The cofounders of Want Les Essentiels—twins Dexter and Byron Peart—love Montreal’s food scene almost as much as the iconic apartment complex they call home.
Dexter and Byron Peart launched Want Les Essentiels, their line of high-end, intensely covetable travel accessories, alongside co-founders Mark Wiltzer and Jacqueline Gelber in Montreal in 2006. Despite the company’s now-global footprint—the brothers recently opened their first U.S. Want Apothecary, in New York City’s NoMad Hotel—the Pearts remain firmly rooted in their home city. From their base on an island in Montreal’s St. Lawrence River—a couple of historic apartments in the city’s boxy Habitat 67 building—the twins can easily explore the neighborhoods of Old Montreal, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, and Griffintown in pursuit of their second passion: food. Here’s what they love about where they live and where they’re eating right now.
What’s it like to live in one of the world’s most famous modular housing complexes?
Dexter Peart: “Habitat 67 was an interesting study of what urban living could be. It also happened to be one of the modern world’s first prefab housing projects. People talk about sustainability today, 50 years after Habit 67 was built; well, these things were part of the conversation back then. The fact that a 21-year-old kid—architect Moshe Safdie—could dream this up as his thesis for McGill [University] and get it built just three years later really speaks to Montreal’s independent lifestyle.”
Byron Peart: “Habitat 67’s indoor and outdoor living concept is a major source of inspiration. The island that’s adjacent to us—Saint Helen—is also home to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome. Like Habitat 67, it was built for the Expo 67 World’s Fair, to house the United States pavilion. Its acrylic shell burned down about 40 years ago, but its bare geodesic frame is still beautiful and lit up at night. It’s a spectacular landmark that now houses the Biosphère, an environmental museum. There’s a stunning Alexander Calder sculpture called Man over on Saint Helen as well.”
Dexter: “Montreal was thinking big in the ’60s: It had this vision of what a new world was going to look like, with skyscrapers going up, and everything becoming smaller and more cosmopolitan. It’s been amazing to be able to live in a design success story—all that brutalist architecture really feeds our creative energy.”
Do you feel removed from the city at all, living on an island?
Byron: “The building is relatively remote but still downtown. We’re right on the water. The fact that Montreal is an island city definitely plays a role in how neighborhoods have developed. The city is very dynamic and very Old World in some ways, with cobblestone roads and dual languages–French and English. The fact that Canada is about as multicultural a country as any means that lots of different cuisines and influences are pretty par for the course.”
How does Montreal compare to other cities of its size?
Dexter: “It’s the little city that could. Every 10 years, something new is happening—it’s a hotbed of grumblings. In a lot of ways, the city never quite boils over, which is good and bad. It’s a little bit like Berlin or Brooklyn—the culture here is constantly being redefined, as opposed to being too entrenched in a singular idea. I think that’s refreshing.”
What do you appreciate most about its restaurant scene?
Dexter: “Montreal is a great food city, with new restaurants opening every week. It has a real homey feeling. Casual restaurants speak to the temperament of the city: Everyone here takes food very seriously, but it’s more about having an amazing time with friends than worrying about things like reservations. The other word I use a lot [when describing Montreal] is ‘authenticity’—the authenticity of the food, the experience, and the people. That’s what people come back for.”
Where Dexter and Byron Eat and Drink in Montreal
Dexter: “Nora Grey is a very small restaurant—it has 30 or 40 seats—with a New Italian feel. We’ve known the owners, Lisa McConnell, Emma Cardarelli, and Ryan Gray, for a long time and the restaurant feels like our home. It’s very low key, very authentic. Chef Emma’s menu changes quite regularly. She has some signature pasta dishes and cooks lot of fish, but most of the time, we leave [the ordering] in her hands. Ryan and Lisa are also amazing sommeliers; the food and the wine works perfectly together.”
Byron: “Lupita has been open for less than a year. They only make tortas [Mexican sandwiches], but they are some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. The restaurant is run by Sandra Soto, the life partner of Dyan Solomon, one of the co-owners of Olive + Gourmando and Foxy.
“Lupita is the name of Sandra’s mom. Whenever we go, Lupita is literally cooking all the meals, while Sandra’s sister helps run the front of house. I’ve had a couple of things there. The torta milanesa [with fried steak] is excellent, and the service really makes it feel like a family business. I’ve even seen Sandra’s dad helping out by pouring beer.”
