I recently finished off a wonderful week in Canada with my husband and some friends. Turns out I love Canada!
We surprised Brian’s college best friend, Bob, for his 40th birthday! Bob decided he wanted to go to Montreal with his wife, Rebecca, to celebrate. Rebs thought it would be fun for us to surprise him!! Oh my, the look on his face when he saw us was priceless. We even got tears out of him; that’s how you know it’s a good surprise!
Bob and Rebs live down in Houston, Texas, so we don’t get to see them very often. Rebecca had a double lung transplant in April 2017 due to a genetic condition called primary ciliary dyskinesia. She was very sick for a long time and now because of her lung transplant she is thriving! I know, she’s amazing! Also because of her compromised immune system now, she has some food limitations (no raw foods including fruits, veggies, sushi, etc). Between the two of us we were a little high maintenance when eating out!
Before I travel, I like to put some feelers out on Instagram to see if there are any good recommendations or “must-eats” in the places I’m visiting. But since this was a surprise I couldn’t exactly do that in fear of Bob finding out. So I directly contacted one of my virtual friends, Meleri of The Gluten Free Hostess. She lives in Montreal so I figured she would have some good ideas of where I could start. Meleri sent me a great list and Montreal is a fabulous destination for gluten-free foodies!
I always, always, always do extensive research on Find Me Gluten Free which is like the equivalent to the Bible for us GFers.
We actually didn’t make any reservations ahead of time and it worked out that we got to visit just about every place we wanted to go. Even some of Bob’s choices for restaurants (before he found out we’d be there) were ones that also had food that was safe for me.
As usual, I brought along my Nima Sensor. This has been a very valuable tool for me when traveling because it’s just another level of protection, especially when I’m not at a 100% gluten-free facility. Lets be real – there aren’t many out there! I try to just trust my gut if the restaurant will be safe for me. If I have doubts, then I test. I would say that I tested at most places I visited in Canada and all came back great except for one place in Quebec City and I’ll talk about that in a little.
Montreal is known as a “foodie” town. We couldn’t agree more. It is truly a beautiful city filled with culture, wonderful people, great food, beautiful scenery, and just a lot of fun things to do.
We stayed at the Westin which was a great hotel that was easy to get to places via walking or taking Ubers. They also have a subway system that was easy to navigate.
Here is a list of the restaurants we ate at in Montreal (I’ll include my Nima results as well):
- Mais. This is a mexican restaurant with a cute little vibe in a cool neighborhood. We were able to get in without a reservation. I think everything on the menu is gluten-free except the fried onions. We were put in a little hightop table right by the open kitchen so we could see them making most of the food. We saw the chefs putting their fingers in the fried onions and then touching everything else and this made me very worried, so I asked our waitress about it. She assured us that there would be someone in the back who would change gloves and then prepare my food special. We had the carnitas platter and they were cooked to perfection. We loved our tacos!! And I loved my paloma – I’d highly recommend a visit to Mais!
- Le Cartet. I was very skeptical of this place. It was very busy which meant it must have been popular. The food was very good so I can see why it was busy. They menu said that they had gluten-free bread available for breakfast, but that it could only be an add-on with a regular meal. I asked the server and she told me that they put the GF toast in the oven so that it’s safe so I ordered the goat cheese eggs that came with toast and potatoes with lemon juice and olive oil. Nima approved and I’ve got to recreate those eggs at home!
- Le Marquis. We then took the Subway over to Le Marquis San Gluten which is a 100% gluten-free bakery. Wow, Montreal is so lucky to have this place! The owner’s wife has a gluten issue and he spent two years perfecting his recipe. There were so many yummy things there, but the flaky croissant dough that is used in a lot of their pastries were UNBELIEVABLE! I mean, they were some of the best pastries I’ve ever had, gluten-free or not! We took quite a few things to go so that I’d have something for breakfast the other days.
- Boris Bistro. For dinner, we made a last minute reservation at Boris Bistro and we kind of all just shared everything family style. This restaurant is the only certified gluten-free restaurant in Montreal. The owner has Celiac and the only thing with gluten in it is the baguette, but they did have great gluten-free bread available. We ordered the duck risotto, grilled halibut, casarecce pasta with red pepper sauce, duck fat poutine, and the grilled vegetables. Risotto was cooked to perfection. Maybe the best I’ve had anywhere! For desert we ordered the lucuma and chocolate profiteroles and the cheese ice cream. Everything was just delicious and this is somewhere I didn’t have to worry at all! This is a must when in Montreal.
