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Seeing the sights of Montreal, as recommended by the locals

Julien BriseBois, Alex Killorn and Mathieu Joseph sent Diana C. Nearhos out to see some of Montreal’s favorite spots.
Montreal has something to offer for everyone. [Diana C. Nearhos]
Published Oct. 17
Updated Oct. 17

MONTREAL — When in Montreal, ask the Montrealais. When the Lightning ended up with a day off in one of the league’s best cities, I turned to the locals and then spent three days doing as they told me.

Alex Killorn, Mathieu Joseph and Julien BriseBois grew up outside Montreal. They gave me their must see/do/eat recommendations (Killorn and Joseph’s suggestions mostly fell in the eat category).

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Climb Mont-Royal

When BriseBois is in Montreal, he runs Mont Royal, a small mountain downtown.

I walked it because I have the knees of a 40-year-old hockey player, but the recommendation was spot on. The mountain offers a nice escape (and beautiful fall foliage), plus a great view of the city.

A path carves around the outside of the mountain, so the climb isn’t very steep. It resembles a dirt road more than a mountain trail, making the climb very approachable.

The combination of being surrounded by the wooded setting while overlooking downtown is unique and worth the short climb.

Poutine

Poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy) is Montreal's most famous dish. [Diana C. Nearhos]

If Montreal is known for one dish, it’s fries with cheese curds and gravy. I’d had poutine in the United States but was already planning to find the real thing when Killorn and Joseph suggested it.

The question was where. The best poutine is found outside Montreal, in the smaller cities of Quebec, but that wasn’t an option for me.

Joseph suggested La Banquise, a 24-hour diner famous for its poutine. That recommendation was met with some funny faces among the Montreal media contingent. After much discussion, we decided on Pataterie Chez Philippe, a small, greasy diner-type place with classic poutine.

The hole-in-the-wall vibe was just what I was looking for. I like cheesy potatoes and saucy potatoes, so I expected poutine to be right up my alley. It didn’t disappoint.

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I tried breakfast poutine at L’Oeufrier because why not. This twist on the dish had chorizo, peppers and onions topped with eggs and hollandaise sauce instead of gravy.

On the next trip, I’ll try the Portuguese take on poutine from Ma Poule Mouillee.

Smoked meats

The smoked meats sandwich at Schwartz's Deli is too big to eat as a composed sandwich. [Diana C. Nearhos]

I didn’t know what I was getting when I ordered the smoked meats sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli. It turned out to be brisket and delicious.

The sandwich was not fancy — meat, bread, mustard — but it was massive. I wimped out on eating it as a constructed sandwich and picked it apart with my fingers. I don’t think I enjoyed it any less.

I also cheated by getting takeout. The crowd for a table lines the sidewalk and could have you waiting for 45 minutes to an hour at lunchtime. I opted for the takeout option and waited about 15 minutes in that line for my sandwich. That line moved efficiently because the menu is small (three sandwich options, plus a selection of prepackaged spices and meats to take home).

If you go, aim for non-peak hours or be prepared to wait. A beautiful fall day is good for waiting.

Bagels

You can watch your bagels being made at St-Viateur in Montreal. [Diana C. Nearhos]

Are we in Montreal or New York? On this trip last year, I learned about Montreal’s bagel pride. There’s a strong Jewish community in Montreal (hence the smoked meat above), and it is particular about its bagels.

I am a big fan of a good bagel and have had a hard time finding them since I moved out of the Northeast. So this was exciting news.

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Montreal bagels aren’t as big and bready as their New York counterparts. I have to admit, that’s what I like most in a bagel, but St-Viateur Bagel made me waver on that stance.

St-Viateur Bagel bakes bagels in a wood-fire oven, like a pizza, and you can see the whole process as you wait to place your order. One man shapes the dough, the other slides the dough into the oven and tosses the finished product down the chute to be served.

Everything bagels are my go-to (preferably with salmon cream cheese), but rosemary sea salt may be a new favorite.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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