If I ever move back to Montreal, and had to choose a neighborhood to live in, my first choice would be Outremont. Bustling Bernard Avenue is probably my favourite street in Outremont. It’s also where I learned to run through the très sympathique Running Room formerly located on the corner of de l’Épée. In fact, signing up with the Learn to Run program back in 2004 at the Outremont Running Room was probably the means by which I came to develop such a fondness for Outremont. Up to that point, I didn’t have any particular reason to visit this neighborhood. A nice little spin-off on my road to becoming a runner! 🙂
I used to live in Montreal – in the Town of Mount Royal, just next door to Outremont. TMR was and is a beautiful neighborhood. I spent nearly 10 mostly happy years there. (In fact, I still go back and visit when I can, especially to dine at my favourite little converted railway station-resto, Pizzaiolle. Awesome wood-fired, thin-crust pizza and a peculiarly-named, sinfully delicious dark chocolate écureuil — or ‘squirrel’ — dessert with a dollop of crème anglaise.)
[This picture shows the Piazzaiolle location in Outremont.]
Despite, however, the convenience of the Deux Montagnes train de banlieue running right through the centre of TMR, whisking you into Gare centrale downtown in under 10 minutes, TMR felt, at times, a little too suburban for my lifestyle. Maybe I would’ve felt differently had I been raising a family.
On the other hand, there’s something inherently magical, if not a little bohemian, to me about living in a downtown enclave, perhaps in a stone walk-up with one of those famous Montreal staircases, complete with an urban garden, a big, leafy park nearby, and lots of shops and restos.
I used to occasionally run down the heavily tree-enshrouded section of Avenue de l’Esplanade bounded by Avenue Mont-Royale and Avenue Duluth in the Plateau, facing Parc Jeanne Mance and Mount Royal Park and imagine myself living in one of those early 20th century — and completely unaffordable — tony, stone triplexes. I also have a fond recollection of spending a particularly sweltering hot summer evening dining al fresco on the rooftop of a friend’s triplex in the very urban Plateau Mont-Royal district, where we enjoyed stunning views of the city and Mount Royal at sunset, before our gang of girls headed out to see Cirque du Soleil perform at the closing night of the Montreal Jazz Festival outside Place des Arts.
Outremont — only slightly further from the downtown core than the Plateau and a favourite, old running haunt of mine — has always appealed to me for its proximity to Mount Royal Park, its big, leafy trees overhanging its streets, its collection of long, steep hills (Avenue Pagnuelo was where I used to do some hard-core hill-training, the gradient of which compares well with some streets in notoriously hilly San Francisco or St. John’s, Newfoundland), and the stunning, stone mansions in upper Outremont. I also love the overall vibrancy of this eclectic neighborhood with its interesting mix of cultural diversity, where secular francophones and allophones live alongside Hasidic Jewish families.
What I remember most about Outremont was how the whole community seemed to come out on warm, summer nights and weekends. Sidewalk terrasses on Bernard and Laurier Avenue were always packed to capacity with adults, kids, and their dogs enjoying a café or leisure déjeuner, soaking in the sun and ambience of the scene, content to wile away a lazy afternoon or relaxing evening. I can still see all those well-dressed diners sitting out on the terrasse in the early evening hours enjoying their oyster delicacies at La Moulerie restaurant across the street from the venerable Théatre Outremont before going to see a play or film.
My favourite glacier artisinale place in all of Montreal — Bilboquet — is also located in the heart of Outremont on Bernard Avenue. I first discovered this whimsical place when I was learning to run and it was love at first sight — and conveniently located from the Running Room! 🙂 We would always go for an ice cream or sorbet reward after our Wednesday night group runs, thinking we’d earned it after ‘pounding out’ a 2 to 5k run!? (Yes, we were definitely running-newbies back in those days!) Of course, I kept with my running and those miles (and my fitness) increased exponenentially, easily providing a justification (if one was ever needed) for a Bilboquet ice cream after inducing a significant caloric deficit from the regular, early Sunday morning long run on the Mountain.
If you ever get a chance to taste Bilboquet’s ice cream or sorbet, I highly recommend the dark & delicious Choco Chic + Tire d’Érable (one scoop of each in a cup; and yes, I realize I am asking you to combine dark chocolate with maple, but trust me – it works!) for ice cream or if you’re looking for something a little lighter and fruity, the Poire sorbet. (If you’re in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, these are very rich and delicious, too. Almost cake-like, in fact.)
For an extra special Bilboquet experience, try and visit during a hot summer night. This is how you will really experience life in Outremont. Everyone — and I mean ‘everyone’ — seems to come out and queue for ice cream to cool off, often late into the evening. The line can sometimes extend out the door and stretch down the street, but it moves pretty efficiently; the ice cream scoopers are pros. 🙂 In this long queue, it’s likely you’ll see tons of parents with their very young children, many of whom are adorably dressed in their pyjamas; teenagers or 20-somethings out on dates; senior citizens; groups of friends; and of course, cute dogs on leashes. It’s a fascinating scene, and a classic Montreal memory for me.
If you like to cook at home, Les Cinq Saisons is a great little grocery store, also on Bernard. It is a very French épicerie and has the most wonderful produce and the best selection of imported chocolate (to support my addiction! :-)). As their name would imply, they always had the exterior of their storefront nicely decorated for the seasons; I especially enjoyed seeing their Hallowe’en displays with all the fresh pumpkins. Just down the street from Les Cinq Saisons is a Première Moisson boulangerie, where I would often go on weekends to buy a baguette, miche, or pâtisserie such as a piquant truffé (a very rich, mini dark chocolate mousse cake that looks a bit like a dragon fruit), or simply get lunch.
Aside from the wonderful running routes, beautiful scenery, and great food, there are many other reasons to visit Outremont. However, I will leave this for you to discover the next time you visit Montreal and want to check out this hidden gem of a neighborhood! À la prochaine! 🙂