Dexter: “Little Burgundy’s Le Vin Papillion is owned by Allison Cunningham, David McMillan, and Frédéric Morin, the same people behind neighboring Joe Beef and Liverpool House, but it’s more focused on wine. And there’s a little garden in the back, where they grow fresh fruit and produce.
“The cool thing is that they don’t take reservations—they don’t want Le Vin to get to the point where the only way you can get in is with a reservation and where it’s all about who you know.
“Le Vin Papillion feels more like a spot for locals who live in the neighborhood. It’s pretty unpretentious. There are a lot of limited and small-lot wines on the menu, too, so you’re always able to try something new. My wife usually takes the lead with ordering. We’re into a bunch of different wines. If there’s a great chardonnay on the menu, you’ll probably find us slurping that.”
Byron: “If you’re looking for a hidden bar, Big in Japan has a low-key interior and excellent drinks. I haven’t been there for about a year, but it’s a really cool spot in the heart of the Plateau. A friend and I used to go for drinks after work. It’s also a restaurant; the ramen is the thing to order there. I’m a Sapporo guy, so I just get Japanese beer, but the drinks are supposed to be great too.”
Dexter: “Olive + Gourmando, a bakery and café, is an institution. Owners Éric [Girard] and Dyan [Solomon] opened up in Old Montreal 20 years ago, when no one else was really there. Now there are lines out the door all the time, and not just because the neighborhood is trendy. Eric and Dyan make some of the best baked goods in the city—full stop. And they are some of the most unpretentious people you’ll ever meet. An hour in the bakery should give you an idea of the Montreal vibe. It’s one of my favorite places—has always been and always will be.
“If you only go once, get the banana loaf, which is just to die for. Eric and Dyan are also the ones behind Foxy, more of a dinner restaurant with a wood-burning oven. It’s this really exceptional new spot in Griffintown, a few blocks west of Old Montreal.”
Dexter: “This is an Italian restaurant in Old Montreal from the people behind Le Club Chasse et Pêche and Le Filet. It’s in an art gallery space in an old foundry, so it feels culturally significant but also very [relaxed]. The food is exceptional; the first things that come to mind are the pastas, especially the seafood pasta. Lobster risotto is also a must here.”
Byron: “LOV is a vegetarian restaurant in Old Montreal. It’s a bright and airy space, with a great vibe. All of our staff goes there regularly, so it feels like everyone we know is really into it. I’m a fish-and-meat lover, so LOV is not my first choice when we’re picking restaurants, but I’ve always felt satisfied after eating there. It also shows the diversity of the cuisine in Montreal.”
Dexter: “This is in a building that used to be a bank. The idea behind Crew Collective is to get all of these young creatives together. The café is like what you’d see in a hotel lobby or coworking space in New York. It’s not a top-of-the-list must-do, but it’s very much in line with what I was talking about before—that Montreal is very independent, with people always starting up their own small businesses.”
Dexter: “Pizzeria Melrose is in a neighborhood called NDG [Notre-Dame-de-Grâce]. NDG is very residential and cool, with a lot of history behind it. The pizzeria has an amazing local vibe—takeaway pizza, but you can also come in and hang out. It’s probably the best pizza in Montreal. Our favorite pies are the Co-Op [with tomato sauce, eggplant, mint, fresh mozzarella, almonds, and lemon zest] or Bleu [with white sauce, kale, blue cheese, bacon, fresh mozzarella, red onion, and walnuts].
“They also have a Nutella pizza, which is my kids’ favorite. The good news is that it’s small. As long as they’ve eaten the rest of their food, they can have that.”
Dexter: “Larrys is a good place to go with a group. It’s in the Plateau [Mont Royal] borough, which feels more . . . Brooklyn. I don’t know any other way to say it, really—it feels very independent in a different way than [neighboring] Griffintown. Larrys is a great place to go for small dishes [like charcuterie, beef tartar, and seasonal vegetables] and a glass of wine with your friends.”
Byron: “The vibe in Agrikol is really interesting. It’s owned by two of the artists from Arcade Fire (married couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne) and located on a hidden street in the Gay Village. It has a small plates menu that reflects Montreal’s significant Haitian community. We’ve eaten many different things there; the rice and peas and the plantains and ceviche are superb. They make one dish that’s really common in Haiti—griot. It’s Agrikol’s most popular dish. It has chunks of pork, and it’s made in the same vein as a stew. In Jamaican cuisine, we have an equivalent dish that’s cooked for a long time: curry goat.”