FOOD AND DRINK
Take a Pastry Crawl Through Montreal
The best of the boulangeries and bake shops, from croissants to kouign-amanns (don't worry, we'll explain)
Montreal may be famous for smoked meat, but it should be equally heralded for its mastery of all things baked and sugary. Standards are high – locals are especially savvy about all things French – and competition is fierce, making this an epic place to partake in such delights.
If you require proof, nibble your way through Montreal’s markets, patisseries and shops serving up artsy donuts, brioches and other baked goods. Voilà! Billy’s suggestions for an epic pastry crawl through Montreal, which will probably require several days of indulgence to complete.
Start here. Even if you don’t speak a speck of French, the word “croissant” is universal for “rich and yummy.” The city is a virtual battleground when it comes to who makes the best version.
Some crescent rollers enjoy them soft, others prefer super crispy croissants that shatter into buttery flakes with just one bite. Others prefer variations on a theme, and get into croissants filled with with cheese, chocolate and more.
Ground zero for great croissants is the Plateau-Mont Royal. It seems to have a boulangerie on every corner, dashing any hope of sticking to a no-carb régime. Witness the a steady stream of customers heading into Boulageries Les Co’Pains d’Abord; it has three locations, which together serve up nearly 1,000 croissants each day. The puffy brioches are wickedly good, too. Listen to the angels sing as you bite into one spiked with orange flower essence.
Pâtisserie Au Kouign Amann is an old-school bakery that doesn’t have a website, nor does it post its hours. You’ll find it at 322 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, and call ahead at 514-845-8813 to make sure it’s open. If it is, pick up the most supreme almond croissants and chocolatines (pain au chocolate) in the city. And while you’re there, grab a slice of their namesake kouign-amann, a special layered butter and sugar cake from Brittany.
Finally, purists love the croissants offered at Maison Christian Faure (which also has classes for DIY types), and Local chain Première Moisson makes a lovely croissant – for $1.65 last time we checked.
Michele Sponagle / Billy
Canelés and donuts
Move over, cupcake. The canelé has arrived. These tasty French nuggets of goodness originating in Bordeaux are popping up everywhere. What’s not to love about biting through the crunchy crust of these petite, cylinder-shaped pastries to unlock the soft rich custard inside? Nab the ones offered by Mamie Clafoutis (also known for its pistachio croissants) or Patrice Pâtissier, arguably the best bakery in the city.
Christina Gonzales / Billy
The donut trend still thrives in Montreal. Crémy Patisserie has a strong following so much so that it also has a food truck roaming the streets and setting up at big events. Owner Rémy Couture keeps earning the “king of donuts” title he earned winning Food Network Canada’s Donut Showdown by baking weighty, over-sized versions. Flavours include apple and cinnamon, maple, and glazed with crushed chocolate cookie bits. If you love moist and dense donuts, this is the place for you.
Outside-the-box thinkers prefer the artisanal creations of Leché Desserts. The St-Henri location has an open kitchen so you can watch the magic happen. Hooked on classics? Order a maple glaze or a fluffy cinnamon sugar. Feeling more wild than mild? Bite into a lime coconut vegan version, tiramisu, peanut butter and jam, or passionfruit. These are airier and lighter than some others in town, so you can probably manage to eat two. Also give the donut grilled cheese a try – it’s an interesting journey for the taste buds, offering sensations of sweetness, salt, with gooey and creamy textures.
Trou de Beigne (“donut hole”) wins kudos for the sexiest-looking creations. The green tea matcha is a day-glo lime shade that makes one think of spring grass, and it comes topped with crispy rice. Blueberry and dark chocolate is a bright purple with drizzles snaking across the top. And maple bacon doesn’t crisp on the swine bits either. This donut maker features 10 flavours daily, including some vegan flavours.
Michele Sponagle / Billy
While the macaron was a craze elsewhere that has died down, in Montreal the little round puffs are thriving, with novel flavours appearing all the time. Point G has featured sweet confections that combined violet with honey and local cherries. Its regular roster includes about two dozen varieties, ranging from the usual (vanilla, lemon and dark chocolate) to more colourful types like red velvet, poppy flower and pina colada. Pastry chef Julien Reignier opened his shop in 2008 after having a life-changing moment when he first tasted perfect macarons. Every since then, he’s poured his passion into every batch he’s made.
Although Juliette & Chocolat is well known for its superb, artful chocolate creations, the macarons sold there are like no other. There are super-sized – the equivalent of four regular ones. Though there are just two flavours (maple and chocolate-raspberry), we applaud this shop’s go-big-or-go-home attitude.
Première Moisson displays its beautiful macarons under glass, looking like so many pastel-hued hamburgers. Say yes to chocolate caramel and exotics like mango and hibiscus.
While French pastries rule in Montreal, there are plenty of bakeries in the city that draw on other traditions, supported by a robust multicultural population. Italian shops like the popular Alati-Caserta (open since 1968 near the Jean Talon Market) sell the most perfect cannoli in town. They aren’t pre-filled with sweetened ricotta. They are done upon ordering so you never get soggy, sad ones. Also fill your box of pastries with babas, small cakes soaked in syrup laced with booze, like rum or lemoncello.
At La Cornetteria, modernized Italian pasteries stock the racks, including Montreal’s answer to the Cronut. Called the cronetti, it’s a cross between a cornetto (Italian cousin of the croissant) and a bombolone (cream-filled donut). And it’s divine. Tea and coffee dunkers will also want to load up on biscotti, which strike a harmonious balance between crunchy and gently yielding to the bite.
To chase away a chill, meanwhile, hold a warm donut from Chez Boris in your hand. This spot in the hipster-dense Mile End neighbourhood serves Russian-style versions made on-site. They’re smaller, less sweet and yeast-based, not cake-based, which makes them lighter. There are usually just a few types available (typically chocolate, sugar and cinnamon sugar), but they’re sumptuous! Pair with a “soviétique coffee” – that is, Soviet-style, drip coffee made with condensed milk.
Got room? Some other stops
When the mood strikes for baked goods like mom and grandma used to make, but even better, head to a place like Rustique Pie Kitchen. The key lime pie rivals what you might find in Florida and the apple pie with a crimped crust takes you back in time to Sunday dinners when you ate those hated peas just so you’d get dessert. If you’re travelling solo and can’t eat a whole pie, then indulge in a tart – the myriad of flavours can include coconut cream, pistachio, pear and chai, apple, pumpkin and strawberry-rhubarb.
Michele Sponagle / Billy
Finally, those with special or restricted diets don’t need to forego old-fashioned sweet treats in Montreal, thanks to placed like Cookie Stéfanie. Everything sold is gluten-free and vegan-friendly. The carrot cake is outstanding. That’s also true of its whoopie pies, cupcakes, brownies and date squares.