Story by Karen Burshtein
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — “We’ve stopped making love in Montreal. All we do is eat pastries,” a friend told me during a recent visit.
Montreal has always played up its “Paris on this side of the Atlantic” bit for tourists. But these days it is indeed feeling more Paris than thou: The unmistakable accent of the old country is heard everywhere, as underemployed French make use of a fairly open-door Francophone immigration policy in Quebec. Like all immigrants they come with a speciality commerce. In this case it’s neither nail salons nor corner bodegas but patisseries and boulangeries.
They’ve inspired a larger trend for artisanal and indie French patisseries, which seem to be opening on every corner of Montreal, making it North American’s French pastry capital.
There are pastry shops selling specialties from different regions in France. Au Kouign-Amann in the Plateau neighbourhood (322 Avenue du Mont Royal E) has the eponymous Brittany treat of puff pastry and caramelized sugar- and also the flakiest croissant in town. Mamie Clafoutis, which started with one shop and now has four in town, sells artisan bread stuffed with everything from blue cheese to apricots, as well as clafouti, the baked fruit tarts that every French grande-mère, not to mention Julia Child aficionado, has in her repertoire.
But many of Montreal’s best patisseries are design destinations as well as dessert destinations. Perhaps in the sport of France’s first celebrity pastry chef (“the king of chefs and the chef of kings”), Marie-Antoine Careme, who always said he was inspired by architecture when creating his elaborate desserts, these patisseries look as good as the treats they sell.
MAISON CHRISTIAN FAURE (355 Place Royale)
I could see why I’d do nothing but eat pastries if I lived in Montreal, after a visit to Christian Faure’s ultra-glam haute patisserie. Faure, a French native, is a recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a half award/half title given in France to those at the very top of their profession. He opened his Old Montreal patisserie in a 300-year-old greystone that was in ruins until he and his wife renovated it. The shop includes a chic cafe section, and, upstairs, a pastry school for amateurs and professionals alike. On top of an outstanding Paris Brest with silky hazelnut cream shaped like an eclair rather than the more common circle, and passion fruit-raspberry tart, I also sampled some of his savoury dishes, including an innovative goat cheese and beet-flavoured macaron.
PATRICE PATISSIER (2360 Rue Notre-Dame West)
My friend Magalie met up with me halfway through my Montreal pastry crawl at Patrice Patissier, a hot spot for sweet treats in the trending Little Burgundy neighbourhood. Chef and owner Patrice Demers’ offerings include classic French treats and innovative twists on old favourites. Our meeting was as much business as pleasure, as we “researched” our way through Demers’ treats, aiming to guess what globally will be the next “It” pastry.
We tried his maple-flavoured financiers and his intensely buttery kouign-amann. But Demers’ canele helped get my vote for this little Bordeaux pastry as the one that will uncrown the macaron. The chef stopped by our table to give us a short lesson in caneles, stressing the labour intensiveness of the simple little treat, with its custardy inside and caramelized to perfection exterior. A culinary prodigy who worked at the celebrated Montreal eatery Les 400 Coups and author of best-selling cookbooks, Demers opened his pastry shop in early 2014. With its warm wood decor and picture window looking onto happening St. Henri Street, it’s as fine a place as can be to spend an afternoon of “le snacking chic” — the buzz term to learn, I’m told.
PATISSERIE A LA FOLIE (1126 Avenue du Mont-Royal East)
Patisserie A La Folie has been featured in as many design and architecture magazines as food publications. In the Plateau, and designed by local firm Atelier Moderno, it’s a monochromatic, gallery-like space designed to let the colourful treats shine. Owners, French natives Gaëlle et Johan Crop, come from a pedigreed patisserie past: They cut their sweet teeth with Parisian pastry gurus Gerard Mulot and Christophe Michalak. Macarons are their specialities; the couple started in Montreal with Boutique des Macarons. In 2014, they changed name and location, and added to their repertoire. Macarons are still accounted for here, done in new flavours like fig and orange blossom, but they also do bold-flavoured twists on other French classics: the choux pastry is filled with cream in flavours like rose or blueberry, and perfectly triangular little “pointes” of tarte come in chocolate raspberry or milk chocolate cardamom. The Frenesie and Delire pastries look like little works or art. And as pretty as the shop is (it has won design awards) you’ll want to take your desserts to go. Ttheir packaging is just as gorgeous.
DE FARINE & D’EAU FRAICHE (1701 Rue Amherst)
This ultra-pretty patisserie (they also serve lunch) in the Gay Village, designed by Montreal’s Surface3, has that sensually minimalist-meets-baroque look of the Scandinavian cafe with its moulded ceilings and groovy light fixtures by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, country wood furniture and hushed atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you come with a book rather than a friend. Owner Marilu Gunji trained at Cordon Bleu and culinary school in Japan and is a fan of the simple and refined pleasure of indulgence. Cakes such as the favourite passion fruit are displayed on stands made from repurposed English porcelain or shown under bell jars like precious objects. She serves twists on the familiar — an eclair comes in green tea or chocolate caramel. The coup de coeur is an ultra-refined version of a moon pie — praline ganache orange meringue and caramel coulis covered in chocolate and adorned with a floral-decorated chocolate heart. Her sweet “button” cookies cry out for a warm pot of organic Earl Grey tea.
A MAP SHOWING SOME OF THE PATISSERIES MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE