Well into the 1900s, the neighbouring districts of Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy, located southwest of Montreal’s downtown core along the north shore of the Lachine Canal, were among the poorest parts of the city.
During the Industrial Revolution, smoke belched from the factories of companies like the Steel Company of Canada and train wheels screeched along tracks at the Canadian Pacific Railway yards. Gabrielle Roy wrote about the working-class neighbourhoods in her iconic 1945 novel, The Tin Flute, painting a grim picture of life on the wrong side of the tracks for one French-Canadian family.
Now, the factory buildings have been converted into stylish condos, the Lachine Canal has been landscaped and bordered with a bike path, and trendy design stores are popping up everywhere. Notre-Dame, which runs parallel to the canal through both Saint-Henri and Little Burgundy, has become a hotbed of fantastic new restaurants, each offering refuge from the harsh Montreal winter with cozy atmospheres, hearty dishes and great wines and beers. Santé.
One of the newest restaurants on the street, Tuck Shop offers hearty, unpretentious food and a relaxed atmosphere. The décor is rustic (think jars of preserves lining the shelves and a round wooden farm table at the front to accommodate larger groups) and the service is smooth. The market menu changes depending on what’s in season, with an emphasis on locally sourced meats, dairy and produce. Reservations are advised.
“Joe Beef” was the nickname of legendary 19th-century working-class hero Charles McKiernan, so called because, as an officer in the Crimean War, he always seemed to be able to rustle up beef for his hungry troops. After the war, he opened Joe Beef Canteen and ran it until his death in 1889, welcoming people of all races, religions and walks of life. The new Joe Beef opened in 2005, kicking off the culinary hot streak on Notre-Dame.
The space is tiny and the décor is informal, making it feel a bit like you’re joining a large dinner party. Leave your diet at the door: the menu emphasizes rich seafood and red-meat dishes (the lobster spaghetti is unforgettable). Reservations are a must.
Located a few doors east of Joe Beef is the owners’ third establishment, a luncheonette with room for just 18 diners. The light grey wainscotting and cubbyhole shelves make the place feel like a maritime cottage.
On the menu is a simple selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, and a healthy wine list. McKiernan is open for lunches Tuesday to Friday, dinners a few nights of the week and also for Saturday brunch.
One of the new kids on the block, Jane helps answer the question of where to find good pizza in Montreal. On any given night, there are half-a-dozen options on the menu, all inspired by different cultural cuisines, ranging from the Schwartz’s smoked meat pizza to the Greek-inspired souvlaki pizza. Ever since it opened last summer, the stylish, bistro-like space has been crammed, so reservations are a must.
Griffintown Café Dining
There is no day so lousy that it can’t be improved by a meal at Griffintown Café Dining. With its exposed brick wall and creaky wood floors, the bright, airy eatery has a buoyant effect on patrons’ moods, and the menu of upscale southern American comfort food is just what the doctor ordered to make all seem right in the world again.
Drop in for lunch or dinner during the week, or for brunch on weekends, and let one of Griffintown’s hearty dishes warm your heart. Whatever you do, do not leave without trying the inexplicably delicious biscuits.
Joe Beef was such a success, its owners quickly opened Liverpool House just two doors away to accommodate anyone who couldn’t get a seat at Joe Beef. Once again, history inspired the name: back in the day, while dockyard and factory workers caroused at Joe Beef Canteen, first officers and captains dined at an upscale restaurant called Liverpool House.
As a wink to the past, the new Liverpool House is actually the larger and less-exclusive of the two, but with a similar menu. The décor is farmhouse antique-chic, and the walls are crowded with gorgeous Peter Hoffer landscape paintings.
Photos by Marc Rimmer