The Montreal Restaurant Pivots That Industry Experts Hope Will Last Through 2021
Frozen margherita pizzas, pinball machine rentals, a Spanish-tortilla-only menu, and the rise in local delivery startups As is tradition at Eater, we close the year by asking a group of food writers, bloggers, and others about town to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers — unedited (except for grammar) and in no particular order — will be revealed in several posts by the time the clock runs out on 2020. Here, they share the pivots and innovations brought on by this year’s events that they hope will continue into 2021.
Joanna Fox, food writer, and associate editor at ELLE Canada: Everyone had to transform in some way to survive. What I did see emerge is a need to change how the industry operates. It needs an overhaul, and the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, spearheaded by former sommelier Kaitlin Doucette, showed us how the system fails the very people that keep it going. Doucette also co-founded the larger, national group, the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition and continues to fight for basic workers’ rights like standardized wages, changes to employment insurance, and especially now, adequate health protection and paid sick leave. This all needs to happen in 2021.
JP Karwacki, Time Out Montreal editor: There’s been so much creativity to note. Cocktail kits from bars; pinball machine rentals from North Star; drag brunches at Grumman 78; film screenings at VV Taverna; Phi Centre collaborations from Le Virunga, Danny St-Pierre and Pikliz; the do-one-thing-and-do-it-well menu mandates you see at OMLT, Menu Extra, or Le Flamant’s La Maison des Pâtes Maison. I hope any one of these continue in some way or another in 2021.
Iris Gagnon-Paradis, La Presse restaurant reporter: More “mono-products” projects, focusing on only one kind of dish or food, like OMLT, which is specialized in the Spanish tortilla, a new project from chef Tigreton. More globally, I hope we will continue to have even, after the pandemic, a great choice of easily accessible takeout for all tastes and budgets. And that the beginning of the flexibility we are finally seeing toward alcohol will stay.
Alison Slattery, principal photographer, Two Food Photographers:
The long-overdue increase in the visibility of BIPOC-owned restaurants is something that we hope grows and continues into 2021 and beyond.
We LOVE that so many places are using compostable take out containers — Cambium is a company we really, truly adore and hope that all restaurants are able to adopt compostables in 2021.
We admire how restaurants have tried so many ways to adapt, from creating meal kits to setting up online shops seemingly overnight. One of our favourite adaptations was at Aliments Viens, who started selling meat in addition to charcuterie.
Jason Lee, food blogger, Shut Up and Eat: Restaurants that have more thoughtful takeout menus that consist of multi-course meals that let you bring the dining experience home rather than a pick and choose à la carte option. As well as restaurants offering frozen and pantry items.
Clay Sandhu, food writer, Cult MTL: It may come across as selfish, but I’d challenge anyone to name a better time in the history of Montreal in which to go grocery shopping. With so many restaurants adding a storefront feature to their business, the availability of amazing restaurant-quality products like Pacina Olive oil, wine-vinegars from Cucina, not to mention the abundance of homemade products made by some of the city’s best chefs — as consumers we’re spoiled for choice. I’m also overjoyed that Quebec will finally have Cavistes like they do in France (and pretty much everywhere outside of Canada). Making privately imported wines more accessible is great for everybody!
Anonymous, @FNoMTL: It may be a stopgap measure, but every place making their own merch and selling it along with other little locally made items (soaps, candles, food) in-store and online was probably something that will continue to happen, and is great if you’re an impulse buyer, as I am.
More restaurants doing frozen goods or make-at-home stuff, like Elena’s frozen margheritas, is probably a smart move for an uncertain future. We’ve also felt incredibly spoiled by places like Boucherie Lawrence selling lettuce and king oyster mushrooms, or Il Miglio selling parmesan and olive oil, directly to shoppers. It will be hard to go back from that.
I can see more restaurants like Poincaré opening up in the future, too, places that focus on preserves and fermented stuff, that they can serve in a week or a year, and that people can buy and hold onto.
Amie Watson, freelance food writer, Montreal Gazette and 5à7 Podcast: Oof. So many. Places that have refined their menu options to either rotisserie chicken or just a couple items and a carefully selected wine list that doesn’t make people’s hearts explode when they see the prices, like Tinc Set. Places that never would have done delivery before, like Satay Brothers or even Le Mousso, packaging up meals. Local contactless payment and delivery startups like CHK PLZ, Eva, Radish and a few others giving restaurants a chance to actually make money instead of relying on third-party apps for pennies. Places adding QR playlists to your takeout order so you can have some restaurant ambiance you would have at the actual restaurant. Wine and sake boutiques in restaurants. Chef meals kits. Apéro kits. Holiday kits. Ghost kitchens. And so many higher end places switching to pizza and pasta.
Rachel Cheng, photographer and food security activist: More love for homestyle cooking across all cultures, whether it is Congolese (Mokili) or Taiwanese (La Canting).
Ivy Lerner-Frank, Eater Montreal contributor: I’m encouraged by the creativity and spirit of the entrepreneurs aiming to dismantle the power of the big delivery apps to make sure money goes to the restaurants and the drivers: the CHKPLZ team, the gang over at bicycle delivery coop Chasseurs Courrier, and restaurants like Moleskine, Ryu, and Beba’s hilarious Schordash, doing as much in-house as they can to keep things really local.
Year in Eater coverage [EMTL]