Despite growing up just 300 miles from the Canadian border, I somehow made it 31 years without visiting our friendly neighbor to the north. Shame! It wasn’t because I didn’t think Canada was a worthy destination; I’ve seen enough jaw-dropping photos of friends on hikes in Banff to know that Canada’s got plenty to offer. But I’ve always kept the Great White North in my back pocket, so to speak: Ontario and Québec are close enough that I could take a quick flight for a long weekend, so I’ve never really prioritized traveling there, opting for the excitement of an overseas trip instead.
You can see where this is going, of course: I finally pulled this reserve destination out of my pocket and booked a trip last December, thanks in part to a great deal I found via my beloved Scott’s Cheap Flights. The timing was serendipitous; I’d realized Steven and I wouldn’t be able to swing a December trip to Europe to enjoy some Christmas markets, and then, voilà: cheap flights to Montréal, a Francophone city with a dash of European charm and its own festive Christmas markets. Sold!
We packed all sorts of fun into our three-day trip to Montréal. The weather was frigid, not even hitting 10˚F on our first two days, but we layered and bundled up and found it wholly manageable. (I like to think my days in Minnesota and Wisconsin prepared me!) Plus, the chilly weather made it all the more reasonable for us to spend, say, two hours drinking tea and dining on delicacies! Here are some highlights of our all too brief visit.
Stuffing our faces with poutine at La Panthère Verte
By the time we checked into our hotel late one Friday afternoon, we were getting hungry. We pulled up the Google map I’d made of vegan eats in Montréal, suited up for a night of walking in the bitter cold, and headed out for a requisite Montréal meal: poutine!
We opted to get ours at La Panthère Verte, a small vegan chain with six locations in Montréal. We opted for the Rue Saint-Denis location, which was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. La Panthère Verte is fast-casual, so you order at the front and then take your seat. We opted to split a large (“duo”) bowl of poutine, and Steven got a side of lentil soup as well. We also each wanted a beer, so we placed our order at the front and were told to wait a couple minutes; the cashier would meet us at the bar (located closer to the front of house) to pour them. We settled into our seats and waited, but eventually had to get up and ask about the beers again because the front-of-house staff seemed to have forgotten. Not a big deal by any means, but I did wonder why the restaurant was so sparsely staffed on a Friday night!
Beers and food in hand, we ate. Neither of us had realized that the poutine would be served with sweet potato fries, and I’ll admit that we were a little disappointed not to get the true poutine experience. Still, the salty, tofu-based curds were surprisingly cheese-like, with a texture that actually did remind me of the one time I tried legit cheese curds ages ago. We shoveled forkfuls (forksful?!) of gravy-covered fries and tofu into our welcoming gullets and found it a satisfactory experience. The fries were a little mushy by the end, though, and I suspect regular fries would’ve stood up to the onslaught of gravy a bit better. I took the lion’s share of the poutine, as Steven also had his lentil soup — a warm, gently spiced affair perfect to take off the chill.
Post-poutine, we decided to get drinks — but not at Le Panthère Verte. The atmosphere at this location didn’t quite seem conducive to leisurely sipping cocktails, and the plate-glass storefront let in quite a chill. I wanted somewhere warm, and we opted for L’Gros Luxe, a local chain of hipster-perfect bars. Steven sipped a whiskey, I had an Old Fashioned, and we sat at the bar as the tables behind us slowly filled with coworkers and friends gathering for a holiday cookie exchange. Inveterate people-watcher though I am, I prefer to to watch from the periphery — not enveloped by the group. We soon made our escape.
Enjoying a quick vegan breakfast at Copper Branch
Here is an amazing fact about Montréal: Not only is the aforementioned Le Panthère Verte a fully vegan chain, but this freakin’ city has a SECOND vegan chain! Copper Branch also has locations in Toronto and Québec City, but for our purposes, the dozen or so locations in Montréal made it simple to find a quick vegan breakfast en route to Mont Royal.
Copper Branch focuses on healthy, organic, and often gluten-free plant-based dishes, including all-day breakfast items. In the mood for something warm (rather than one of the billion smoothie/grain bowls on offer), Steven and I both chose the Southwest Wrap Scramble, featuring tofu scramble, vegan cheese, veggies, and a spicy sauce. It was, in a word, fine. Nothing spectacular, and a bit drippy for my tastes, but adequate. I didn’t love — or, frankly, understand— the inclusion of lettuce in a hot wrap. Who wants to bite into warm, wilted lettuce? Why not add a heartier green instead?! That said, I liked the generous portion of tofu scramble, which helped to power Steven and I through an energy-requiring (yet ultimately abortive) attempt to summit Mont Royal.
