This is the fourth post in the Oh Canada series, summarizing some of the great eats I had when visiting various Canadian cities this past year. Other posts in this series include St. Viateur Bagels, Le Bremner, and Schartz’s Smoked Meats.
I hate dining alone.
Some people love it. Bryan travels a lot for work and is perfectly content relaxing at a restaurant, reading his iPad, and enjoying a nice meal.
I hate it. When I’m at home in Boston, I would rather scour the fridge and eat scraps of random stuff that I can dig up than go out alone. I get so bored sitting there, staring into space. Sometimes I’ll whip out my phone and read emails. But at the end of the day, I would much rather relax at home.
So just a couple weeks ago, I had to go to Montreal for business. Thankfully, the first night some colleagues took me out and I had a lovely dinner at Le Bremner. The second night, however, I was on my own.
I soon decided that the uber famous French restaurant, Toque, felt too formal for a gal dining by herself.
The other famous place, Pied au Cochon, seemed like it had great food, but such huge portions that I (again) really wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything if I went there by myself.
Joe Beef has a really nice bar where solo diners like me can enjoy a lovely dinner while watching oysters being shuck. It was great – I sat between other solo diners. We ended up chatting quite a bit and I learned a bit more about Montreal (from the local guy on my right) as well as about lots of other food related stuff (from the food industry woman on my left).
It turned out to be a really, really fun evening.
But back to the restaurant, who is Joe Beef?
“Joe Beef” was the nickname for Charles McKiernan, a 19th century tavern owner and philanthropist from Montreal whose tavern, “Joe Beef Tavern” refused service to no one. His tavern welcomed people are all races, all classes, etc. and became a social hub for the working class in Montreal.
This man’s name was the inspiration behind the newish restaurant in Petit-Bourgogne (Little Burgundy) neighborhood of Montreal called “Joe Beef,” which opened in 2006.
Joe Beef has become known in the U.S. largely because Anthony Bourdain visited it on his show. The Joe Beef guys just published a cookbook this year, and they’re hot right now. The place is super busy, lines go out the door, and it’s quite difficult to get a reservation.
It’s hard to describe the food at Joe Beef (it’s definitely not just beef!). The menu changes constantly and is written on blackboard throughout the restaurant. The emphasis is on fresh, local ingredients. There’s quite a bit of interesting game as well as lots of foie gras.
Most of the vegetables served at the restaurant come from their own garden (at least in August this was true). I had a lovely, simple mixed greens salad that included their own baby kale, bibb lettuce, and a bunch of other greens I can’t even name. It was tossed in a lovely smoked vinaigrette and topped with smoked cheddar, pumpkin seeds, and some beauiful red, edible flowers.
One of their signature dishes is a “double-down foie gras,” a breaded and deep fried piece of foie gras (not unlike KFC coating) in a sandwich with homemade bacon, smoked cheddar, and mayonnaise. It’s crazy decadent, but, according to the girl sitting next to me, “very delicious, though I feel like I might fall sleep right now after eating that.”
Don’t come here if you’re trying to watch your cholesterol. There’s plenty of foie gras all over the menu. They serve this particular version which is mixed with marrow and other good stuff, and then stuffed back into the bone. It’s sort of a “bone-in” foie gras. There are various liver terrines. They have a lobster foie gras pasta and a seafood stew that are staple menu items.
I tried spicy and flavorful Stuffed Squid. I could not identify all the components, but there was definitely corn in the stuffing, as well as something that was bready which held it all together. The sauce was bright, bold, and piquant. It definitely had some Spanish or Latin American influences. The squid was tender, and the accompanying shrimp was very juicy and flavorful.
Filet Mignon de Cheval (horse)
It’s not unusual to see various types of game on the menu. The day I was there, the chalkboafd menu included quail, rabbit, and even horse (which is illegal to slaughter in the US). The guy next to me ordered a “cheval” (horse) filet mignon (which came with a poached egg on top) and was surprised at how juicy and tender it was.
Desserts were fun. I tried something more unusual – a Corn Financier. The financier (which tasted like a dense, sweet cornbread), was served on a smoked husk and topped with real corn. It sat in a flavorful creamy sauce surrounded by fresh and intensely flavorful raspberries and blueberries. The combination worked surprisingly well.
The place was the packed the whole time I was there. By the time I tried to leave, I saw a line that literally went out the door. There must have been at least 10 people waiting in line.
The food is quite good here. I really wished Bryan could have been there because I could have given you such a better sense of the food here. Bryan loves foie gras, bone marrow, and all the sorts of things that Joe Beef does really really well. Alas, I just couldn’t eat all that by myself. I will confirm that their lighter options are still excellent. I an also attest that the woman who sat left of me at the bar loved her foie gras double down, and the guy sitting right of me could not stop raving about how good the horse filet mignon was.
Though I wouldn’t come here on a regular basis (my arteries would cry uncle), I definitely think it’s a destination-worthy restaurant if you’re visiting Montreal. They make a lot of unique dishes here. Even if you’re not into the unusual foie gras, game meat, or bone-marrow related dishes, you can still try all sorts of other really well-executed dishes.
Seriously, it seems like everything here is really, really good.
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