MONTREAL’S THE EATINGEST TOWN
Abetted by their visitors,Montrealers keep five thousand restaurants in the black, consuming a mountain of choice dishes which range all the way from brandied apricot omelet to wieners boiled in beer
IN MONTREAL you can dine in a tree, on a sidewalk, in a cellar, on a roof, or indoors at ground level in any atmosphere or decorative
motif that suits your mood. You can eat sitting on plush cushions or rough-hewn boards, standing at a bar, lolling in a bath, squatting on a floor Asiatic style, or reclining on a couch Roman style. You can have the dishes of any country, prepared by chefs of almost every nationality. And you can be served by suavely tuxedoed maître d’s, fezzed or turbaned waiters, chic Canadien waitresses, or aproned despots who will tell you to go to the devil if you dare to ask for a menu. You can dine at Auberge des deux Lanternes (Inn of the Two Lanterns) on Canadien ragout, the Say Mohamed on Syrian shish-kabob, the Danube on German Sauerbraten, or at the nearest tavern on wieners boiled in beer.
Good food and plenty of it is a Montreal tradition. Certainly no other Canadian city is so in love with food or devotes so much time, thought and effort to its preparation and consumption. In fact Montreal may be the eatingest town anywhere.
Food wholesalers say Montrealers eat between one hundred and two hundred pounds more food per person per year than other North Americans.
The Montrealer’s interest in food is not confined to quantity. He insists on varied and imaginative fare and, above all, an excellent recipe expertly executed. Yet, while he dines well at home, he also eats out often. It is fortunate for the restaurateurs that he does. Montreal supports more eating places per capita than any other city in the world —5,673 or one for every 264 men, women and children (about twice as many as New York, seven times as many as Toronto).
In Montreal, food even eclipses the weather, politics and religion as a topic of conversation. Businessmen settle big deals over a meal, stretch the lunch hour to two or three, collect recipes, and are devotees of the progressive dinner—the Mont-
realer’s idea of a perfect party. This is a form of gluttony particularly beloved by restaurateurs and the city’s five thousand taximen. It consists of going to, say, Chez Pauzé for oysters, Auberge Chez Son Père (the Inn at His Father’s Place) for soupe au chou, Mother Martin’s for pigs’ knuckles, and so on, to a new place for each course. The dinner usually lasts all evening, the change of atmosphere and entertainment with each dish and the interval between courses helping to expand food capacities.
Even so, the crowded restaurant business is no cinch; about two hundred places close each year. Indeed, good publicity is almost as essential as good food. Most publicized eatery of recent years has been Slitkin & Slotkin’s, sold not long ago by partners Lou Wayman and Jack Rogers for seventy-six thousand dollars minus the name, which was originally lifted from a comedy act playing the Gayety Theatre. Long the hangout of newspapermen and fighters, it was famed for the huge steaks dished up in its Chez When Room. Slitkin & Slotkin also managed
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a string of new and used prize fighters. Their boys often lost but paid off in publicity for S & S.
The most imaginative self-publicist in Montreal’s restaurant kingdom is bald, bouncy, bespectacled Frank De Rice. He opened Canada’s first drive-in eatery in 1926, introduced Montreal to the toasted frankfurter, made a fortune selling spaghetti at forty cents a plate. Today he owns three big restaurants and claims to sell more Cokes than anyone else in Canada. Most lavish is his $250,000 Decarie Boulevard drive-in which parks five hundred autos; there you can have a sevencourse meal served in your car.
De Rice’s restaurants can be identified by the neon boast, “We serve a ton and a half of spaghetti every seven days,” and a huge red “F. D. R.” During the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era it was periodically reported by Montreal columnists that the Roosevelt family and the U. S. government were trying to stop him from capitalizing on the famous initials with ads like “F. D. R. eats here and says the food is great!”
“I’ve had dozens of people come to see me about it, including a couple of U. S. senators and a U. S. government official,” he admits. “But I never received any formal or official complaints from Washington.”
De Rice closes his drive-in for a day each year and throws a big party for the city’s crippled children. One year it featured a wild animal show, another year a rodeo, and still another time he hired a complete circus for the day.
He pulled his most fantastic stunt j in May 1949 when he cooked up a deal J with the city of Boynton Beach, Florida, to present a palm tree to Montreal, represented, of course, by De Rice. After a much-publicized road journey north in a huge trailer truck a thirty-five-foot palm was planted outside his Decarie Boulevard place while thousands watched. Using a huge crane, workmen spun the ceremony out for hours under the glare of red, yellow and green floodlights. The next day Montreal’s Mayor Camillien Houde and Boynton Beach’s Mayor Fred
Purinton officiated at the three-hour christening of the first palm tree ever planted in Canada. Actually several palms were planted and they thrived throughout the summer only to die in November when they were dug up and moved to a nursery to dodge the first frost.
