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Pack your bags: What to do in Montreal

Looking for what to do in Montreal? Danielle has some great tips from a recent trip. My friend Amy, a former House Party colleague, and I went to Montreal for 4 days and it was a delight. Montreal is a one-hour flight from NYC so getting there was a piece of cake. The city is a nice mix of old and new, with modern structures flanked by old world charm. It reminded us of so many other cities, from Paris and New York, to Boston and Chicago. It's like Europe meets the US.

We are both foodies and like our wine, so we lined up some nice places to eat for many of our meals. What we didn't know and which no one told us, was the amount of pork that would be on every menu. I seriously joked that they use pork shakers instead of salt shakers. It seems to be in everything! Needless to say, by the time we came home we needed some serious detox and many workouts!

Here are some what to do in Montreal highlights, food and otherwise:

Au Pied Du Cochon The name of this restaurant literally translates to 'At the foot of the pig,' so you can imagine the menu. Chef Martin Picard dares you to eat things like pig's feet, sweet bread, tongue and more. I opted for a Boudin tart while Amy had the Melting Pot, essentially a pot of various meats. Boudin is basically blood sausage and the tart was light and flaky with spinach and carmelized onions to offset the denseness of the meat. I ate about half before I could have no more. It was that rich. And that delicious. We eyed the desserts but were so stuffed it simply wasn't going to happen.

Le Gros Jambon Diner We stumbled across this place online and it turned out to be a hole in the wall diner in Old Montreal where we had the best homemade sausage, egg and cheese on a biscuit and hash browns either of us had ever had. The entire place seated 20; we sat at the counter and watched our meal cooked on the grill. They were making homemade corn soup for the afternoon and when the chef was asked what to garnish it with it, she said, "bacon bits, of course." Of course.

Notre-Dame Basilica While we did eat our way through the city, we also walked, a lot. This stunning church located in Old Montreal, in my opinion puts the Paris version to shame and is a must see. You can also attend a sound and light show to learn the history of its creation, but walking in and seeing the breathtaking architecture, stained glass windows, starlit ceiling and more, was enough to humble even this heathen.

Pointe-a-Calliere - Montreal Museum of Archeology and History I had no idea of the history of Montreal and this museum assured that I am no longer in the dark. Replete with an informative, if slightly cheesy movie, and built on the original site of Montreal's founding, this museum has exhibits galore with fascinating facts, historic artifacts, the actual remains of the Royal Insurance Building and more.

Dominion Square Tavern This delightful tavern oozed charm, a combination of a French bistro and a good ol' fashioned watering hole. Located in an area called the Plateau, the warm ambiance added a lot to our dining experience. The special 'soup of the day' was a gazpacho and it was yummy, not too smooth but not too chunky. Amy had the mussels, which came garnished with, you guessed it, bacon. Honestly they were amazing. I had a salad because we already knew we wanted to try the nutmeg donuts and sour cream. Sadly, this dessert combo was not as good as it sounded and we left half on our plates. This never happens with dessert!

Beauty's Another find, this breakfast/brunch spot in the Plateau takes no reservations and yes, we waited for a table. The owner, octogenarian, Hyman, who started the diner with his wife in 1942, comes out looks at you, gets the # in your party and tells you it won't be long. (It will be.) A cross between a Jewish deli and diner, they have homemade everything from blintzes filled with cheese (and sauteed in brown sugar, I believe - amazing!) to bagels and lox, challah bread French toast, smoothies, milkshakes and more. But the best is the Bloody Mary. Served on a silver platter (!), you get the tomato juice in a can, the vodka in a bottle and all the sides - horseradish, Tabasco, salt, pepper and celery, so you can create it yourself and season to your taste. Genius!

Liverpool House So we were supposed to have dinner at Gibby's, which is a 'what to do in Montreal' institution. It's a steakhouse and sounds similar to Smith and Wollensky in New York. But in line at Beauty's we got to talking with the couple in front of us and they told us to pass. They mentioned that there were better, hipper places to go. They suggested the Liverpool House. Thank goodness for smart phones. We hopped onto Open Table and as luck would have it, nabbed a reservation. And we're so glad we did. The restaurant is unassuming with the entire wine and dinner menu on a blackboard. You get a dishtowel as a napkin. But don't misunderstand, this place is excellent and expensive. We started with a salad of beets, avocado, cheese, watercress and pine nuts. For dinner, I opted for the lobster pasta, while Amy enjoyed the scallops with pulled pork and a cauliflower puree. Even though we were stuffed, we had to get dessert. A chocolate s'mores-type confection with mousse, marshmallow and graham cracker. It was amazing.

Upstairs We wanted to hear some Jazz while we were in Montreal. After all, they do have a jazz fest. So I had gone online and found a place that sounded perfect and had a chanteuse scheduled for the Saturday night we were in town. I saw no place to order tickets online, so I left a message but, alas, they never called me back. We figured we could show up and get tickets that day. When we arrived the show had started (20 minutes early!) and they were sold out. We spoke to the manager and after a fair amount of phone calls and running back inside, he found us a table. And thank god because Halie Loren, the singer, was amazing. A young Etta James, Nina Simone type, she sang standards and originals in her own way and was just wonderful. We even bought her CD, that's how much we liked her. Worth the frayed nerves of almost not getting in.

Mount Royal Park Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park, this park is situated in the middle of Montreal and was only about 10 blocks from our hotel. It features the highest point in the city and affords a stunning view as well. It also has about 500-600 steps, which you can climb to get to the top.

 

After all the pork we'd been eating, we did this hike twice, and climbed the stairs twice in one day alone. We certainly got our sweat on, seeing many of the same joggers each day and basking in the view. Plus Amy snapped this gorgeous image of purple flowers found on our way there which made both of us stop in our tracks. Very French provincial.

We spent about 3 days in the city and it was enough. Next time we want to venture to Quebec City which is a few hours away but also supposed to be lovely.

Do you have recommendations for what to do in Montreal or have you taken a food-oriented trip? Tell us about it.

ROAD TRIP!!!!

Off and running