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by Matt

I got a chance to hit up Atwater Market recently and since Julia couldn’t make it I brought along my ol’ pal Ben Franklin, polymath.

I’ve been in talks with a travel agent to do a Matt’s Montreal Tour with a large group of German visitors in September so I headed down to the market to do some cost analysis.  Turns out bread, cheese and pate for 20-25 people will cost roughly $120.  That’s the easy part, the hard part is finding a place for 20-25 proper european tourists to eat all of it.  Come Fall I hopefully shouldn’t have too much difficulty.

While I was down there I thought I’d check out some of the new stuff going on outside at the north end.  I was particularly excited to try the Satay Bros. Malaysian stand but it being a Tuesday they were closed so I had to “settle” for a lobster roll from the Homard des Iles kiosk.

Matt: This looks to be a pretty decent Maine-style lobster roll but with real mayo rather than the Miracle Whip Julia and I had at the Two Lights lobster shack in Cape Elizabeth.  Nice garnishes, too.  We’ve got some chive, red onion, celery and even some anise seed.

Ben:  “New England rum,” in the olden time, was as universal an article, from Maine to Georgia, as Monongahela whisky is now, and far more generally used.

Matt:  I hear you, Ben that would be a nice touch.  There’s hardly anything more appetizing than a nice glass of liquor and a good rum would sure enhance the maritime theme.  I really like the celery, it adds a nice, fresh, green aspect that I haven’t had in a lobster roll.

Ben:  I turned and went down Chesnut-street and part of Walnut-street, eating my roll all the way, and, coming round, found myself again at Market-street wharf, near the boat I came in, to which I went for a draught of the river water; and, being filled with one of my rolls, gave the other two to a woman and her child that came down the river in the boat with us, and were waiting to go further.

Matt:  That’s very generous of you.  Well, I’m still hungry.  It’s a good thing we picked up this Si Pousse sausage A la Biere Noire de Montreal and this Marco Birch beer to wash it down with.

Ben: I found at my door in Craven-street, one morning, a poor woman sweeping my pavement with a birch broom; she appeared very pale and feeble, as just come out of a fit of sickness.

Matt:  That’s a pretty good description of this Marco birch beer, Ben.  Pale and feeble.  It’s a lot like their spruce beer, vaguely tasting of birch and too sweet.  I prefer Bertrand’s spruce beer anyday but I at least give Marco marks for making a birch beer at all.  You don’t see that everyday.

Ben:  From my example, a great many  left their muddling breakfast of beer, bread, and cheese, finding they could with me be supplied from a neighboring house with a large porringer of hot water-gruel, sprinkled with pepper, crumbled with bread, and a bit of butter in it, for the price of a pint of beer, viz., three half pence. This was a more comfortable as well as a cheaper breakfast, and kept their heads clearer.

Matt:  Tell me about it, I’m running up quite a bill here.  Lobster roll: $12.50, birch beer: $2.50, sausage: $5.  That’s $20 for breakfast.  Mind you I do have some left-over sausage, which was quite good, to munch on later.  I could have saved some money by not getting a lobster roll, I guess but I really wanted one.

Ben:  If then a way can be proposed, which may tend to efface the memory of injuries, at the same time that it takes away the occasions of fresh quarrels and mischief, will it not be worth considering, especially if it can be done, not only without expense, but be a means of saving?

Matt:  Sure.

Matt: Well, thanks for coming out with me today, Ben.  I had a great time as usual.  You’re always pleasant if occasionally ribald company.

Ben:  I think I never knew a prettier talker.  Many pleasant walks we have had together on Sundays in the woods, on the banks of the Schuylkill, where we read to one another, and conferred on what we had read.

Matt:  And eaten.

All Benjamin Franklin quotes taken from Benjamin Franklin: His Autobiography.

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My “off the cuff” tour company, Matt’s Montreal Tours, was today featured in a BBC Travel Article.  I’m very proud of myself because I managed to get Paul Patate into a travel article about Montreal.  If you’ve ever read these things you know that they always harp on the tourist traps and famous spots.  Finally, a little known outside of Montreal poutine place will get it’s due.  Their Bertrand spruce beer is reason enough alone  to go there and the fact that they make a really fine poutine should make it a no brainer.  Score one for the little guy!

Don’t forget that you can “like” Matt’s Montreal Tours on Facebook.

Here are the parts I was interviewed for:

Poutine
Merely mention poutine to Montrealers, and the inflection in their voices changes to adoration and awe for this ultimate Quebecois comfort food. The combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy is eaten day or night and is served everywhere — from fast food joints like McDonald’s, Burger King (and local equivalents like La Belle Province or Valentine) to high-end establishments. The exact origins of poutine are unknown, though it is generally thought to be unique to Quebec, entering the dining scene in the late 1950s. One popular outpost is La Banquise, open 24 hours a day, every day, where more than two dozen varieties of the dish are served. Matt LeGroulx, a musician and amateur historian who gives off-the-cuff food and urban history tours that include Montreal’s lesser known eating establishments, has his own favourite: Paul Patates (760 Rue Charlevoix; 514-937-2751). “Their poutine is amazing,” he said, focusing less on exotic toppings and more on “the holy trinity” of ingredients. They also serve a great Spruce Beer, he said.

The blog Poutine Pundit reviews and ranks Montreal’s poutine restaurants, some of which serve high-end versions of the familiar comfort food. At the newly opened Poutineville, “the owners have let their imagination run wild”, and guests can design their own. Garde-Manger makes a lobster-based one which helped Chef Chuck Hughes win an Iron Chef battle recently. At Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, fries are cooked in duck fat and guests can order regular poutine or with foie gras chunks and sauce. “The first time I tried it I almost cried because it was so beautiful,” LeGroulx said.

Smoked meat
Schwartz’s Deli, established in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, is considered by many to be the the best spot for smoked meat, a Montreal tradition. Frank Silva, the general manager makes the meat just as the deli did in 1928, hand rubbed with herbs and spices, marinated, smoked steamed and hand sliced. “Nowadays, people take shortcuts,” Silva said, but “we still do it the old-fashioned way”. The meat is typically served in sandwiches on rye bread, similar to corned beef and pastrami in the United States, but the spices and processing are quite different, Silva said. The Montreal variety is so revered it has inspired books, documentaries and the recent Schwartz’s: The Musical, about to begin its second run at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal from 20 July to 7 August. To try other places that serve good smoked meat, but without the lines, LeGroulx recommends the Main Deli (3864 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal; 514-843-8126 () ‎)and the Snowdon Deli.

Pâté Chinois
This Quebecois version of shepherd’s pie is made with layers of ground beef, mashed potatoes and a can of creamed corn in the middle. It started out as a working class food but today everybody eats it. Urban myth holds that it was first made by Chinese cooks during the building of the railroad, but Poiré said it has never been proven. The dish “is almost too rustic” to find in restaurants, LeGroulx said. “It’s even below hot dogs.” But once a year, in early autumn, Au Pied de Cochon makes a sophisticated version: potato purée with roasted garlic and cheese curds on top, creamed corn in the middle and braised pork and buffalo at the bottom, cooked in a wood oven.

The New York Times has an article about our very own Architecture in Uniform exhibit over at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.  Julia and I checked it out on free museum day and it was quite good.  The thing I found most upsetting was a lady with a bike helmet who kept following me around muttering and staring at me.

I’m flattered?

Go!