Tasty Montreal fare suits any budget

A view of the dining area at Les 400 Coups, a fine-dining restaurant on Notre-Dame Street East in...

A view of the dining area at Les 400 Coups, a fine-dining restaurant on Notre-Dame Street East in Montreal. (Jocelyn Malette/QMI Agency)

DOUG ENGLISH, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

Mentioning fast food and Montreal cuisine in the same breath is probably blasphemous. Eating, after all, is passion - some say religion - there.

But you go looking for alternatives when your hotel's room service prices are ridiculous and breakfast is buffet-only at $25.01, including tax but not tip.

Or when you're scheduled to have a bang-up supper and just need something to keep your tummy from grumbling.

A dozen or more options lay literally right under my feet, in the food court of one of the huge underground retail complexes that make up what professional tour guide Ruby Roy described as "the weatherproof city.''

Food courts, an old standby for shoppers and office workers, are also a godsend for travellers who aren't on expenses.

So minutes after leaving my room, I could chose from menus as American as A&W or as Quebecois as Duo Poutine. Most were geared to the lunch crowd - food 'n drink combos for $5 and up - but at least one had breakfast items for $2.15 to $4.99.

A tiny taco from Los Dias Mexican Cuisine did the trick.

That bang-up supper was at F Bar, a new Portuguese bistro on rue Jeanne-Mance, in the Quartier des spectacles, where the big summer festivals are staged.

The server seemed to know his stuff so I went with his recommendations - seared scallops, then a special, halibut cheeks, served in a metal pot. Mopping up the buttery sauces with crusty Portuguese bread put dessert off limits.

I was travelling with eight writers and bloggers from China, Brazil and India. That meal was, by consensus, our best in four days.

And it didn't cost an arm and a leg. The five choices of "plat,'' or main course - veal, fish and duck - ran from $24 to $27. Appetizers - often called entrees in Quebec - were $11 to $15, but you can shave the bill by sharing one or going straight to the main event. They also had a bar menu with only one of six "plats'' costing more than $20. F Bar is on rue Jeanne-Mance.

Les 400 Coups, on rue Notre-Dame Est and another Roy recommendation, was more upscale, a high-ceilinged room with an original tin ceiling and a mural dominating one wall. It's small and elegant, yet none of its main courses topped $30, and a five-course tasting menu similar to what we ate was only $65.

Lunch with a view? L'Arrivage Cafe, atop Pointe-a-Calliere, Montreal's museum of archeology and history, overlooks the port. An "express menu'' of soup, salad and coffee starts at $10.95 and mains are in the high teens. It was packed when we visited.

After a few days of rich food - ie. fries cooked in duck fat - it was a relief to grab a beer (Griffon is local) and a smoked meat sandwich at Marche du Vieux Cafe on rue Saint-Laurent in Old Montreal. A sandwich with soup or salad in this fine food store and bistro-cafe is $12.95.

When it comes to eating places, Montreal is an embarrassment of riches. Ruby Roy had already shown us some, so I asked Nathalie Thivierge, a culinary guide, for three recommendations.

Two were in Old Montreal: Garde Manger, on rue Saint-Francois-Xavier, whose chef, Chuck Hughes, was the first Canadian to beat the celebrated American Bobby Flay in an Iron Chef competition; and, for lunch, Olive et Gourmando, on rue Saint-Paul Ouest, whose specialty is little sandwiches. Thivierge says both are pricey. The third, Le Brasseurs de Montreal, is a microbrewery in the southwest neighourhood of Griffintown, which she described as "well priced."

Google the name of any of the spots mentioned to find phone numbers and locations. Most also show the nearest stop for the Metro (subway), which so many Montrealers use to zip around.