It's been over 13 years since I last visited Montreal during the Jazz Festival. I mean, I've most certainly visited Montreal in the interim. My previous job took me there almost annually, allowing me many opportunities to experience the amazing food scene in Montreal. But the Jazz Festival? Not since mid-2002, when Bryan and I were fresh newlyweds.
The Montreal Jazz Festival (Festival International de Jazz de Montreal) is really fun. I don't know that much about jazz, but I can appreciate good music, having grown up playing piano and violin, and then picking up guitar, bass, and drums in college.
I can attest that there many extremely talented musicians who perform at this festival. And many of these acts are free, performed on large outdoor stages around the festival area. It's really fun just to walk around at night, stopping by various stages to listen.
We visited the Festival virtually every evening. During the day, we ate our way around Montreal!
We were upgraded to this ridiculous suite (which includes a wrap-around deck that's not pictured) at the Westin Montreal after they messed up our booking, forcing us to spend our first night at an inferior hotel across town. They most certainly made up for their mistake with this upgrade, and we enjoyed living it large in this crazy suite for the rest of our trip.
There are so many place to visit in Montreal, like the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica, which is right in the Old Montreal neighborhood.
Old Montreal itself is cute, filled with cobblestone/brick roads, shops, and restaurants. Though it was raining the day we went, we still enjoyed walking around.
We even stumbled upon a huge barbecue-fest right at the port.
Though it seemed a bit weird to be eating Texas, North Carolina, and Canadian barbecue in Montreal, I must admit that the ribs were really good.
Virtually everyone visits Mont Royal, the highest point in the entire city. You get a gorgeous view of downtown Montreal. You can either hike or drive up to the top.
Another fun place to visit is Jean-Talon Market, a huge indoor and outdoor market full of independent vendors selling all sorts of gourmet food products, flowers, produce, cured meats, and more. There was even an oyster bar full of raw oysters from Price Edward Island.
And maple cookies, hee hee hee . . .
Montreal really feels like France in a lot of ways. All signs must be written in both languages, with the French fonts being larger. Most people prefer to speak French by default, although most are biligual.
There are also countless French-influenced restaurants, like L'Express, a charming, reasonably priced French bistro that serves authentic French classics in a convivial atmosphere late into the night. We arrived around 8PM and the place was still buzzing when we left around 10:30PM. We enjoyed all sorts of traditional French food, like Croque Monsieur, rilettes, foie gras, bouillabaisse, and much, much more.
We loved our fantastic brunch at Lawrence, a gourmet spot serving food with British influences.
Of course, you must try Montreal's most famous item, poutine, a rich, satisfying dish which includes a base of fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Au Pied de Cochon makes an excellent version that includes generous chunks of foie gras. It was the best one we had in Montreal.
Just like in Paris, Montreal has no shortage of bakeries, and we made sure to visit several of them.
Like this Jewish bakery that makes one of the best chocolate babka loaves in North America.
Or tasting homemade kouign-amann (one of my favorite pastries) from a bakery bearing the same name.
And of course, you can't forget trying freshly baked bagels from Montreal's two rival bagel institutions, who are only blocks away from each other. If you want to see more action, go to St. Viateur, where you can see bakers kneading bagel dough, forming circles, and baking the bagels in a wood-fired oven. The best part? Seeing the bagels continuously roll off the chute from the hot oven. It's so fun to eat a hot one right at the store.
And then, if you get sick of french fries, gravy, and other rich foods, Montreal actually has a fantastic variety of upscale, farm-to-table restaurants. I absolutely loved my dinner at Hotel Herman, where very seasonal ingredients were showcased with great care. After multiple days of fries and foie gras, I was ready for something lighter. It turned out to be one of my favorite meals.
Stay tuned for more detailed posts on each of these restaurants as we being this new series!