- Schwartz’s Smoked Meats. This is a very small and popular deli. They have a sit down area which has a line half a block long no matter the time of day you go. They also have a takeout line, with a very long line that moves quite fast. We decided to get some takeout and find a park nearby which turned out to be a great idea. We had read online prior to going that you can go to a nearby GF bakery called Baked2Go to get bagels or bread and then make your own sandwich with the smoked meat. Turns out a lot of things were closed on Monday (which is the day we went) so Baked2Go wasn’t an option for us, but I bought a baguette at Le Marquis the day before so I took half of that with me in hopes of having safe meat to put on it. The meat is gluten-free and passed my Nima test so I threw some of that on my baguette. Such delicious meat!! I’d recommend going here and just making sure they are careful with the meat so there is no cross-contamination anywhere.
- Pho Rachel. One night we just could not decide what kind of food we wanted to eat. We were reading that Pho Rachel would be a safe option. I talked with the owner who was very friendly and knowledgable. They have few things that have gluten and their phos are all safe. I ordered the spring rolls which came with a peanut sauce. This sauce had hoison in it so it wasn’t safe, but the owner brought me some fish sauce for dipping. I also got the chicken pho and it passed the Nima test! It was filling and tasty!
- Cookies by Stefanie. Right behind our hotel was another 100% gluten-free bakery that specializes more in cookies and cupcakes. Another one of their specialties are grilled cheeses! You can’t get those many places! They also have a refrigerator section with to-go salads and premade sandwiches, all gluten-free. We picked up some baked goods and then went back a couple days later to have a quick grilled cheese and caesar salad lunch before heading to Quebec City.
- Arepera. Arepas are a corn cake sandwich that are by nature gluten-free so this was another place that was wonderful for me! Every single thing on the menu is gluten-free and they even had many of the Glutenberg beers (fun fact, Glutenberg is located in Montreal but they don’t have a tasting room so we couldn’t go visit the brewery). Honestly, even out of all the fancy and expensive meals we had on our trip, we said this was the “best bang for your buck”. It was one of the favorite meals, for everyone, on our whole trip. My one word of advice, get the cassava fries. Maybe even two orders!
- Joe Beef. This was kind of like our “big ticket” meal. We tried to get a reservation ahead of time, but they were booked out until October. Brian put his name on the wait list in case there was a reservation. Our last morning there, we got a notice that they had a 6:30 reservation open up so we snagged it. It was a fantastic experience. The staff was amazing, ambience was stellar, and the food was really unique and fun! Let’s just say that the beef tartare brought literal tears to my eyes. I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m dead serious. We again ordered family style and I could eat everything, with the exception of one pasta dish that could not be made gluten-free. Our dishes included: steak Joe Beef, lobster spaghetti, oysters, calamari stuffed with sausage, beef tartare, frites, and the arctic char. We also had lots of wine (the girls) and whiskey (the boys). I was able to have one of their gluten-free desserts which was a chocolatey layered cake. Dinner was followed up by fun cocktails at a speakeasy down the street called Atwater Cocktail Club. Really fun birthday celebration night!
- Baked2Go. This is the 3rd 100% gluten-free bakery I visited in Montreal. They are known for having high protein baked goods and even bagels. Brian and I went to this bakery alone one morning so we sat and had some muffins and chocolate croissants, and then also bought a pack of bagels, a pack breadsticks (more like hot buns) and some pancake mix all to take home. My kids love having breakfast for dinner, so I am always looking for good pancake mixes.
After spending four days in Montreal, we rented a car and took a 3 hour drive to Quebec City to finish off our vacation. Quebec City was beautiful. It’s basically designed to be a tourist destination and has everything you could want in a small area. To be honest, we did have some good food experiences in but it was much harder to find celiac-safe food than it was in Montreal .
Here are the restaurants we ate at in Quebec City:
- La Veravin. We ate here a few times. This has the best ratings on Find Me Gluten Free out of all the restaurants in Quebec City. Apparently, the owner has a severe gluten intolerance. This is a wonderful restaurant because they offer some of the foods we miss the most – I got the fish and chips! I was a little disappointed in the decor and ambience because it could really use some updating, but the food was filling and sufficient. The staff was knowledgable and friendly (although short-staffed).
One very important thing to note about this restaurant is this: Brian and I walked down here on our last morning to get a good safe breakfast before we flew home…and we were basically turned away. Not because it was past breakfast time, or that they were full, but they were just too busy. The waitress told us that we could only eat there if we were staying in the hotel (which offers free breakfast here as part of the hotel stay). We asked if there were any other restaurants for me to eat at nearby and she gave us a couple of restaurant options. Of course we asked if they were celiac-safe and were told “Oh, I don’t know about that.” So we stood outside for a few minutes trying to find a safe place to eat and I finally said “F%$& this.” and went inside to talk to the owner/ manager. I felt like I needed to take some control and stand up for myself.
