Montreal has a rich food culture which we have enjoyed exploring on our short trip there. One of the toughest reservations to snag was at the iconic restaurant Joe Beef at 2491 Notre-Dame West. We actually had to use connections to get in. It didn’t help that it was voted the #4 best restaurant in Canada in 2016. But I have been told it has been busy since day one. Owners David McMillan, Frédéric Morin and Allison Cunningham opened in this neighbourhood of Little Burgandy in 2005 when the place was rough and seedy. Now it is a cool, hip scene with many other establishments on the street. The locals, as well as tourists, have embraced this spot. It’s not for its beauty, that’s for sure. The place has a saloon feel to it, with old-time wainscoting, posters, game heads on the wall, and hunting and fishing memorabilia. They doubled the space in 2009. It is dark, the tables are snug and the menu is written on a chalkboard in very tiny writing, and in French only I might add. If you don’t read French, the waitstaff speaks English and are very helpful at describing the items. Although I did find they tried to upsell and encourage you to eat and drink more that is humanely possible. If possible, I recommend sitting in the lovely herb garden out back. It’s an urban oasis, that’s quieter, with the tables more spread apart – only available on a first come first serve basis.
I am not going to lie, the prices here are high. The food is kind of retro, with dishes you remember from your childhood. Lobster Thermidor, raw bar, steaks, chops, foie gras and something not from my childhood was something called the KFC which comes with foie gras, bacon, cheddar, chicken skin, mayo and a drizzle of maple syrup. Not for the faint of heart. Don’t bother coming here if you are on any type of diet, outside of their wonderful fresh oysters and some seafood dishes, there’s nothing for the light eater. There are almost no fresh vegetables on the menu, and things are seasoned the old fashioned way, with salt, butter, cream and Worcestershire sauce. The experience is unlike any other you will encounter. The dishes are gluttonous and eccentric. Anthony Bourdain calls this one of his favourite places, and he gets around. The place is quite legendary and has an international reputation. We tried one of the evening’s specials of soft shell crabs that came with a rich garlic aioli, and that was quite good. I had one of their signature dishes, the spaghetti with lobster. It was dripping in cream and butter and was really delicious and indulgent. The strip loin steak was large at $60, but for me was too tough. It was hard to cut and chewy. We left over half the steak on the plate. We did mention this to our server and we got an, ” I am sorry ” but nothing else. I was expecting lush and tender meat, so it was a bit of a disappointment. We had a side of fries and a polenta with mushrooms. The fries were good, but not my favourite in Montreal. What was outstanding and merits special mention was the creamy polenta with mushrooms, infused with the most spectacular flavoured sauce. The dish was perfection. The wines are also listed on a chalkboard, but unfortunately, we were in the other room, so we had to go on our servers suggestions. The wines are pricey, and I was not familiar with all that was mentioned. Apparently, they import their own wine, and they own Vin Papillon next door.
For dessert, we had a dreamy Quebec wild blueberry tart with a corn custard-like filling on a graham cracker crust with a dollop of whip cream. Every bite was pure joy for my husband. I had a meringue filled with peach ice cream that sat in a puddle of cream custard with fresh sliced peaches. It is good to see they use the bounty of the season.
It’s loud, fun, extremely casual with a relaxed atmosphere. The menu is comfort food at its best! Joe Beef is truly an original, which has no doubt been influential to many other establishments.
Joe Beef is a destination for culinary travellers. It wasn’t a bucket list kind of place for me, but it was indulgent, with freshness and quality of product.