Montreal Memories & Nostalgia
Breakfast at Beauty’s: Originally called Bancroft Snack Bar, it opened in 1942, sharing the name of the nearby elementary school (Bancroft Elementary School) that I attended between 1963 and 1970. I passed this snack bar every single day I attended the school, and never went in since I ate breakfast and lunch at home. It became more popular after the 1970s, perhaps, driven by nostalgia more than anything else. I have eaten at Beauty’s a number of times, and they do make a good breakfast. Beauty’s, which is on the corner of avenue du Mont-Royal O. & rue St. Urbain, is situated in the neighborhood of Mile End, which is part of the borough of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal. The food critic, Alan Richman, reserves special praise for its founding owner, Hymie Sckolnick, aged 95, who is still at the counter.
Photo Credit: Mickael Bandassak
Montreal is the food capital of North America, ousting New York City. So says an article, by Alan Richman of Town & Country magazine, which is based in New York City. Although such rankings can generally be viewed as “arbitrary,” I am not surprised by Richman ranking Montreal as the premier place for dining out. It has so many fabulous and memorable places to eat—from bistros to delis, from diners to fine-dining restaurants.
In “Montreal is the New Food Capital of North America” (April 28, 2016), Richman writes:
The restaurants of Montreal are the attraction. Their evolution, which started in this century, has been swift. They are modest in size and technically proficient, and they provide a sense of casual fine dining that is embraced more wholeheartedly here than anywhere in the U.S. The dining culture is descended from those of both France and England— thankfully, more from France—leaving Montreal a sort of culinary orphan, free to seek its own path.
New York, which was considered the best American dining city in most eras, but no longer, has become ground zero for casual dining. (A restaurant critic for the New York Times recently announced his top dish of the year: a sticky bun.) Montreal has developed an engaging dining personality at the same time that New York has been losing the one it had.In many ways, a city takes on the personality of its restaurants. There is no shame in New York coming second to Montreal, at least in this particular ranking. Both are ranked in the top 20 food cities in the world by Food & Wine magazine; Montreal being the only city in Canada holding such a distinction. When it comes to food and dining out, Montreal is hard to beat.
One of the reasons is that there are so many choices of places to eat in the city with so many good Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese and other choice of eateries serving delicious dishes from many parts of the world. Moreover, locals not only know of the places that are widely known and famous—like Beauty’s, Montreal Pool Room, Orange Julep, Schwartz’s and Wilensky’s, etc., but also the neighbourhood haunts that are gustatory gems, found not on the beaten path but elsewhere.
It has been said that tasting a nation’s cuisine, notably if it is authentic, is one way to access its culture, since food is inextricably linked to it. Even so, as much as we like to wander and experiment, we tend to return to old familiar places—linked as they often are to good times in our memories. We all have our local favourites, no matter where we live. These choices are often influenced by the memories of youth, when we first increased the range of our palate. This alone is one of the reasons that many people take food critic rankings with a grain of salt.