Story by Sharman Yarnell
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Imagine: An early morning stroll down the road for a cafe au lait, or around the corner for a full English breakfast, or perhaps a paczki filled with sticky jam at the local Polish bakery.
On another street, you’ll find kids playing at a small park and tourists wandering with cameras, enjoying the beautiful architecture. The local Heritage Society gives weekend walks through the area, showcasing its old homes and discussing the rich history. At night, most homes are lit up with old-style lanterns that also brighten the streets. Right in downtown Montreal.
To be exact, it’s Shaughnessy Village, the area encompassing Rene Levesque Boulevard, and Sherbrooke, Atwater and Guy Streets. Named so for the Shaughnessy House, now the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
The residents include college and university students who make the “Village” their home for a short time during the school year. You find them daily in all the cafes, hunched over computers, with steaming coffees and croissants at their sides.There are “down-and-outs” in Cabot Park who claim the benches for a night’s sleep and the artists who are invited to ‘”express” themselves on the walls of commercial buildings. All are part and parcel of the make-up of any urban community. Shaughnessy Village has a wealth of cultural diversity. It is a true melting pot of, not only cultures, but people of different social status. Visitors will find restaurants catering to the students that offer excellent meals for a decent price and also restaurants that might lighten your wallet a bit. All are tempting and delightful to the gourmet or gourmand!
Have I tempted your appetite?
The restaurants here are as eclectic as the people who make Shaughnessy their home. An afternoon walk will take you from Cabot Park with its collection of statuary, along Ste. Catherine Street to Avesta, a tiny Turkish restaurant that you couldn’t miss if you tried. A woman sits in the window daily, pounding and rolling small mounds of dough for bread, twirling them on a stick. It’s made fresh for every meal ordered. The Turkish tea is delightful! As is the “Mezzes” (hummus and yogurt with cucumber). Lunch specials start around $12.99.
Best Vegetarian Wrap Ever
A bit farther on, but still on Ste. Catherine Street, are two of the student favourites. Nilufar makes the absolute best vegetarian wrap ever in Montreal. It’s a “hole-in-the-wall” resto that packs in great taste for a super price. Falafel pita, soup and drink for $2! It’s been in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years and, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps going and going.
Across the street, a surprise discovery — a tiny Japanese resto, Kazu. Forty-five minutes before Kazu opens, there is a lineup of people waiting to get in — students and business people alike wait for a seat at one of only six tables, or at the bar. A waitress comes out to the line and hands the hungry waiting patrons a menu, so they can place an order the second they are seated. This happens every day, rain or shine and in blustery winter winds. One of the most popular dishes at this eatery that ranked 60th on the 2013 Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada list is the huge Shrimp Burger. Start your meal off with a Veggie Hot Pot and throw in a Grilled Mushroom plate, or, for meat eaters, a Beef Kalbi plate that only chef Kazu can prepare. As the man from LA, seated at the table next to me said, “This is going right off into the deep end”! Thank you, Kazu-san.
Back track to St. Marc Street and to The Alpenhaus, where you’ll find an excellent selection of cheese or chocolate fondues. On a cold winter night, the main room with it’s low, rustic wood beams and twinkling lights, has a roaring fire. This vegetarian’s carnivore husband says, “There is nowhere else in Montreal that makes a Steak Tartare like the Alpenhaus!” This vegetarian says, “The Onion Soup au Gratin can’t be overlooked, either … and the Raclette is to die for.”
On another note, singer Petula Clarke showed up here one New Year’s eve.
Italian Restaurant Is a Montreal Gem
Chez Ennio, a quaint Italian restaurant that has been in the the same spot for 34 years, is much enjoyed by residents of the Village. The treat here is that, not only is it owned and run by the chef, he’s often the one to take your order, go into the kitchen to fire up the ovens, and cook it and serve it to you. That chef is Ennio, born and raised in Tuscany. No lunch menu here, just two sittings in the evening. A little difficult to find the first time around because it’s in the basement of one of the old homes on de Maisonneuve. Once found, you’ll never forget it. The room boasts only 14 tables. The atmosphere is cozy and inviting, with walls and shelves covered with the owner’s memorabilia collected over the years. It’s also a “bring your own wine” restaurant. Chez Ennio is a must visit when next in Montreal. And if you forget the wine … there’s a depanneur, a convenience store where alcohol is sold, next door. This inviting experience is moderately priced — appetizers run from $4 to $12.75 and main courses from $16.25 to $24.75. Ask any of the the Villagers and they’ll tell you the Italian food here is “just like mama’s.”
All this is found in just four blocks.
Living in Shaughnessy Village is an exciting adventure, with new restaurants popping up every month and a plethora of artistic and cultural events in the art galleries and museums on its doorstep. For tourists, it is a unique discovery in the centre of downtown Montreal, a mosaic of cultures with a culinary experience not to be missed.
MORE ABOUT SHAUGHNESSY VILLAGE
Address: 1920 Baile Street, Montréal, Québec
Address: 2077 St Catherine Street West
Address: 1923 St. Catherine Street West
Address: 1862 Sainte-Catherine Street West
Address: 1279 Rue Saint Marc
Address: 1978 Boulevard de Maisonneuve West