In recent years, the Lachine Canal near Atwater has become a bit of a hotspot for concerts and festivals. Check the Pop Montreal listings during summer to see what's coming up next. There's almost always something!
Cafe St Henri - Notre-Dame at Bourget
Having recently given up coffee, I don't actually miss that much about it, but I do miss this place. My friend Isabel and I would wander over from the office a few days a week. Me, in search of a "boring" café filtre, and she, in search of a Moka. I miss that routine, and I miss this adorable coffee shop/roastery. Grab a freshly roasted bag (our go-to was the Mexican blend) and you'll get your coffee for free! Church pews are perfectly placed for people-watching, so enjoy it.
Itsi Bitsi - Notre-Dame at Charlevoix
This is my second favourite cupcake shop in all of Montreal (it falls short only to Cocoa Locale in Mile-End/Plateau because those cupcakes....well. I can't do them justice with mere words. Itsi-bitsi is a close second, though. Not dry, not over-iced, and not covered in tacky toppings -- essential to good cupcake-ing. Their individual cupcake boxes saved me from getting cupcakes on my jacket more than once. In addition to the cupcakes, they've got a smattering of local and artfully produced goods, so you can get some shopping in, too!
Leche Donuts - De Courcelle, just north of Notre-Dame
Somewhat new to the hood, this cute little cafe on De Courcelle is home to some of Montreal's best donuts. The only problem is that you can't possibly try them all.
Rustique - Notre-Dame at Parc George-Etienne Cartier
Go here, and it's guaranteed -- you're going to want ALL THE PIES. Because they are all delicious, natch.
There is, of course, much more to do in St-Henri that I've covered here. But this list is intended to scratch the surface over a short period of time so that you can also have some fresh discoveries of your own. Have fun!