Studio 10 King & Brûlerie St-Denis

Shoestring Montreal reader Myriam writes in to say that she works at a place called Studio 10 King in the Old Port, which includes the Avenue Art gallery, a printing shop, and a Brûlerie St-Denis that offers “affordable and delicious eats such as sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads and of course coffee and treats.” Located at 10 King Street, the studio is currently (until August 21) showing photography from Montreal called “Scenes of Montreal” featuring photos by Richard Anber, Francesca Anderson, Claudia Gomez and Darina Velkova. 10% of the sales on these photos will go to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, so if you’ve been looking for a bit of artwork to hang on your walls, stop by and check ’em out!

But since this is a blog about food, and I’ve tried the infamous Brûlerie St-Denis’ wares, I thought I’d write up a little review. Granted, I’ve never been to their café on King Street (though I have been to both the 3967 St-Denis and 1587 St-Denis locations), but it’s a chain; they’re all pretty much the same, no?

As Myriam notes, they always offer a soup of the day for $2.50, salad of the day for $3.50 ($2.50 if you get it with a sandwich), and a variety of sandwiches ranging from standards like ham & cheese to the exotic tuna & avocado, the pesto and goat cheese panini, and more. They’ve got homemade cookies at 50 cents a piece; brownies, Nanaimo bars and breakfast pastries are $2. A nice inexpensive lunch or treat, along with a cup of coffee, and at this particular location you can score a free art exhibit, which definitely sweetens the deal. After all, how often do you get to look at art for free?

"Café au choix" at Brûlerie St-Denis (photo by Flickr user pagnolle)

"Café au choix" at Brûlerie St-Denis (photo by Flickr user pagnolle)

My experience with the Brûlerie in general has been a bit mixed. I like the fact that they import and roast their own coffee, that it’s a local chain, and that they’ve got a laid-back attitude towards people who like to linger. I don’t like the confusing way their stores are set up, however, as it’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to order at the counter or from a waiter if you intend to stay, but only want to order a drink. Apparently you’re supposed to order from the waiter, but there’s usually only one of them circulating through a pretty large space, which makes catching his or her attention a bit difficult. So that’s irritating, if you’d like your drink in a hurry, which I do. I mean, even if you intend to stay for a while, you still want to get your drink so you can drink it while you’re reading or writing, rather than reading through half a magazine while you wait to place your order.

However, the chain wants its customers to really know and appreciate coffee, which I like. They’ve got a few notes on their website about how to appreciate a good coffee, as well as the secrets to a perfect cup of coffee. They offer a different Coffee of the Day to get people interested in tasting different types of coffee, and offer a 10% discount on the daily brew at their retail counter (which I think means a 10% discount on beans, not on a cuppa joe, but you’d have to check with them).

"Brulerie St-Denis, maison de torréfaction de café, rue St-Denis Montreal" (photo by Flickr user pagnolle)

"Brulerie St-Denis, maison de torréfaction de café, rue St-Denis Montreal" (photo by Flickr user pagnolle)

In the summertime, they’ve got cold coffees and frappés mostly made without added sugar, as they’re using real coffee and not syrups—unlike most of the other chains with their frappuccinos and chillates. I tried their mochaccino last week and it was quite tasty, with bits of actual chocolate sprinkled in, very old-fashioned milkshake-like.

Overall, I would say that I like the Brûlerie’s food and drink, as it tends to be delicious as well as healthier than standard café fare, but I’m not a big fan of their service, since it tends to be slow. If you’re not in any hurry, or prefer to take your coffee to-go, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you want to grab a quick bite, this is probably not your best bet. So I would encourage you to grab a cup of the daily brew, and a cookie or two, and check out the 10 King location for the bonus artwork. Maybe I’ll see you there!

ADDRESS: 10 King Street (Old Port)
METRO: Square-Victoria
PHONE: 514-397-9866
WEBSITE: www.brulerie.com

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Crescendo

Just got back from an early breakfast at Crescendo, a nice Italian restaurant right on the waterfront in Verdun. Their tax issues with the city (borough?) of Verdun notwithstanding, my husband and I found this a nice alternative to our regular Pointe St-Charles haunt, The Fine Pointe. Within walking distance of our place, this may be the first (and only?) breakfast place in Verdun worth checking out!

According to the online reviews we found, the place is a bit pricey for lunch or dinner, but we found their breakfast prices fairly reasonable. You can get two eggs, your choice of meat, plus baked beans, toast, fresh fruit, home fries and coffee for about $7 per person (depending on the type of meats you want). The menu is pretty basic, with French toast and omelette options, but nothing super fancy like Eggs Benedict. You can get a cappuccino or a latté if you desire, however, so that’s a nice touch.

Restaurant Crescendo (photo by Flickr user dennisfones)

Restaurant Crescendo (photo by Flickr user dennisfones)

The restaurant itself has a nice big terrasse with a great view of the St-Laurent River, so you can watch all the people going by on their canoes, speedboats, sailboats or… boogie boards? (We were trying to figure out what this group of three people were doing. It looked like they had some wide, short surfboards and were trying to paddle them, standing up. We forgot the camera at home, so there are unfortunately no photos of these weirdos. Any guesses?) Or just soak up some sun and watch the dog-walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers whizz past on the bike path just outside. Which makes me wonder: why aren’t there more waterfront restos in this town? I mean, it’s not like we live on an island, or anything…

Anyway, if you want to grab a table on the terrasse, you’ll want to get there early. By the time we were leaving at about 10 AM, the place was already packed, and some jerkoff was swinging a baby around. Apparently my husband saw the guy bash one of the waitresses in the face with the kid’s feet, and, in typical rude Montrealer fashion, the douche didn’t even bother to apologize. Classy! I just hope the waitress later “accidentally” punched him in the back of the head, spit in his coffee, and spilled his meal in his lap, but the staff seemed way too nice for that kind of revenge fantasy.

