The tiny Patati featured a funky decor, a handful of counter seats and a couple of high tables that encouraged us to get our poutine ($4.50) to go. We opened the small clamshell foam box to find crunchy, browned, skin-on fries topped with thinnish but meaty gravy, lots of squeaky curds and a couple of kalamata olives.
Our order at the large, multiroomed, 24-hour La Banquise ($6.25) was much larger, featuring slightly sweet fries, as if some of their starch had turned to sugar, topped with elongated supersqueaky curds and a meaty thick gravy.
The verdict: The fries are better at Patati, but the whole package is better at La Banquise.
Marinated and rotisserie/grilled chicken with an optional chili rub and/or sauce. Though it's served by Portuguese-Canadians, it's actually called African chicken in Portugal.
The contenders: Rotisserie Romados (115 Rue Rachel East) and Portugalia (34 Rue Rachel West)
Like the Peruvian or Colombian chicken wars that have emerged in other cities across North America, Montreal's Portuguese chicken fight is characterized by stiff competition (with some areas hosting three chicken joints in as many blocks), hardwood coal grilling/rotisserie cooking and ultrasecretive spicing. Restaurants serve it plain or with spicy sauce, which can range from a reddish chili paste to a seriously potent rub of spices and red pepper flakes. After much asking around, we zeroed in on two places locals swear by. They range from the humble Portugalia counter to the fluorescent-lit Romados, which also serves as a bakery and deli.
When we arrived hungry at Romados, the grilled chicken aroma was almost as enticing as the long line was off-putting. But within 15 minutes we were up there receiving our half a chicken, rice and salad, all covered in a pile of delicious fries ($7.99). We snagged a rare counter seat by the window and unearthed the sauce-dotted chicken from the potatoes and enjoyed. Juicy, flavorful and tinged with a smoky grilled flavor but not as life changing as we'd heard.
The counter guys at Schwartz's told us that the best Portuguese chicken in town came from a little joint around the corner called Portugalia, where they butterfly and grill the chicken and paint it with a fiery paste. We loved the char and incendiary spicing on this bird, even if it was a little less juicy than at Romados. You can eat it there at the blue-tiled counter or take it on the run in a foil bag as we did.
The verdict: If you love fries and milder flavors, go to Romados, but if you go for a bolder bird, as we do, hit Portugalia.
Particularly espresso drinks that require the barista to pull a great espresso and top it with milk.
The contenders: Cafe Olimpico (124 St-Viateur West) and Cafe Neve (151 Rue Rachel East).
One morning while waiting for hot-meat places to open in the St-Laurent area, we wandered into the hipster, rustic Cafe Neve. We just wanted to kill some time but ended up enchanted by the buttery croissants, divine bagels with lox (using St-Viateur) and a latte in a bowl ($3.50) that was as beautiful as it was rich and delicious. Turns out they use coffee from Chicago's famous Metropolis roaster and put a lot of care into brewing it just right and topping it with a flower design.
But could it hold up against the famed Joe at the 42-year-old Cafe Olimpico up in the Mile End area? We went to find out. The large, tin-ceilinged coffeehouse with an Italian soccer theme and a sprawling courtyard was crowded on a Sunday morning. But these coffee lovers seemed unfazed by the dozens-deep line. We were grateful for it — though it moved quickly — because it gave us a chance to rehearse our order for the no-nonsense, handlebar-mustachioed baristas who liked to keep things moving. Their product, however, doesn't taste rushed at all. The macchiato (espresso with a little foam milk for $2.60) was fantastic, with rich, full-bodied flavor yet no bitter finish. Bravo.
Verdict: For a laid-back cafe vibe, big bowls of latte luxury and delicious savories, go to Cafe Neve. For boisterous atmosphere, lots of soccer and sports and wonderful Italian-style coffee, head to Olimpico.
Deep-fried foie gras
Fatty goose or duck liver breaded and deep fried in what has become a bit of a local trend.
The contenders: Au Pied de Cochon (536 Ave. Duluth East) and Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre Dame West).
Traditional pairings with foie gras tend to play its richness off of a starch or sweet accent, or both. But in foie gras-crazy Montreal, the chefs instead amp up the decadence with a dip in the fryer.