Montreal – 2016 F1 Canadian Grand Prix

The Canadian Grand Prix is a bucket list item that I have now checked off. The 7th race of the 21 race 2016 Formula 1 calendar took place from June 10th to 13th on Isle Notre Dame at the Circuit Gilles Villineuve. My dad and I took in all three days of racing in varying amounts with Sunday being our longest day at the track. In our off track time we tried to explore as much of Montreal as possible on foot.

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Turn 8 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

The race itself was as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes took the top spot after a race long battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. My favourite driver and team, Jenson Button and McLaren Honda, didn’t make it to the end suffering an engine failure bu the MP4-31 looks and sounds great.

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The Biosphere from Expo ’67

Getting to the track was a breeze on the Metro. We stayed a few blocks from Berri-UQAM, the central Metro station. From there it’s a short one stop trip under the river to Jean Drapeau Station and a short walk to the track. We bought 3 day Metro passes for $18 and had little trouble navigating the system.

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Mural Festival

There are free festivals that coincide with the GP weekend. Mural Festival, a massive street festival on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and Francofolies, a 6 stage music festival centered around the Place Des Arts along Rue Sainte-Catherine. They’d be reason enough to visit Montreal on their own let alone the Grand Prix.

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Old Montreal

Old Montreal was my favourite part of town. The Saint-Sulpice Seminary being the oldest building dating back to 1687 and the Notre-Dame Basilica (1829)… I have no words to describe how beautiful and grand it is. Narrow cobblestone streets lined by old buildings give a European charm to the area. One could be forgiven for thinking they were in Prague or Paris. Restaurants, shops, bars, the area has a great vibe and was in full swing over the race weekend. Make sure to check out the Old Port of Montreal while you’re in the area.

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The Old Port of Montreal

There are 2 places you simply have to go if you want an authentic, old school Montreal meal. First is Schwartz’s Deli, the quintessential spot for Montreal Smoked Meat and Poutine. It’s been serving the hits at 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard since 1928. Be prepared to line up and wait, which is totally worth it.

The second place is Bar-B-Barn, a chicken and rib joint that has been frozen in time since 1967. Dark wood, dim lighting, amazing ribs and chicken, and all the nostalgia you can handle. Come hungry or be prepared to leave with a doggy bag.

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Bar B Barn

Street art, both visual and performance, are everywhere in Montreal. Epic murals, street performers, musicians. Buskers in Metro stations have dedicated spots and seemed to be doing quite well playing for the massive GP crowds that swept through the stations daily.

A few tips. Try to speak French, even if you’re terrible. Everyone we dealt with, minus our airport bus driver, spoke fluent English but we noticed a marked improvement in service if we attempted to speak French. A simple Bonjour or Merci will get you a long way. That being said, service in Montreal was disappointing on all fronts. It was a busy weekend but I was surprised that things took as long as they did in restaurants and bars, some not full at all.

Learn the Montreal Metro system before you go. It uses a tap system similar to a lot of major transit systems but only requires you to tap in, not out. Learn where the stations are, where you can get to, look up the 747 Airport Bus, a cheap and decent way to get from Trudeau Airport to Downtown Montreal.

Montreal is a wonderful place that I am anxious to return to. So much history, so much culture, so much potential. I’ve only scratched the surface and I can’t wait to return.

Thanks to my wife Lyndsey for arranging the Grand Prix tickets and my dad for arranging our flights. All photos in this post (minus the food photos) we taking using Fujifilm X series cameras and lenses. Thanks to Fujifilm for their continued support (they let me borrow stuff, it’s awesome).

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Scott.

 

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Quick Bite – The Sugar Shack in 70 Mile House

Ah 70 Mile House, the gateway to Green Lake and a place you’d probably miss if you blinked while driving through it on Highway 97. 70 Mile House isn’t known for much but that is about to change. There’s a new spot about a mile past the general store that feels like a slice of Quebec in the middle of rural BC. The Sugar Shack has everything your inner Quebecois desires. Tourtière du Lac-St-Jean, Poutine, Montreal Smoked Meat, Maple baked beans, Cretons, Maple syrup, Maple toffee, Maple bacon… They also do some kick-ass breakfasts and make maple sweetened coffee.

