Review of a Montreal Food Tour

montreal food tour header

Last weekend we took a walking food tour with Fitz & Follwell. They specialize in bike tours of Montreal but also have a couple of highly recommended food tours. I’ve mentioned it before – I get irked by non-Montreal bloggers who come here and write as if there’s nothing more to Montreal than poutine, smoked meat, and bagels. It is this generalization that prompted us to take the tour. We wanted to see firsthand how tourists are exposed to Montreal’s culinary traditions.

Fitz & Follwell’s tours are from a historical perspective and are focused on the culinary heritage of immigrants that settled on St. Laurent boulevard, otherwise known as “The Main”. They have two food tours: Segment 1 of the “Flavours of The Main tour” starts in Chinatown and works its way through the former Jewish quarter as well as “Little Portugal”. Segment 2 covers Mile-End, Little Italy, and the Jean Talon Market. With Lissette being vegetarian, F&F recommended that we take the 2nd segment of the tour (note: both segments are about 3 hours long and can be done as one, extended 6 hour tour).

Quick summary: We met up at Fitz & Follwell’s bike store on Mont-Royal. This is the starting point for segment 2 of the tour. Melissa was our guide, there were 11 of us on the tour. We walked up St.Laurent, Melissa pointing out a few restaurants on the way (Aux Vivres and Robin des Bois) before stopping at Saraphin, a Portuguese-owned bakery on the corner of St-Laurent and St. Joseph. There we were treated to some Pasteis de Natas (custard cups  with a flaky crust). The tour continued, taking a little detour up an alley (Montreal has some very pretty alleys) before coming out on Fairmount street. There we had two stops: the first at Wilensky, where we were treated to a bologna/salami sandwich (no vegetarian options here) and an “egg cream soda” drink. The 2nd stop was at Fairmount bagel, where we all had a bagel. Fairmount has a rich Jewish heritage. We continued our walk north through the neighborhood, turned right on St. Viateur (which is another pretty street which has developed tremendously in the last 5 years) and walked a block to St. Laurent. There we took a city bus. 10 minutes later we were in Little Italy. Melissa pointed out Milano’s, a large, Italian owned grocery store (I know it having lived in the neighborhood previously – lots of great food imported from Italy). We sat down at Café Italia, an institution in Little Italy and were served coffees. After a 20 minute break we walked down Dante street, stopping first at Dante “hardware” store (they’re actually known more for their beautiful cooking ware) then at Alati Caserta, an Italian bakery. We were served Cannoli, a Sicilian pastry. Following this, we continued to the Jean-Talon market which is very close by. We briefly cut through part of the market before being taken to the le Marché Des Saveurs du Quebec, a large store that supplies a large variety of products made in Quebec: cheeses, wines, beers, jams, maple syrup, and smoked meats and fish. We finished the tour with a sampling of Quebec cheeses and apple cider.

food tour, Wilensky, Montreal

Above and Below: Wilensky

Wilensky, Montreal

Below: Fairmount bagel

Fairmount bagel, Montreal food tour

Below: House and church around St. Viateur.
food tour in Outremont, Quebec


Below:
Café Italia

food tour, Café Italia, Montreal
Below: Pretty restaurants in Little Italy

restaurant in little Italy, Montreal
Below:  Alati Caserta

food tour, Alati Caserta, Montreal

Below: Jean-Talon Market
jean talon market, Montreal

Below: Marché Des Saveurs du Quebec

Marché Des Saveurs du Quebec, Montrea food tour
Critique:
Overall we give Segment 2 of the Flavours of the Main tour a 7 out of 10.

The strongest aspect of the tour was Melissa. We thought she was a great guide; a lot of enthusiasm, very knowledgeable, very good rapport with both customers and merchants. The mission of the tour was to link Montreal’s history, immigrants, and food. It did an excellent job achieving that. We really liked some of the stops on the tour. The coffee at Café Italia was fantastic, one of the best we’ve ever had. The cheese and apple cider at  Marché Des Saveurs were very good. We’re going to come back on our own to both of these places. I can attest to Milano’s and Quinqualerie Dante which are both excellent destinations for imported food/cookware.

The weaknesses of the tour is the itinerary. It is very ambitious, covering a long strip, and therefore misses a bit in its coverage. For instance, it was a shame that the Fairmount, St.Viateur, and Parc area couldn’t be covered in greater detail (I would recommend to tourists taking the tour that they come back to this neighborhood for further exploration). Likewise, it would have been good to take 5 minutes to explore the various food and vegetable stalls at the Jean Talon market. Since this is the ending point of the tour, I definitely recommend that further time be spent here.

