A vibrant Jewish culture didn’t just bring kosher delis to Montreal, they also brought bagels. Once again however we see Montreal in an unlikely competition with its foodie rival New York. For a true Montreal bagel experience we stopped by St-Viateur Bagel where they’ve been making these breakfast staples since 1957. I was in for a surprise though when I saw my first Montreal bagel. Unlike their American cousins, the Montreal bagels weren’t as doughy and only come in a few flavors: plain, poppy and sesame. The bagels are also smaller, with larger holes and are always made in a wood fired oven. Talking with a local expert I also learned that the secret ingredient in Montreal bagels is honey-sweetened water, in which the bagels are boiled before baked in the oven. So what did I think? Well, to be honest I prefer New York style bagels, but I absolutely enjoyed my first Montreal experience. Served with some fresh cream cheese, we stood there in the shop munching away on the savory snacks watching as scores of locals streamed in, leaving with heaping bags of warm bagels. So they may not be the same as New York bagels, but they are absolutely one of the best bites in Montreal.
Have you been here? Share a tip or a photo with fellow travelers.
Watching a Sheeba Master at St-Viateur Bagel
Montreal is famous for its bagels (sorry New York). Fairmount Bagels has been making bagels since 1920. St-Viateur Bagels, just a couple of blocks away has been firing up the ovens since 1957.
Montreal bagels are slimmer, chewier, and a little sweeter than a typical "manhattan" bagel. The bagels are "poached" in simmering honey water for about 4 minutes (hence the sweetness). The bagels are then placed on long, wooden boards that are slid into the wood-burning oven, which reaches temperatures exceeding 700 ºC.
After about 4 minutes, the bagels are flipped onto the oven's brick floor. Because of the oven's heat fluctuations, the bagels must be skillfully shifted by using a long, narrow wooden board with beveled edges, called a "sheeba". Mastering a "sheeba" requires years of training. The bagels are baked for approximately 20 minutes before the baker artfully tosses them into a large wooden bin.
Both St-Viateur and Fairmont Bagels are open and baking 24/7. You are welcome to watch the "sheeba masters" at their work. On a cold day the smell of the baking bagels and the warmth of the ovens is intoxicating. And there is nothing as satisfying as holding a warm paper bag filled with fresh out-of-the-oven bagels. Except eating a fresh out-of-the-oven bagel.
St-Viateur Bagel Shop- 263 Rue Saint Viateur Ouest, Montreal, QC H2V 1Y1
Fairmont Bagel- 74 Avenue Fairmount Ouest, Montreal, QC H2T 2M
Breakfast in Montreal: Polish Style Bagels at St. Viateur
New Yorkers may be passionate about their bagels, but Montreal's special recipe has several fans hungering for more. St. Viateur Bagel & Cafe in Mont Royal is the original cafe that made these tasty breakfast treats using a special Polish Jewish recipe. The bagels are hand made (so the batches are small) and dunked in honey-sweetened water before being baked in a wood-stoked oven. The holes are larger too, so they're more dense and chewy. Owner Vince Morena says the cafe, which has sister shops all over Montreal, sells every bagel they make, and that the sesame seed variety is the most popular. Montreal residents love to savor their breakfast and you'll often find the cafe packed with people sipping their coffee and lingering. Phone: 514-276-8044.
The Montreal bagel is a distinct species from its New York kin. Leavened without salt and baked in a wood fired oven, it is a sweeter, crunchier breed like some hybrid between a conventional bagel and pizza crust.
In Montreal, locals define themselves by declaring allegiance to either Fairmount or St. Viateur, the two great and original bakeries. It is a generally friendly rivalry, ground for good natured teasing rather than contempt, for both bagels are excellent. Offered on sale 24 hours a day, they are also the ideal way to soak up a weekend's excesses.
Montreal's Best Bagel? The Issue is not Black and White.
In the Montreal bagel wars, it’s Fairmount vs. St-Viateur. With time to sample only one bagel purveyor, I picked the upstart St.Viateur, established in 1957. (Fairmount dates to 1919.)
Hand-rolled, boiled and then baked in a wood-burning oven, the artisanal Montreal bagel is flatter than a New York bagel with a crusty exterior that gives way to a slightly sweet, doughy interior that is both chewy and al dente.
St-Viateur’s black (poppy seed) and white (sesame seed) versions did not disappoint, but the jury is still out on the best bagel until my next visit to Montreal.