St-Laurent boulevard – Eat, Walk, Shop
St-Laurent boulevard – The weather is finally improving in Montreal, and what better way to take advantage of these warmer days than to take a walk and explore a neighbourhood? This was my thought as I began to walk on St-Laurent boulevard with my seventeen-year-old daughter Elena. It seemed logical to us to start with one of the oldest streets in Montreal: St-Laurent boulevard, which begins in the old Port and makes it way North to the other end of the island, is an integral part of many different neighbourhoods on its way. The stretch of the boulevard we decided to explore, which was from Prince-Arthur to Rachel, used to be almost exclusively populated with imported food stores, fishmongers and fresh produce markets. One could buy imported European cheeses and cured meats, as well as Jewish, Spanish, Polish and Portuguese products that had just come off the boats down the boulevard. This was at a time when regular supermarkets did not stock much of anything beyond standard North American items. Many of the older businesses have since closed down and been replaced with trendier, edgier and more eclectic ones that match the personality of the new inhabitants of the neighbourhood. For a while the process of gentrification seemed to be destroying everything historical in the area, but it seems that a new identity has managed to surface without the complete eradication of the old guard.
We decided to attempt to showcase both the old and the new in this article, emphasizing those businesses that have a unique Montreal flavour to them. All along our walk, we were impressed with the many murals, most of which come up during the yearly mural festival. We are hoping the festival will happen again this summer, since St-Laurent will be closed to traffic, and there will be festivities around the unveiling of new murals. St-Laurent is even more photogenic at this time and a great place to bring tourists for a day.
We started our exploration of St-Laurent boulevard at Juliette et Chocolat, at the corner of St-Laurent and Prince-Arthur. Created a few years ago by a then 22 year old Juliette Brun, this business has thrived over the years. We shared a mild anxiety attack when confronted with so many chocolate possibilities on the menu: how to pick just one? Finally we settled on one healthy choice, the Pesto Complete Crepe ($12.95) (an egg, choice of ham or turkey, swiss cheese and Maison Legrand basil pesto), on one chocoholic’s choice: the Hazelnut Praline Bomb ($6.55) (a crunchy layered base topped with a silky 55% dark chocolate mousse and a sweet hazelnut cream heart), and finally on a novelty choice: the Juliette’s Floating Island ($8.95) (a fluffy meringue with a hazelnut praline cream center, floating on a
sweet vanilla custard and covered in homemade fleur de sel sauce and crunchy caramelized hazelnuts). The pesto crepe was hearty and tasty. The main ingredient, Maison Legrand pesto, is available at supermarkets. Bernard
Legrand once owned a small vegetarian food counter in Mile End, and he and his wife Tatiana have managed their products in such a way that they have now
become a household name in many Montreal homes. But I digress, let’s get back to the chocolate. The floating island was divine, I can never get enough fleur de sel caramel. I realized, while savouring every spoonful of the Hazelnut praline bomb, that there are certain desserts that deserve to have new adjectives created to describe them, and I think that “fantabulicious” is the ideal invented adjective for this dessert. Before leaving, we walked around the displays, and looked at all the cute Easter chocolates, fondue sauces and pastries in the store part of the restaurant.
We started walking north, and I told Elena we had to stop at Slovenia’s, a small Slovenian supermarket that has been around since the 1970s. I told her that her father and I, then poor university students living on the cheap in the area, would stop by after our Saturday shopping to have some delicious smoked meat sandwiches. The friendly Marian was serving us then, and she will likely serve you as well when you walk in. The prices are very reasonable ($4.50 to $6 per sandwich), and you might want to check out their grocery selection as well, to bring a little Eastern Europe home.
Montreal Images, our next stop, is a great place to bring a tourist-friend to pick up a few souvenir postcards. There is also a good many posters, framed pictures and knick-knacks to look at. They also have those retro Canadian tourism posters, that are sort of pocky and yet very cool.
We dare you to walk out of our next location, Boutique Scandale, empty-handed. The original creations at this store are beautiful and range from daily wear to fancy stuff. My niece found her prom dress here last year, a 1950s inspired polka dot dress, complete with crinoline, it was just perfect!