Steven got a hot coffee on the side, while I chose a matcha coconut latte. It was nice and hot and didn’t skimp on the matcha, even if it was a bit overly sweetened for my tastes.
Failing to reach the top of Mont Royal
Mont Royal, you tricksy devil. Lured by promises of the best view in the city, Steven and I huffed and puffed our way up dozens of wooden staircases set into the hills until we found ourselves on Mont Royal proper. We’d plugged the Mont Royal chalet — from which one could enjoy that spectacular view — into our offline Google map, but ended up following posted signage toward it instead. As we set off, we spotted even more wooden staircases leading up to a viewpoint, but they were chained off by very official-looking signage that seemed to promise falls and grievous injury if you ignored them. We watched as more than a few fellow hikers clambered over the chains, ignoring the signage completely, but we figured a more leisurely stroll up to the chalet via this alternate route (no more stairs!) would get us there eventually.
Alas, it did not. We walked and walked, following the signage until it… stopped. We checked our Google map, which showed the chalet somewhere back behind us, closer to where we’d come from. Plus, we had definitely not ascended high enough to reach any kind of spectacular viewpoint. With a 1:00 p.m. lunch reservation looming, we turned around. The downhill walk went faster, and we marveled at the many hardy runners making their way up the hill, braving the icy temperatures and lots of actual ice. Soon we were back at the chained-off staircase, which we suspect would’ve taken us right to the chalet. Without time to make the trek up, we cursed ourselves for not hopping the chain in the first place and set off north of Mont Royal to make our afternoon tea reservation.
Frankly, I’m still salty that we didn’t get to the chalet. We briefly considered making a second attempt later in the afternoon, post-tea, but the rapidly setting sun and our increasingly frozen fingers dissuaded us. We still had a nice hike in the bright winter sun, and it gives us a reason to return to Montréal. We’ve got to experience the city in the warmer months, right?
Enjoying vegan afternoon tea at Le Parloir
Our three-course afternoon tea was the perfect antidote to the failed Mont Royal attempt. With chilled digits to warm and bruised egos to salve, we happily spent a good two hours sipping on hot tea, working our way through a dozen or so small bites, and eavesdropping on our fellow diners’ conversations. I heartily recommend this experience, and you can read a much more detailed account here.
Soaking up the holiday magic at a Christmas market
Oh, friends. Let me tell you a minor tale of woe. Recall how, when planning this trip to Montréal, my primary motivation was to enjoy the city’s festive Christmas markets. Early research showed at least two promising markets, but then, in early December, tragedy struck: While finalizing my plans for the trip, I discovered that one of the markets had been canceled for the 2018 season. Needless to say, I felt this tragic blow deep in my holiday-loving heart. Clearly the Grinch was at work here.
But! All was not lost. There was still one Montréal Christmas market scheduled, and we made our way there on Saturday night. We availed ourselves of the metro; Montréal has a $10 24-hour pass that includes transportation to the airport, so we timed the purchase to take advantage of that boon. A brief journey later, we exited the Atwater station to a Christmas miracle: SNOW! Perfect light flakes floating down around as as we walked just a few blocks to the Village de Noel de Montréal. Our route took us through an expansive lot selling Christmas trees; I forced Steven to pose among the snow-dappled pines for a photo. It was — not to put too fine a point on it — festive as fuck.
A few minutes later, we entered the market proper. It was a compact affair, with just the right number of people: enough for it to feel festive, but not quite packed enough to trigger much crowd-induced anxiety. Two or three rows of vendors (all cozy in little chalets) sold everything from socks to snacks, and we made sure to stop for glasses of vin chaud — served, as I’d desperately hoped they’d be, in commemorative cups. Not the fancy ceramic mugs I’ve seen doled out at European markets, but light little plastic numbers that we brought home as our only souvenirs of the trip. Hot mulled wine in hand, we meandered over to the chest-high tables, where you could lean in and sip your wine while being warmed by the fire pits at the tables’ center. We petted a few jauntily be-sweatered dogs, watched a vendor serve up raclette, and generally enjoyed the merry ambiance… all to the tune of Die Hard dubbed in French. Apparently the Christmas village shows movies some nights on a big outdoor projector, and speakers placed throughout the village let everyone hear the film, even if they weren’t watching it. Rapid machine gun fire — so festive! (In all seriousness, it was a little unnerving. The speakers weren’t terribly loud, and you couldn’t hear them from every part of the market, but I wondered if maybe this wasn’t the best movie to pipe out, context-less, in a crowd.)
