A Pleasant Surprise: Brunch Scene in Montreal

As much as we love French food, American-style brunch was one meal that we always thought we would miss should we eventually move there.  It might be the country of "French Toast" (or "Pain Perdu," literally "lost bread"), but French breakfasts didn't seem to get as creative and interesting--and, yes, over-the-top--as the brunches we enjoy just three doors down from our Chicago-suburb condo.  (We actually have a pretty special brunch place in our neighborhood, so that's not as outrageous a statement as it would seem to others.)

Perhaps the abundance and variety of viennoiserie (pain au chocolate, almond croissant, pain au raisin,  chausson de pommes, etc.) obviate the need for special breakfast items in France?  Well, in Montreal, it looks like you can have your cake and eat it too!  Or, it's more like: You can have your viennoiserie and eat a fabulous brunch too!

Last Sunday and this morning, we went to two brunch places--yes, we walked to both--which come close to many top-notch places in Chicago.

Regine Cafe is listed in Tripadvisor as 10th most popular of over 5600 restaurants in Montreal, its immense appeal owing to casual friendliness, whimsical decor, reasonably priced food, and a nice selection of sweet and savory.  It's not clear whether seeing the snaking line outside its front door at 9:30am on a Sunday does more to deter or entice customers...

We're just glad that we got there last Sunday only 10 minutes after it opened and were able to grab the last two spots on a long communal table.  Will and I have dined communal-style many times before, but this time was the most pleasant.  The strategically placed piles of eclectic books and magazines served to create just enough of a physical barrier between different parties of people such that it felt like we had some measure of privacy.  (What a great idea!)  We also got to browse through some interesting titles, and when our first plate came I reluctantly put down my hard-cover photo-filled travel guide of the most unusual hotels in Barcelona (written in French).

After Will got his coffee and I got my most beautifully decorated (yes, a swan!) large bowl of latte (picture at the top of the post), we started with beignets filled with chocolate cream and accompanied by pear chocolate sauce.  While we sort of wish that the beignets had been hot, we conceded that these couldn't be fresh-fried beignets and still filled to the brim with the rich and cool chocolate custard cream.  It had to be one or the other.

Then Will had aged cheddar "Grilled Cheese" with caramelized onion on walnut-pistachio bread, while I had the "Mish-Mash" of the day which turned out to be eggs scrambled with fresh spinach and lardon (think bacon, except in big chunks instead of strips) and creamy cheese sauce.  Incredibly, we did finish both dishes--even after the beignets!  In fact, we tackled the toasted and buttered baguette with the last of our coffee once we finished the rest of the meal.  When I asked for some jam, our server said "Bien sur!" and brought a little tin cup of strawberry-rosemary preserves.

We were a bit more restrained in our orders this morning at the Bazaar, a Moroccan-themed breakfast and lunch place 5-minutes walk from our apartment.  Since it was Mother's Day, we hurried to make sure to get there exactly at 9am once they opened, just in case we would have difficulty getting a table.  We did notice very long tables with hand-written signs indicating they were reserved, but luckily we were able to get one of the two remaining two-tops which were not "ReservĂ©."  Whew!

Our friendly server was very gracious with our fumbling French, and she assured us that she could speak English if we were more comfortable with it--or French if we wanted to practice.  All said with smiling friendliness that put us completely at ease.  So we switched back and forth between French and English, and she made sure to praise us warmly ("Parfait!") every time we tried some French ("Oui, plus de cafe, s'il vous plait").

We both really enjoyed the spicy (it did have a nice kick) merguez sausage with scrambled eggs and aged cheddar, but Will's sweet tooth was a tiny bit more partial to his cranberry French toast smothered with 70% cocoa chocolate and salted caramel sauce, with fresh banana slices.  Now that would be what they call piece de resistance!

While it's true that neither of these two places rivals the dizzying inventiveness of a place like Stephanie Izard's Little Goat Diner--our most recent brunch outing in Chicago--we're happy to be able to report on this surprisingly delectable brunch scene in Montreal!


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