The waitress I talked to a few minutes earlier was basically the only one working, so I went back in and asked if I could speak to the owner. She responded that he was in the kitchen. I didn’t care, I wanted to speak with him because I thought it was important that I have an actual conversation with him was to tell him that I have Celiac Disease and that I don’t have anywhere else to go. My hopes were that if he really did have a severe gluten intolerance then he would hopefully understand.
She only got as far as the kitchen and I could hear them yelling (in French so I couldn’t understand what they were saying). She came back and said that we could stay but that it would be a wait. Honestly, I didn’t care if there was a wait, I just didn’t like that I was turned away when I had nowhere else to go!
I ended up getting the duck eggs benedict! It was top notch! We did have to wait a bit, but we just drank our coffee and chatted.
The other restaurants we ate at in Quebec City were:
- Poutineville. This is a chain restaurant in Canada. And they are very knowledgable about gluten and have many celiac-safe options on their menu. The fries are cooked separate and there are a few toppings I was told I couldn’t have. I decided to get the beef, peas, and regular ol’ cheese curds with plain gravy. It was so filling and tasty! Makes me crave some poutine right now!
- Poulet Portugais. We had lunch here one day and it was different and unique. They are known for rotisserie chicken with piri piri sauce which is a chili-garlic sauce that tasted similar to a buffalo sauce, but much better. I decided on the paella which was a nice change of pace. I Nima tested my food and Brian’s food (duh, because I wanted to taste his chicken) and everything came back good!
- Le Lapin Saute. This was a big disappointment for me, both the food and the service. It was one of the most “popular” restaurants in Quebec City and not just for gluten-free food. I specifically asked for the gluten-fee menu and I felt like the server was educated (enough) to get things right. We had a 4:00 dinner reservation so it wasn’t very busy. Le Lapin has a separate gluten-free menu and things are clearly noted on there what is removed when you order gluten-free.
For an appetizer, we ordered the cheese plate. I didn’t realize until after I finished eating that it had caramelized nuts on it, which should have been taken off when ordering gluten-free, according to their menu. Then for our main we ordered the sampler plate and the cassoulet which came with a sausage and bacon (bacon should have been removed when ordering gluten-free, according to their menu). Brian actually noticed the bacon so we talked to the waitress and she went to the kitchen. Literally 10 seconds later a new one came out which always makes me question if they actually made a new one or if they just took the bacon out. I tested with my Nima and it came back with gluten found. This is where it went downhill…fast.
As usual, I asked to talk to the manager who was extremely dismissive and made excuses. I hate that!! I don’t want excuses, I want you to apologize and try to make it right. She said that she has worked there all summer and hasn’t had any complaints. She offered me a free glass of wine (insert eye roll). The manager also said that she wasn’t sure about the sausage because it wasn’t made in-house to which my response was that they shouldn’t put something on a gluten-free menu if it’s actually not.
Then on my way out, I stopped at the hostess stand at the front of the restaurant to talk to the manager again. She was actually arguing with another couple so I had a feeling it wasn’t going to go well when I needed to talk with her. I asked that she follow-up with someone about checking on the sausages and if they are actually gluten-free. She basically started arguing with me and said that I should talk with management because my voice would be heard better than hers. Well, that’s crappy. This is a prominent restaurant group in Quebec City and after the way that my situation went (and apparently, how they train and treat their employees), I wouldn’t recommend any of the restaurants. Not only that, but they have trouble with their gluten-free foods, so that’s kind of a big deal to me.
Other Fun Things
Some fun things we did in Quebec City included a 16-mile bike ride to Montmorency Falls which is a waterfall taller than Niagra Falls. You can take a gondola to the top and then hike down. There are also zipline rides across the waterfall; we didn’t have time to do that otherwise that would have been a fun experience.
We also just walked around the town, window shopped, and we also did a “haunted” nighttime walking tour of the city. It wasn’t really haunted, just told some historical stories and famous murders in the city. It was a good way to learn some quirky little facts.
Finally, we had a layover in Vancouver and they have a Wahlburger in the airport. Wahlburgers are known to be trained on allergy protocol. My opinion is that a restaurant location is probably better than these little satellites at the airports. I got the burger bowl because I figured that would minimize the cross contact risk. I (of course) Nima tested to be sure and everything was good! It was nice to have a regular meal and not just pre-packaged snacks.
Montreal is amazing and I would highly recommend it for all the fun things to do and the abundance of gluten-free food! You can easily spend a full week there. We have nothing but praises for beautiful Canada!
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