Montreal restaurateur Peter Morentzos says when chefs from Toronto want to learn about trends in cooking, they go to New York. When New York chefs want to seek out what’s hot on the culinary scene, they come to Montreal.
"The restaurant scene reflects the diversity here in Montreal," Morentzos says. "You’ve got a fusion going on: French-Greek, French-Portuguese and Asian-inspired French classics."
The self-made Morentzos is the founder and CEO of the Morentzos Restaurant Group. The former waiter has created concepts for nearly 70 restaurants. Two of the hippest in Montreal are his flagship restaurant Queue de Cheval, a popular high-end steakhouse, and Trinity, a Greek restaurant that opened about two years ago. At Trinity, which includes a Greek Isles-inspired decor, the focus is on fish (guests can see fresh fish glistening on ice). Both feature open kitchens.
Morentzos, a dominant figure on the city’s business scene, is also somewhat unconventional: to promote his first Moe’s Deli and Bar, Morentzos put up a billboard of himself sitting on the toilet and reading a newspaper.
In addition to hip restaurants offering creative cuisine, groups can sample the traditional, more downmarket delights of Montreal, such as smoked meat and poutine. One of the best places in the city to get the former is at Schwartz’s World Famous Smoked Meat. Be prepared to get in a long line that extends along Boulevard Saint-Laurent. And don’t forget a beverage to complement it. The black cherry soda gets high marks from the locals.
As for poutine, which is French-fried potatoes with fresh cheese curds and beef gravy, groups can check out La Banquise. The 24/7 eatery offers more than two dozen varieties of poutine, including the T-Rex that comes with four kinds of meat.
Montreal offers more than unique culinary experiences, Morentzos is quick to point out.
"Montreal is underrated," he says. "Its beauty is masked by the attention that other Canadian cities get. Montreal is almost 380 years old. It is filled with so much beauty and culture and art. It’s a good value for Americans’ dollars too."