After my initial introduction to Montreal through my driving tour, my next step was to explore the city on foot. I set out on my first walk through Old Montreal (Vieux Montreal). Literally five minutes from my hotel is the Place d’Armes, one of the most historic locations of Montreal, highlighted by the impressive Basilica of Notre Dame. I strolled eastwards on rue de Notre Dame towards Place Jacques Cartier, Montreal’s main square, that is surrounded by historic buildings, featuring many restaurants, as well as by Montreal City Hall, an excquisite Second Empire architectural beauty elevated on a ridge overlooking the port area on the St. Lawrence River.
The gorgeous Basilica of Notre Dame
My own European heritage always makes me appreciate historic architecture, and Old Montreal’s layout, with its narrow cobble-stoned streets reminds me very much of European cities. It’s just the perfect spot for a stroll. The centre of the square houses numerous vendors selling flowers, souvenirs and 10 minute portrait artists. Thousands of locals and visitors alike enjoy this atmosphere and Place Jacques Cartier was very busy and the restaurant terraces were brimming with people.
I walked east to the Marché Bonsecours, formerly Montreal’s public market. After its closure in 1960 due to the proliferation of supermarkets, the market housed municipal offices and exhibition hall and since 1996 it now features a variety of merchants selling arts and crafts. The late evening sun was reflecting off the silver dome of the market and the mood was set for a gorgeous evening.
The Marché Bonsecours
I strolled along St-Paul Street, a narrow cobble-stoned street featuring multiple restaurants, clothing stores, souvenir shops and galleries, one of Montreal’s oldest streets until at 1 St-Paul Street I found my dinner location for the day: Modavie Restaurant, a two-storey eating establishment located in a historic building right at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Paul Streets. I had a chance to spend some time with Christine, manager of Modavie, to find out a bit more about this restaurant.
Modavie is one of several restaurants and hotels owned by the Antonopoulos family. Tony and Costa Antonopolous have won numerous awards for their contributions in revitalizing Old Montreal. Their portfolio of hospitality establishments includes the Restaurant de Vieux-Port, the Hotel Nelligan, the Hotel Place d’Armes, the Auberge du Vieux Port, as well as Galianos. There are actually two Modavie locations: one in old Montreal and one on the South Shore on the south side of the St. Lawrence River.
Ready to eat at Modavie…
The building housing Modavie dates back roughly to the 1890s and was originally an inn primarily accommodating sailors. Christine explained that the name of the restaurant comes from “mode de vie” or “lifestyle”. The building is located just steps away from Montreal’s waterfront and Montreal’s Science Centre is a few steps south at the King Edward Pier. The Circque de Soleil is also located in the port and will return next summer. They are currently performing a new show in Las Vegas: “Love”, a show about the Beatles.
Christine explained that Modavie is actually well situated for watching some of the many fireworks displays that are launched in Montreal’s port area. I lucked out with one of the best tables of the house: a corner table upstairs with a view south and eastwards, apparently a favourite table for wedding proposals.
I loved this little corner table
The décor is Mediterranean in style with lots of wood and a warm atmosphere. When you come into the restaurant downstairs you are facing the bar with tables to the right and into the back of the restaurant. Christine showed me their wine cellar which features more than 1000 bottles from all over the world, including wines from Italy, California and France. Modavie even features one Canadian wine – from Ontario no less.
Christine mentioned that Modavie’s welcoming atmosphere is reflected by the staff’s attention to detail and they take great care in making the customers feel comfortable. She herself has been at Modavie for seven years now and although she left a couple of times she keeps coming back. She originally started out at age 18 as a waitress and 11 years later she has worked her way up to being the manager of a 100 seat restaurant. Christine explained to me that their menu has changed over the years and that Modavie originally offered sandwiches and pizza. As time went on things got a bit fancier, more choices were added and tablecloths appeared.
Christine and Mario from Modavie in front of their wine cellar
What attracted me to Modavie was that it features live jazz music on a daily basis. While I was there, the Greg Cleyton Trio was setting up and they started to entertain the growing crowd from about 7:30 onwards. As the evening progressed people kept streaming in from the street and the restaurant filled up to capacity.
My appetizer arrives
As I chatted with Christine I had a chance to peruse the extensive menu and decided to start the meal of with a warm goat cheese salad with almonds and a peach and mango vinaigrette. A delicious course of ravioli stuffed with Portobello mushrooms in a tomato and mascarpone sauce followed. And Christine surprised me with a special desert: a “crepe baluchon” with pears. Crepe is always one of my favourite desserts and this nicely wrapped up ball of sweet dough definitely hit the spot.
Being located in such a prime area, Modavie sees a wide range of customers. During the summer it is frequented by Canadians from all over the country, Americans and Mexicans. Fall is a very popular season with European travelers and during winter there are a lot of conventioneers as well as travelers from Germany. The day-time crowd consists mainly of lawyers who come here for a tasty lunch from the courthouses which are located close by. Modavie features a different lunch menu every day and at a reasonable C$15.95 it includes a soup or a salad, a main dish and coffee.
“Crepe baluchon” – a delicious dessert
Modavie is a beautiful spot with a warm welcoming atmosphere. My packed agenda included a Montreal Ghost Tour next, so I did not have time to sit back and relax, but Modavie was a great introduction to dining in Old Montreal.