Days 1 and 2: Montreal

Onward we drove past the border toward Montreal. I was excited and pleasantly surprised to see that the main road leading to Montreal is lined with farms.

And more specifically, it is lined with acres upon acres of corn. Unfortunately I didn’t snap a picture but many of the farms had cute wooden signs painted with animated ears of corn proclaiming “Mais Sucre” and other items sold at the farm stands.

Traffic was going along fine until we approached the Pont Victoria. Note of advice #1: Don’t drive into Montreal during rush hour. Once you get over the bridge though, it is a quick transition from the highway directly into downtown Montreal, and before we knew it, we were navigating congested streets. Montreal is actually laid out on a simple grid, but just our luck, the street where our hotel was located, Rue Ste. Catherine Ouest, was closed for construction. After several minutes of circling, we found a spot to park and settled into our hotel room.

(Dinner was barely worth mentioning, but for the sake of full disclosure, it is after the jump at the bottom).

In the morning, we headed to the Saint Laurent metro stop across the street from our hotel, hoping to go to the Jean-Talon Market for breakfast. Unfortunately, to buy a metro pass, you need to either use Canadian dollars or a Visa Canada credit card. Having neither, we trekked on up Rue Saint Laurent (Montreal has some very steep uphill climbs) in search of a place to exchange our dollars. By the time we finally exchanged our money, we were starving and headed into the first food establishment we saw, Boulangerie Au Pain Doré.

We just wanted something to tide us over until we could sit down for a proper meal. I really did not take a close look at the cinnamon roll before ordering it. If I had, I would have chosen something else. It ended up being completely tasteless. (I promise you this is the end of the bad food. It was a rocky start, but it gets better from here).

We continued up Saint Laurent and over to Saint Urbain, which was filled with quaint, colorful townhouses.

At this point, I realized we were close to a restaurant that my friend Jamie had recommended, Cafe Santropol. We got there a few minutes before they opened for lunch and were seated in the lush patio out back.

Cafe Santropol is a self-proclaimed “alternative cafe.” They serve mainly sandwiches, both standard and nontraditional, because, as the website details, the cafe owner could not afford any expensive cooking equipment when he first opened. You can read more about the cafe’s history here.

All sandwiches are served on the cafe’s homemade bread along with a salad. I decided on the Sweet Root sandwich, a mixture of grated carrots, raisins, walnuts, mayo and coriander with apple and lettuce. I was hesitant because of the coriander, which I sometimes find to be too overpowering. Luckily, it had just the right amount, adding a nice warm spice to contrast the sweetness of the carrots and raisins and the richness of the mayo and nuts. I also love sliced apple on just about any sandwich. The bread, baked fresh every morning, was soft with a crispy crust.

Dave got the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich, which was very good, though would have preferred more salmon.

This was an excellent first real meal of our trip. If you go, I highly recommend sitting in the back garden and taking the time to enjoy your meal and the surroundings. You might be tempted to look for food on the busier, more commercial Rue Saint Laurent or Rue Saint Denis. But if you can, ask for recommendations from locals or people who have been before. Cafe Santropol is tucked away on the mostly residential Rue Saint Urbain, and I would never have found it had I not gotten the recommendation from Jamie. In my experience, sometimes the better the food, the harder it is to find. When in doubt, as you’ve heard several times, ask the locals. They provided us with great suggestions multiple times throughout our trip.

Dinner from the previous night

After 8, we headed out to look for dinner. Not having our bearings at all, we headed toward the Old Port, which, while touristy, was the only area close by we knew of. Place Jacques-Cartier is a lively, pedestrian-only plaza in the Old Port. It has fountains and live music that continues well into the evening. This may be cliche, but I cringe at the thought of tourist trap restaurants. They are flashy, expensive and have abominable food. That pretty much describes most (not all) of the restaurants in the Old Port. There were a few options that looked nicer but were very pricey. It was already late and we wanted something quick, not something fancy. We settled on Restaurant Jacques-Cartier on Place Jacques-Cartier because they had inexpensive pizzas. It is barely worth mentioning. The service left much to be desired and the pizza ended up being a massive pile of cheese atop a greasy cracker of a crust. As I said, not worth mentioning.

Cafe Santropol
3990 Rue St-Urbain
Montréal, QC
Café Santropol on Urbanspoon

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