My only regret from the Christmas market (well, aside from failing to get a cute photo together) is not trying maple syrup snow candy. Ever since reading about this delicacy in a Little House book ages ago, I’ve been enamored with it: You pour heated maple syrup on fresh snow, twirling it as you go, to create what’s essentially maple taffy. As a certified maple lover, it’s a dream food for me — but I’ve never seen it being made before. And then, there it was: a maple syrup snow candy vendor, twirling hot syrup into a sweet delight for just $1. BUT. I did not have any cash on me. In a truly boneheaded move, we didn’t withdraw any Canadian cash from an ATM before heading to the market. And I call myself a seasoned traveler. :( Needless to say, I was crushed not to finally try this most quaint of Canadian treats.
Anyway. We spent a good hour at the market, then headed back to the city center to stuff our faces with sushi.
Enjoying roll after roll of vegan sushi
My preparation for traveling tends to be pretty passive: I peruse blog posts and Pinterest for inspiration, putting together a personalized Google map of vegan eateries, hotspots, accommodations, etc. Steven took a more active route for this trip: He posted in the vegan Montréal subreddit asking for recommendations. One spot was mentioned repeatedly: Sushi Momo Montréal, an all-vegan sushi joint on trendy Rue Saint-Denis.
Steven and I had visited another vegan sushi spot previously — Pirata in Vienna — but I’ve got to say that Sushi Momo blew Pirata out of the, ahem, water. Not only is the vibe super inviting and fun, with little booths tucked into every available space and all sorts of eye-catching decor, but the food is incredible. These sushi rolls are not your run-of-the-mill veg option, with avocado/cucumber/carrot/blah. We started with edamame (duh) and then moved onto a five-piece Momo roll (sweet Japanese tofu, avocado, mango, cucumber, tempura, oba leaf, Japanese curry aioli, basil-miso emulsion) and a five-piece tempura Dino-Dino roll (baby spinach maki, cucumber, avocado, inari, mushrooms cooked in sake, truffle-miso emulsion, wasabi emulsion, teriyaki sauce, ito-togarashi).
Apologies for the crappy photo (the lighting was tricky), but I hope you can see how beautifully these rolls were presented — especially the Momo roll in the background. I am not a sushi connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could tell that this was really damn good sushi. Every ingredient was balanced by another one, creating a perfectly harmonious bite with something to hit nearly all the basic tastes and requiring just the smallest bit of soy sauce to bring it all together. Each bite had a blend of textures to keep things interesting, and I truly wished I could’ve expanded my stomach to try more. We did end up ordering a third roll, the name of which I cannot recall.
I can’t recommend Momo Sushi highly enough. Our experience was perfect all around, from the moment we arrived early for our reservation (oops) and were seated anyway to the bustling yet inviting ambiance. It’s definitely quite a hipster-friendly place, but the service was great and the food was even better. If we ever up sticks and move to Montréal, rest assured that the existence of Momo Sushi will have played a not-insubstantial role in that decision. I dare you to read through the menu and not end up salivating.
Stuffing our faces at brunch
Our streak of delicious meals continued on our final day, when we enjoyed brunch at Lov. (It was a vegetarian restaurant when we visited but has recently gone fully vegan!) The combination of rumbling bellies and a favorable exchange rate inspired us to order way more food than we usually do: an omelette for Steven, gorgeous fruity pancakes for me, and sausages and hash browns to share. Yum. My gluten-free (!) pancakes were sweet and tasty and topped with chai cashew cream and berries; the savory sausages and hash browns balanced them out nicely and provided me with some protein. I recall Steven’s omelette being decent, if not outstanding, and quite filling.
If you can’t tell from the photos, Lov has a very curated aesthetic, all white marble and exposed brick and natural materials. It works quite well, with lots of natural light creating a welcoming space. It’s definitely trendy (just look at all the light fixtures in the photos of the interior), but hey, if it gets people in the door and eating vegan food, I’m not complaining.
Feeling festive in Old Montréal
Although much of the picturesque Old Montréal district was under construction when we walked through it, we did manage to find some festive little nooks, crannies, alleyways, and storefronts!
The ridiculously adorable Maison Pepin alleyway functioned as a kind of mini Christmas market, with lots of greenery and natural decor on offer both outside and in the shop proper. It’s basically an Instagrammer’s dream, too, with plenty of opportunities for oh-so-festive holiday selfies. I can’t even be mad about it, though; it’s too freakin’ cute!
I’m glad we had three days to eat our way through Montréal, but I wish we’d had more! Here are some spots we didn’t get to try.
- Sophie Sucrée, a vegan bakery that serves up some truly beautiful pastries.
- Invitation V, a modern-looking bistro with cuisine from many cultures.
- Lola Rosa, another internationally inspired café with an impressive menu. Serves brunch. Another spot to get vegan poutine in Montréal!
This is not an exhaustive list, for Montréal is incredibly vegan-friendly. Let me know your favorite spots!