New York City can have its superior Broadway shows, taller high-rises, and vanguard Pizza Rats but Montreal has the best bagels in the world.
This summer, when I was working on the production of THIS LIFE, I sublet a shotgun apartment in Mile-End, a neighbourhood populated by hipsters, artisans, students, and middle-class families of all creeds and colours. Mile-End also happens to be home to fictional bagel lovers and Lawson siblings Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) and Oliver (Kristopher Turner) throughout the first season of THIS LIFE.
The area serves as a meeting ground where classic Montreal mingles with the contemporary energy surrounding Quebec’s major metropolis. The distinct spiraling staircases, old-school cafes and beautiful graffiti-laced alleyways (as seen on THIS LIFE) offer an altogether unique look into the cultural tapestry that is Montreal. In the middle of the neighbourhood lies two of the world’s best bagel producers, St. Viateur and Fairmount.
What makes their bagels better than that of its (sorry) NYC counterparts? Montreal Canadiens coach, Michel Therrien, always likes to say “it’s about the process” and for bagels, it’s no different. Fairmount and St. Viateur use long-standing Jewish techniques brought over from Poland and other Eastern European states. The bagels here are sweeter because honey is added to the dough. Honey is also added to boiling water, where the bagels are poached prior to baking them in wood-fired ovens. This entire process is all manually done right before your eyes.
Montreal bagels are denser, sweeter and provide a signature wood-fire aftertaste that you’ll want to bottle up and sell on the black market. It’s what makes them the best around.
Prior to clearing character names, researching story elements or assisting Showrunner Joseph Kay on the set of THIS LIFE, I’d make my way up Avenue du Parc in the hopes of securing a bagel (or twelve). Like a carrot at the end of a stick, the smell of bagels baking beckons you along St. Viateur or Fairmount Street in a trance-like state.
In Mile-End, St. Viateur has two small locations on the same block, while Fairmount Bagel has one flagship shop. You can’t go wrong with any of them, to be honest. The building that houses Fairmount Bagel hasn’t changed since opening day in 1949. When you walk through its old wooden doors, you’re instantly surrounded by stacks and stacks of packaged bagel product -- they simply have nowhere else to store it. St. Viateur gives you the same nostalgic sensation. The walls at St. Viateur’s flagship shop on the north side of the street are littered with newspaper clippings, plaques and memories dating back to their opening in 1957.
Both establishments serve the usual plain, sesame, poppy seed, and everything bagels. My recommendation? I would opt for Fairmount's blueberry bagel. It’s a beautiful carb-heavy concoction of local blueberries and wood-fired bread. Add a thin layer of cream cheese to make it sing.
The NYC v. MTL bagel debate is an easy contest but once you get on the island of Montreal, it’s much harder to choose a winner between Fairmount and Viateur Bagel.
They both serve their bagels piping hot and in an ambience that’ll have you pining for the “good ol’ days.” But let's get to brass tacks. The bagels at Fairmount are a tad smokier, which is a big plus for any bagel connoisseur. On the other hand, St. Viateur’s are a bit more dense and plump.
Both bagel producers make comparable stuff but there’s one thing that breaks Fairmount’s way...Unlike its equal, Fairmount’s product has actually gone to outer space (you read that right). In June 2008 astronaut Gregory Chamitoff brought Fairmount bagels to the International Space Station.
Catch some more bagel eating (and high drama, too) Mondays at 9pm when all new episodes of THIS LIFE air on CBC Television.
I’m Max Morin, Story Coordinator and your official insider for all things THIS LIFE. Keep a close eye on this blog -- we’ve got more behind the scenes treats to come (no actual bagels though, sorry).
Watch this: What was it like shooting THIS LIFE in Montreal?