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I stopped in to check out their smoked meat sandwich and poutine. The poutine is very good. hand cut fries, house made gravy, and real cheese curds. It’s up there with anything you can get in Vancouver and wouldn’t be out of place in Quebec. The smoked meat sandwich was just ok. The meat is very salty and a bit dry.

The maple sweetened coffee and poutine make The Sugar Shack a “must visit” kind of place if you ever find yourself in this picturesque part of BC.

Facebook – The Sugar Shack

World wide web – thesugarshack.sfobc.com

Scott.

Quick Bite – Estrella’s Montreal Deli and Cafe

The Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich, a Canadian icon. Greater Vancouver has a few places that make a decent version but there is one that stands above them all. Estrella’s in Langley is as close as it gets to being in Montreal. Hidden in plain sight on 200th street between Industrial Ave and Logan Ave, you’d drive right by Estrella’s if you didn’t know it existed. It is surrounded by automotive shops, industrial buildings and an oddly placed dentist office.

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Now that you know where it is open up your calender and make some time to check it out. The smoked meat sandwiches are the best around, by a wide margin. Most places in Vancouver make a sandwich with meat brought in from Montreal which tends to taste like it’s travelled in a truck across Canada. Other places make their own but it always comes out too salty. Estrella’s house made smoked meat is absolute perfection. Tender, juicy, flavourful without being too salty. You can order it lean (less fat) or marbled (more fat) just like they do it in Montreal. Obviously the full fat is tastier, the choice is yours.

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You can get poutine, grilled paninis, burgers, sandwiches, soups, espresso and speciality coffee. Nearly everything is house made from scratch. The poutine is outstanding.

Tired of mediocre smoked meat parading as the real thing? Go check out Estrella’s at 5932 200th street in Langley (There you go random Twitter guy who couldn’t Google the address yourself…)

Web – estrellasdeli.com

Scott.

Dunn’s Famous

There’s a place in Montreal called Dunn’s Famous that’s been serving authentic Montreal Smoked meat since 1927 and they have recently opened up right here in Vancouver! Poutine, Smoked Meat, Cheese Cake, the holy triumvirate of must have Montreal staples are now made in the true Montreal style at 827 Seymour Street (at Robson) and I was recently invited by Cate Simpson of Simpson Public Relations, who handles Dunn’s PR, to come and sample some menu items.

First up was some beer battered deep fried pickles, deep fried pickles are great. I know what you’re thinking if you’ve never tried them, you’re thinking that they sound gross. Well, you are wrong and the fact that every day there are more and more Vancouver restaurants serving them is proof, quit being a sissy!

Next we tried 5 out of Dunn’s 6 Poutines. The Quebecoise (Cheese curds & Dunn’s special gravy), the Italienne (Cheese curds & meat sauce), the Peppercorn (Cheese curds & peppercorn sauce), The Dunn’s (Cheese curds, Dunn’s special gravy & chopped Montreal smoked meat) and the Vegetarian (Cheese curds, vegetarian gravy). My favorite was the Peppercorn followed closely by the Dunn’s, smoked meat on poutine, so good. The Quebecoise is the most traditional poutine and is a little different than I expected. Dunn’s special gravy has a little BBQ seasoning added to it giving it a distinct taste that’s quite nice but it was actually my least favorite.

The smoked meat comes in 3 different cuts, lean, medium fat and fat. I had the medium fat in a Super Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich which has 6 ounces (!) of meat and comes with a choice of sides. I had Mazoh Ball soup which was great. The medium fat cut was nice and juicy with just the right amount of fat for a sandwich. The meat is steamed fresh daily and sliced to order and is very tasty and authentic. I also tried the fat cut which was delicious but probably life shortening.

For dessert we tried the famous Dunn’s cheesecake which I’m told takes 5 days to prepare and uses a special cottage cheese brought here from Quebec. There’s no picture of this masterpiece because I started eating it before I remembered to take a quick shot of it…oh well you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself. It’s creamy and crumbly at the same time, magic.

Go check it out!!

Scott.