As far as the generalization that Montreal is all about poutine, smoked meat, and bagels; well, I read that Segment 1 serves up poutine and smoked meat. Segment 2 serves up the bagel.<sigh>. So Fitz & Follwell doesn’t do anything to dispel the generalization. With all the fantastic food in this city it is a shame that so much energy is spent vaunting these culinary coronary delights.

Would I take the tour solely for the food? No. But the tour is a great history lesson on Montreal, its communities and their food. I think it is a fun and insightful activity for tourists new to Montreal. As a Montrealer, the tour also introduces you to some interesting spots you may not have known about beforehand.

Website: http://www.fitzandfollwell.co/. The cost was $69/person not including taxes for the 3 hour Segment 2 tour. They specialize in bike tours and are soon introducing a walking tour of the underground city.

 

Other food tours

http://localmontrealtours.com/. They have a food tour in the same price range as F&F ($65/person) concentrating on the Jean-Talon market and Little Italy. There’s a bit of an overlap in the spots covered but some of the sampling promised sounds very good (sausages, Breton crepe with salmon and goat cheese. Yum). My impression is that their tour is focused more on food than history. They do say however that it is not suitable for vegans, vegetarians, or those on a gluten-free diet. Local Montreal also has a beer tour that sounds interesting – we might try that out sometime soon.

If you have more money to spend and want something high end, I’ve heard excellent reviews of Round Table tours (http://www.roundtablefoodtours.com/). They have for example a Vegan tour and a Iberian Montreal tour. Tours last 4 ½ hours and are in the $165/person range.

 

Have you been on a food tour in Montreal? What did you think of it?

 

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Comments

  1. Another interesting and honest post, Frank! It is true that people make generalizations about an area and sometimes its culture which are not completely accurate. I would love to know what you personally recommend to try while dining in Montreal that is representative of the city.

    Personally, I always do my research before traveling to find out where I can find the best local cuisine! I think it is park of the adventure plus you can learn a lot too!!
    Constance recently posted…Little Pieces of Paradise in TaiwanMy Profile

    • That’s a tough one Constance, there’s so many restaurants here of all kinds and in all price ranges. I mentioned some of my favorites on this post: http://bbqboy.net/eating-recommendations-in-montreal/. A few others I can think of: Tri-Express (sushi), Europea (for fine dining downtown), and Byblos (Iranian restaurant on the Plateau – beautiful restaurant serving light, inexpensive meals). But there are so many and it is so subjective. If you ever come to Montreal let me know, I’ll come up with a list catered to what you like!

  2. Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the feedback. It was a pleasure having you guys on the tour. Hope to see you on one of mine! Take care.

    By the way I have a blog too at 4cornersofthetable.com

    Keep enjoying the adventures!

    Sincerely,
    Mélissa

  3. Another v good article BBQBoy … And great critique ! Yep, the tour seems to be pretty biased towards many of the old cliches of the Montreal food scene – bagels etc etal – and appears that much could be better discovered by visitors/tourists by themselves just wandering around the area – the entire Little Italy / Jean Talon market scene for example. But there are some interesting asides and discoveries that seem worth the trek. But what I really found interesting was the hisorical aspect of the tour – unusual and rather unique for the Plateau, Mile-End, Little Italy area where there is so much history thats totally unknown , even to residents of long date ! Example – perhaps I’m wrong, but I believe the photo of the church in your article is the “Mussolini Church” built in the 1930s when he was still a big Itlian hero . The interior dome and altar piece is surmounted by an exquisite mosaic – the centrepiece being Mussolini on a horse !

    • Thanks Tony, you’re right that the Jean Talon market is/can be discovered by tourists themselves very easily. But tours can be fun and if you’re somewhere for just a few days I can understand how it’s so much easier. Plus you meet other travelers. Totally agree with your comments.
      Actually it’s not the same one, although we did also see the “Mussolini Church”. The one above is the Church of St. Michael and St. Anthony (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St._Michael_and_St._Anthony). I always thought it was an Orthodox church but was wrong – It’s a Roman Catholic church. The one you’re talking about is on Dante, in Little Italy, and is called Madonna della Difesa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Madonna_della_Difesa). It’s actually right across the street from Alati Caserta, the Italian bakery we went to.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  4. Frank, this is amazing. I can’t wait to take this tour next month when I’ll be in Montreal. Everything looks so delicious.

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

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