Like F. D. R., other restaurateurs have used all kinds of gimmicks to lure in trade—from movable ceilings and built-in pin-ball machines in the tables, to glass dance floors. The latest is a device which conveys tantalizing cooking odors to passersby. While many spots are noted for some particular attraction, like Rector’s with its giant indoor aquarium, most blend interior decorations and entertainment into a setting for the type of food they serve. Thus Cafe de L’Est, a rambling old house with tiny scattered bars and dining tables features Parisian entertainers like Edith Piaf with its French cuisine, while in the Bucharest’s colorful Tzigane Room spicy Romany dishes are served amid gypsy decorations to the strains of gypsy music. Atmospheres run the gamut from the sleek, sedate modernity exemplified by the chrome-and-red-leather Flamingo, to the period setting of the Gay Nineties Room in the Jamaica.
Some places have an outdoor appeal. On the river at wrestler Yvon Robert’s Au Petit Robinson you can dine*forty feet up in the branches of a tree without discomfort. The lamp-lit, open-air tree-top nests are equipped with push buttons to summon the waiter who carts the food up stairs that spiral about the huge trunks.
From spring to fall the Berkeley Hotel operates its Boulevard Cafe on its Sherbrooke Street sidewalk. Breakfast favorite here is hrandied apricot omelet. This is a puffy omelet which is spread before folding with apricot jam to which has been added a tablespoon of brandy. It is served ringed with foamy brandy sauce or a sauce made with eggs, whipped cream and rum.
Montreal restaurants are situated in clothing and stationery stores, in tennis clubs and bowling alleys, in tram stations and swank clubs like the
Mount Stephen, in massage parlors and steam baths. At the latter you can dine from a couch, in a bath, or in a pool off a floating table.
Montreal is the only Canadian town where you can get a meal in a beer parlor. Nor is the menu confined to pickled tongues and eggs. The Rymark Tavern, for example, specializes in clam chowder, ham boiled in beer and a scrumptious Welsh rarebit made of strong Quebec cheese and ditto Quebec beer. The beer halls, where no women are allowed, are rustic places with few decorations, no music, and ugly signs that warn: “No Swear, No Spit, No Sing, No Twist.” (Twist is ihe tabletop strength test where you try to force the other fellow’s wrist down.) The menu, if there is one, is roughly chalked on a blackboard and the waiters are usually gruff characters who tell their regular customers what to eat and treat strangers with disdain.
Competition, imagination and individuality have combined to give Montreal restaurants some of the most colorful names in existence. For example, there is A La Marmite Chez George (At the Pot at George’s Place), Pot au Feu (literally Pot of the Fire, but actually the name of a spicy boiled beef dish), Chez Ma Tante, Chez Ti-Ti, Tit Guy, La Petite Chaumière (the Little Thatched House), the Yum Yum, Ding Ho, Pig & Whistle. The most intriguingly named is Au Lutin qui Bouffe—The Place of the Elf who Clowns. Famous for its “little piglet charcoal broiled,” it is popular with tourists who like to have their photo taken with the porker.
It is impossible to single out any one restaurant as Montreal’s most popular or all-round best. Executive types and visiting diplomats favor Leo Dandurand’s Cafe Martin, which has a superb French cuisine, and Drury’s English Inn, a chophouse that is a little bit of Blighty. Both have quiet refined atmospheres. Blue bloods go to Au 400 Chez Lelarge, popularly known as the 400 Club, run by the three Lelarge brothers, while the Ritz Carlton gets the carriage trade, and the Berkeley’s Champs Elysées the social register. Newspapermen like the onion soup served in a pot at Mother Martin’s in the New Carlton Hotel, while the arty crowd congregates at La Tour Eiffel. Radio announcers, producers and technicians like the corned beef and cabbage and the borscht served in Dinty Moore’s Ship Ahoy Room. Models meet at Macy’s; waiters, busboys and cabdrivers frequent the Laurentien; and hockey players and the sporty crowd gather at Aldo’s, run by ex-NHL star Jimmy Orlando and his brothers.
Bamboo and Birds’ Nests
In spite of gimmicks and publicity stunts the main attraction of all Montreal restaurants is their food. Every place has at least one specialty and it may be anything from smorgasbord to beans—there is even a place called Chez Roger Le Roi des Fèves au Lard (the Place of Roger the King of Pork and Beans). For seafood lovers there are a host of fish houses such as Delmo’s, Desjardins and the Traymore. Most famous is historic Chez Pauzé, Canada’s oldest, owned by Sam Andrews, Canada’s biggest oyster farmer, who grows his own menu in his beds at Upper Shippigan, N.B.
Foreign cooking is represented by hundreds of restaurants from the Luxembourg, the Balkan and the Sam Va, to the Hale Hakola, the Swiss Chalet and the Little Roumanian House. For pizza, spaviolli and lasagna fans there are many excellent Italian spots such as Piazzo Tomasso, Corso Pizzeria,
Chez Roncari and De Pasquale. For seekers of such delicacies as guy yone yin warr (bird’s nest soup) and achar (pickled bamboo sprouts), Chinatown’s Lagauchetière Street houses such establishments as the Rice Bowl, the Jasmine, the Sun Kuo Min and the Bamboo Garden. Some of the best Chinese food is to be found, not in Chinatown, but northwest on Decarie Boulevard, Montreal’s Sunset Strip. There, near the glittering Miss Montreal drive in—and rival F. D. R.’s —is big luxurious Ruby Foo’s, where you can only get such common fare as chop suey if you insist upon it.
