Full disclosure: I never was much of a bagel person. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a good bagel, but given the choice between a mediocre bagel or a mediocre something else baked I’d probably go with the latter.
But Montreal bagels, oh my goodness. These will change everything you ever thought about bagels (sorry celiac sufferers!). It doesn’t even matter if you like bagels or not!
There are two famed bagel-making institutions in Montreal: Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel & Café. They aren’t just the most well-known, but they’re also widely regarded as the best by tourists and locals alike.
While there are other local favourites, this wasn’t something that I felt like I needed to find a hidden gem for. These bagels are damn delicious and if you have limited time they do an amazing job at showing what the city can offer!
There’s always a lot of debate as to which city enjoys the better bagels: Montreal or New York. While both cities were settled at similar times by Europeans armed with their bagel recipes, the typical NY style bagel nowadays is quite different from the Montreal version!
Montreal bagels tend to be more pillowy and sweeter than New York bagels. They also have larger centers because they are formed by moulding a strip of dough into a ring rather than pressing out a hole in the middle using fingers as most New York places do.
That’s just a general overview, but there are definitely exceptions to this and a huge amount of variety in dough recipes and baking process between different bakers. I never realized how big these differences would be, but the distinctions are as clear as day and night even between equally delicious bagels!
As part of my one-day long initiation to food in Montreal, I had a fresh bagel at Fairmount then walked 5 minutes over and had one at St-Viateur. Nothing beats a direct comparison like that!
I’m sure both of these bagels would be well above average if taken home and toasted before eating, but there is absolutely nothing like eating one hot and fresh. They keep churning them these out throughout the day so getting one right out of the oven should be no trouble! If you don’t have a fresh bagel on a trip to Montreal then I’m sorry but you’ve just missed the greatest attraction the city has to offer!
Fairmount is the oldest bagel place in Montreal and offers over 20 varieties of bagels, compared to only sesame and poppy bagels at St-Viateur. In addition to having freshly baked bagels straight from their wood-fired oven, they also offer bags of pre-made bagels and cheaper day-old bags too. Nothing beats the hot and fresh kind though!
St-Viateur is very similar in size and ambiance, although their bagel recipe is quite different! They have all sorts of standard bagel toppings like cream cheese and smoked fish sold on site as well, but none of it is homemade. I didn’t mind this because I want to see them sticking to what they know best: bagels!
Both bagel places are also open 24/7 in case residents ever have a sudden craving for bagels. It might sound crazy, but with bagels these good I’d be craving them at any time of the day! (Speaking of which, when do I get to go to Montreal next?)
I tried the sesame bagel at both places because it’s the most popular (and therefore freshest) option and I figured I would start with the standard first! Poppy and plain bagels are also very popular.
(Note: apologies for the photos! I am definitely not used to walking in and out of -20C/-10F weather and having my camera fog up like this!)
Things Roger Ate like a Pig
Sesame Bagels (Fairmount) – 6/6 (Must Try!), $0.80
I never would’ve imagined I could like a bagel as much as I liked this one. Wait no, liked is too weak of a term. I LOVED these!
The bagel itself was super soft and pillowy, which gave it more of a melt in the mouth flavour rather than a dry feel. For something so simple, the flavours were very strong! The sesame seeds were toasted perfectly, giving the bagel a huge hit of sesame taste and smell!
There was the perfect amount of sweetness in the bagel, with a nice malty taste that was quite a bit sweeter than your typical bagel but not sweet enough to push this into dessert territory. It wasn’t just straight sweetness either but had some complexity that left me wanting more with each bite.
The secret to giving the bagel sweetness comes from honey! It’s first incorporated in the dough making process, and before baking the bagels are boiled in honey water too. There probably is some specific type of quality honey used to give it that extra flavour boost.
These bagels were so good that I’d consider it an insult to be eating this with cream cheese. There really was no extra flavour or texture needed or required and each bite was truly perfect!
(Picture taken from Follow Me Foodie)
Sesame Bagel (St-Viateur) – 5/6 (Excellent), $0.70
Appearance wise these were pretty much the same as the Fairmount bagels! Taste-wise they were quite similar as well, although I would consider these more neutral and less malt-flavoured than their Fairmount peers.
This bagel had that same warm and fresh-out-of-the-wood-oven feel with strong sesame flavours and aromas. I found the crumb pretty similar although the inside of the dough was a touch drier than Fairmount’s version.
The only big difference was the level of sweetness. The sesame bagel at St-Viateur was significantly less sweet than those at Fairmount and I missed that malty complexity here, although both supposedly use honey for both their dough recipes and boiling process.
While the bagel was still really good quality and quite conducive to being eaten alone, I think this would’ve worked better as part of a bagel sandwich because it stood out less in flavour.
No trip to Montreal is complete without some bagels! It doesn’t matter how freaking cold it is or how little time you have, a trip to Fairmount and/or St-Viateur is worth the effort.
Date Visited: Feb. 3, 2012