If you do not find anything you like at this store, cross the street to 1861, a vintage-inspired dress boutique that is just bursting with beautiful feminine flowery lacy confections. This Montrealer-owned store has two other boutiques, La Petite Garçonne and Le Boudoir, all located on the Main.
We then headed for the Librairie Espagnole, which has been open since 1964, allowing many hispanics over the years to deal with homesickness by being able to get some provisions that used to be so difficult to find elsewhere. Herbe Mate aficionados know that this is the place to shop for quality Herbe Mate. We were offered Dulce de Leche filled Churros, much to my half-Spanish and churro-loving daughter’s delight. They are worth trying and so very rich! You can even buy churro flour mix and a churro maker if you want to try to make your own.
We did not hesitate to go into Burger Royal, especially since a sign on the door said that the restaurant was participating in Macaroni and Cheese Week, the yearly Montreal restaurant shared ode to the comforting dish. Burger royal offers quality fast-food items made with ingredients that come from a sustainable environment. We ordered the Royal with cheese ($7-$13), a hamburger made from mountain-raised, grass-fed beef, a side of deep fried pickles ($5) and, traditional mac and cheese ($6). The food was excellent, comforting, and of superior quality. Burger royal will have a pop up stand in the Old Port this summer and I would recommend you try one of their delicious burgers.
As we continued up the street we fell upon a store that had not yet officially opened. The window display looked so attractive, and since the products seemed to be locally made, we decided to go in and make inquiries. We found out that this was an Air Miles Local Pop Up Store, which will only be open for a month. We took a look around and saw that the organizers had made a point of gathering local brand items in the store, which can be purchased with Airmile dream miles or cash. Furthermore, when you purchase anything in the store, you will receive a surprise gift! One item caught my eye: the Clark & James shaving soaps. I was told by a friend that is the ultimate shaving soap, with no exception. It is produced by the Montreal company Dot & Lil, which is known for its quality bathing products, and whose products are available online.
Further up the street, we found Schwartz’s. Apparently, tourists often ask the man holding a change-cup and sitting in a lawn chair who has taken residence in front of the restaurant to move over so that they can take a picture of the piled up briskets in the window. He could not understand why, saying “I am better looking by far than a hunk of meat”. My daughter and I laughed and agreed that he would make just as good a picture so we obliged his point of view, and snapped a few shots with him. Schwartz’s enjoys the reputation as being the number one place to go to for smoked meat, although I have heard that they enjoy a healthy rivalry with The Main, across the street. You don’t only go for the food although this would be reason enough; you also go to experience the historical atmosphere and significance of a restaurant that has been open since 1928. You can even still see the architectural detail in the building which shows how there was an access to stables at the back of the business when they use to ride horses up the street.
At the corner of Napoléon street, we went into Rotisserie Coco Rico, open since the 1970s and famous for its delicious chicken sandwich, served with roasted potatoes and a side of salad ($5.49). After talking with the owner Maria, we realized that she had studied alongside Elena’s dad at CEGEP. We shared an emotional moment as we presented our children to each other. Her son Alex works alongside his mom, who has taken the reigns of the family-owned business. As Maria packed some Pasteis de Nata for us to take home, she told us that they will be serving roasted lamb and suckling pig during Easter.
Our next to last stop was at Frenco, a bulk food store which has also been around for at least thirty years. I watched my daughter choose a flavoured black loose tea, and remembered that I had done the same thing as a student living a few doors away many years ago. I was able to purchase some difficult to find and much sought-after Chaga tea, whose superfood properties are thought to be healing.
Our final stop was the Museum of Jewish Montreal, situated at the corner of Rachel. This is a relatively new business which offers four walking tours in the area, each of which aims at sharing the rich Jewish heritage of the neighbourhood, and varying in time from a 3-4 hour tour at $70 to 90-120 minute tour at $20 each. When we dropped in, the place was packed with a group about to go out for a walk, so it would seem that they are enjoying a certain success.
Although we were not able to visit or write about every single business we came upon, since there are so many, we hope you will discover the ones we mentioned, and perhaps make a few discoveries of your own on your next walk on St-Laurent Boulevard.
All Photos by: Elena Ducouré