Spitted Squab and Snails
Most numerous and popular are restaurants featuring French and Canadien cooking. There are thousands of these, including such famous ones as Chez Pierre, Chez Ernest, Chez Stien and Le Pigalle, and each is noted for its specialties.
One of the many specialties at Au Delices is oeufs au Xérès et à l'orange (eggs with sherry and orange). It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Simply beat six eggs until no longer stringy, blend in a tablespoon of sherry and three of tomato sauce, add half a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of cayenne. Pour the mixture into melted butter in a frying pan and cook slowly, stirring until it begins to set. Then sprinkle with grated orange rind and serve immediately.
Some of the best French and Canadien food in the city can be had at the Mount Royal Hotel, where such dishes as spitted squab, frog legs sauté Meunière, and escargots de Bourgogne (snails) are daily fare. Of the several restaurants in the hotel the best known and most lavish is the Normandie Room where food and floor show are always first class, and where Victor, the maître d'hôtel with the deepest bow in the city, holds sway. Behind the scenes the keyman is huge Chef Pièrre Mary. Like many Montreal chefs he cooked in dozens of countries before settling in Montreal.
Another spot with outstanding French and Canadien food is the Cavalier Cafe in the cellar of the De La Salle Hotel. A favorite with many epicures it has a rustic Canadien charm that is accentuated by rough wood furniture, red-checked tablecloths, and the savoir-faire of Victor the headwaiter. Top specialty here is bouillabaisse, a delicious fish soup that is a meal in itself. Here’s how you make it: Sauté two large chopped onions,
two chopped cloves of garlic and two tablespoons of flour in two tablespoons of butter. Add two cups of tomato pulp, two cups of water, four cloves,
three bay leaves, one and a half teaspoons of curry powder, quarter cup of sherry and a dash of Tabasco sauce; simmer thirty minutes; add one teaspoon of salt. Put four pounds of fish fillets (half redfish, half red snapper), four more cloves and another quarter cup of sherry into one and a half quarts of boiling water, and simmer fifteen minut es. Then add to this half a pound of sliced mushrooms and the previously prepared sauce, and simmer the whole for five minutes. Place toast on a large platter, add the fish and pour the sauce over it. This serves twelve and is well worth the effort.
Montreal cafes are not for teetotalers. Wines and liquors are essential ingredients of many of the best dishes from crepes suzette and Burgundian beef to Madeira mushrooms. Montreal fishermen, for instance, like to poach their brook trout in white wine. A favorite dessert is peaches, pears and pineapple preserved in green crème de menthe or red grenadine, capped with brandy-flavored whipped cream, and topped with a green or red maraschino cherry. For the sweettoothed there are chocolate - coated globules of pure brandy, scotch, gin and other liquors. But there are, of course, many other excellent dishes such as dandelion omelet and the traditional ragoût (a highly seasoned stew made with any kind of meat, including pigs’ feet, wild fowl, venison and turtle) and pea soup that don’t contain alcohol.
Food is a factor in Montreal politics. It is practically an indispensable qualification for aspiring city councilmen to be known as either a gourmet or a gourmand. Mayor Houde, who tips the scale at 286, is far-famed as both. A familiar and awe-inspiring sight in the city’s restaurants, one of his traditional extra-official duties is to periodically descend upon them unannounced and liberally sample their food.
Houde calls Montreal the Good Food Capital of the World. He has a case. Except for the occasional oasis, he maintains that the rest of Canada is gastronomicallv sterile. Europe has been all but ruined by rationing, shortages of food and money, and the exodus of many of its best chefs. The rest of the world, including most of the U. S., has uninspired cooking or specializes only in dishes peculiar to the region. On the other hand, cosmopolitan Montreal specializes in all kinds of cooking. He admits that a few other cities like New York and San Francisco have some good cosmopolitan cooking too, but says that while some of their restaurants are outstanding, the majority are indifferent.
But Montreal restaurants are by no means perfect. Service is usually slow, for Montreal chefs abhor cooking the menu in advance. Prices are Canada’s highest, and there are some dress restrictions. For instance, women can’t wear shorts or sunsuits and slacks are also banned in some places. In most of the posher spots they can’t wear their hats while dining and men must wear ties and suit coats even on the hottest days. Many places like the Indian Room and the Cafe Martin supply light tropical jackets and ties where required. On the other hand, formal dress is rarely seen.
Montreal has been showered with praise as an epicurean paradise. The Duke of Windsor hailed its “great appreciation for, and deep understanding of . . . the culinary art.” But it remained for Jimmy Durante to picture it from the point of view of one whose favorite dish is cornflakes in milk. Rasped he: “Montreal is just one big palay de manjay . . . You can get indigestion in any language, including Esperanto.” iç