Montreal bagel face-off

It had to happen, and this post is virtually guaranteed to stir up dissent. Bagels, in Montreal, are taken terribly seriously. Some may argue that they’re just lumps of dough, to be slathered in cream cheese and choked down as part of your morning ritual, but I say nay. NAY! Bagels in Montreal are something of a religion, and your preferred bagel-maker says a lot about your personality.

Or does it?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: if you’re going to have a Montreal bagel, it has to come from either Fairmount or St-Viateur. (Sorry, D.A.D.’s: you do have excellent Indian food, but I have never been tempted by your bagels.) You have to get it hot out of their ovens up in the Plateau, not a day or two old from the grocery store nearest you. This is part of the ritual. I told you it was a religion, right?

It's true: "montreal bagels are the best" (photo by Flickr user davida3)

It's true: "montreal bagels are the best" (photo by Flickr user davida3)

Which kind of makes sense, as bagels were first made by Jewish bakers—and still are, over at Fairmount. To compete, you’d have to be dedicated to the art and soul of the bagel. At both bakeries, the bagels are rolled out by hand, then baked in a wood-burning stove, which gives them their distinct flavour.

So what’s with the giant hole in the middle? Lots of Americans have this question, as their bagels tend to be more like bread donuts, puffy and chewy and never baked in a wood-burning stove. The hole is all but nonexistent, in America, the better to make bagel sandwiches!

Now, purists will tell you that the only “true” Montreal bagel comes in either sesame or perhaps poppy seed. No fancy flavoured cream cheeses to top it off, and maybe only slathered in butter if you really want to taste the bagel. I happen to agree with this, though I’m a bit of a rule-breaker when it comes to the toppings. I do love me some salmon-flavoured cream cheese or, better yet, a bit of smoked salmon atop chive and onion cream cheese. Sacrelicious!

As far as I know, St-Viateur retains this strict sesame/poppy division, and doesn’t offer any other types. This is comforting, as you can pop into the bakery and order half-a-dozen of each and get them handed off in less than a minute, rather than waiting in line while the person in front of you ponders a thousand options. Fairmount, on the other hand, offers you a dizzying array of choices including caraway seed, onion, garlic, all-dressed, mueslix, flax seed, the “power” bagel (honey, raisins, walnuts, sunflower and sesame seeds), whole-wheat, multigrain, blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon-raisin, pumpernickel, spelt & buckwheat, sun-dried tomato, pesto & black olive… you can see why the line here moves so slowly.

Fairmount has also diversified to offer New York-style pretzels, matzo bread, bagel chips and mini-bagels, further confounding the hungry bagel worshipper. What to choose? How many to get? Will you be able to eat them all before they start to go bad?!

St-Viateur bagels rock my world (logo via St-Viateur Bagels)

St-Viateur bagels rock my world (logo via St-Viateur Bagels)

For my money, I find that I prefer the St-Viateur bagels. While both are definitely delicious, and I certainly wouldn’t turn up my nose at one of Fairmount’s in a pinch, I like the purity of St-Viateur’s mission. Sure, they’ve opened up a bunch of bagel cafés that serve snooty breakfasts at inflated prices, but those are for the tourists. The bakery is where all the action is, and its straightforward question, “Sesame or poppy?” is all I really need. Especially after a late night, in need of carbs to soak up the alcohol. The bagel men of St-Viateur don’t judge. They just take your money and hand over a bag full of bagel goodness.

And that, my friends, is the Montreal bagel face-off.

WINNER: St-Viateur, by a schmear.

ADDRESSES: St-Viateur – 263 St-Viateur West; Fairmount – 74 Fairmount West
METRO: Laurier and a hike, or Place-des-Arts and the Park Avenue bus
PHONES: (514) 276-8044 / (514) 272-0667
WEBSITES: St-Viateur Bagel / Fairmount Bagel


5 responses to “Montreal bagel face-off

  1. The Plateau is too far for me but the St Viateur’s Cafe on Monkland does also make the bagels right there. I’ve never eaten at the café but I have gone in to buy fresh steaming hot bagels.

    St. Viateur was the first Montreal bagel I ever had, so I’m loyal to them but most my friends prefer Fairmount.

  2. I’m a Fairmount aficionado myself, probably because it’s closer to home. However, when it comes to poppy seed and sesame… I can’t claim to see a difference between the two places.

  3. Amanda Jackson

    Yummmm!!!! I adore St. Viateur bagels. They are the best of all.

    I have been serving them in my cafe here in Port Perry, Ontario for 2 1/2 years.

    Many have been converted so that now they won’t even consider any other bagel.

    Dear St. Viateur, WE LOVE YOU HERE IN PORT PERRY!!!

  4. Amanda Jackson

    The best of all…. St. Viateur bagels !!

    I have been serving them in my shop in Port Perry Ontario for two and a half years. They are a hit.

    Alot of my customers won’t eat any other bagel any more. They are converted!!!!!

  5. There is no face off, i’ve found the best bagel. Mount Royal Bagel Bakery is home to the most incredible, mouth watering, soft, chewy and always fresh Montreal Bagel. You have to take my word for it and try it! If your in Montreal they are located at 709 Lucerne in TMR and they also ship to anywhere, call their toll free # (1-877-LEBAGEL) to enjoy a taste of heaven!