Aside from the psycho hose-beasts that may be breakfasting beside you, the restaurant seemed quite nice. Their home-fries appeared to have come from a bag, which didn’t impress me, but I enjoyed their crusty bread and thick sausages. They also serve their coffee in a cup and saucer, for that upscale edge. It’s always nice to have a place to rest your dirty coffee spoon, am I right?

If you’re feeling wild and crazy, grab the ferry over to Nun’s Island afterward. The pontoon departs from the “marina” just outside (I employ scare quotes here as it’s about the tiniest marina I’ve ever seen, consisting of maybe five total piers that are brought in to land during the winter freeze), takes about five minutes shore-to-shore, and only costs $2.50 per person. Seems like a fun way to tow your bikes over for a ride on another island in the stream, and if you’re short on cash, you can always take the pedestrian bridge back instead.

One final note: Crescendo doesn’t take Interac, though they’ve got one of those freelance (read: sketch-o) ATMs by the front door, so you might want to hit the bank before strolling on down.

ADDRESS: 5150 Lasalle Blvd. (Verdun)
METRO: Verdun
PHONE: (514) 766-2171

President’s Choice tuna gets fancy

coconuttunaWhile I’m not normally very picky about brands, I’m starting to develop a real loyalty to the President’s Choice line of products. I recently tried some of their new tuna flavours, which incorporate sauces like Curry Coconut Cream Sauce and Sweet and Sour Sauce into your fish-eating experience, and they were really tasty.

They were also really cheap, which I love as a proponent of the Shoestring Lifestyle. Each can cost only $1.99, and if you eat it over rice, you’ve got yourself a full meal right there. (Yes, I know, I am breaking my previously stated “Rice is the devil” rule. It’s still the devil, but sometimes you’ve just got to eat what feels right.)

The Curry Coconut Cream Sauce tuna is a great Thai-inspired dish, and contains chunks of pineapple and red pepper, in addition to the chunky light tuna. I’m currently eating a bowl of it with some basmati rice, and it’s really delicious. Yesterday I tried the Sweet and Sour version (also over basmati rice), which was a nice deviation from sweet and sour chicken and also contained bits of pineapple.

I would definitely recommend these to anybody who loves tuna or is looking for a way to spice up the old tuna and mayo standard sandwich. These aren’t spreadable, as they contain a lot of sauce, so they’re better for eating at home than at work (unless you come to work with a container of pre-made rice or noodles and just heat it all up, come lunchtime). The nutritional info shows that this is a low-carb snack (though adding rice or noodles would definitely bump it up), and the sodium levels are decent as well. You’ll get 250 calories from the Curry Coconut, but only 170 from the Sweet and Sour version (though the sodium levels are higher on that one).

For those who aren’t convinced by the pan-Asian styles of those two options, there are also the Flaked Light Tuna in Black Pepper Sauce and the Flaked Light Tuna with Beans and Corn varieties. My husband tried the black pepper sauce version and said he liked it, though we are both avoiding the beans and corn combo. Yuck!

If you’re looking to buy some of these new additions to the PC line, they’re available at any Provigo or Loblaws throughout Quebec. Bon appétit!

Java U

Tip options at Java U are typically amusing (photo by Flickr user kushari)

Tip options at Java U are typically amusing (photo by Flickr user kushari)

While I’m normally a fan of the Java U franchise, as a homegrown alternative to evil corporate entities like Starbucks and Tim Hortons, and the wildly-varying menus of the Second Cups and Van Houttes of Quebec, I’ve got to ask: what’s up with the wifi sitch?

See, the Java U McGill location would totally be my favourite new hangout, except for one little thing: they don’t have wifi access for their customers. Sure, there’s a JAVAUMCGILL listing when I fire up my Airport, but it’s got a password on it, because it’s for the company intranet. Um, wtf? Why would you have internet access that isn’t available to your customers? That’s like saying, “Look at all our delicious chocolate brownies and treats! Sorry, they’re only for the employees.”

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, as I understand that cafés aren’t primarily in the business of selling wifi or hooking up customers with Internet access (free or otherwise), but I do find it weird that it’s not even an option. Especially in a town that has so many cafés offering free wifi, and knowing that several other Java U locations do offer free wifi. I mean, seriously… wtf?

But anyway…. despite their lack of wifi, the pros of this café are many. It’s got:

  • Super modern décor
  • A large seating area with plenty of comfortable banquettes and a long bar in the middle for large groups or business meetings
  • A steady stream of tourists to spy on
  • Friendly staffers
  • Clean bathrooms
  • The excellent Java U menu, which features lots of great sandwiches, salads and gourmet coffee, AND
  • It’s just a quick 20-minute bus ride from my apartment!
Java U's Guy-Concordia location

Java U's Guy-Concordia location

Unfortunately, the total lack of wifi (and outlets, now that you mention it) makes working here almost impossible. Sure, it’s a great place to disappear for a while, especially when you want to get some serious writing done, but being cut off from the Internet is pretty devastating for a freelancer who relies on the Intertubes for her business.

So, while I will probably still escape to this Java U location (among others) for a writing date with myself every once in a while, I can’t give this location the thumbs up I was hoping for. If they ever take the hint and allow customers access to their sweet sweet wifi, however, I’d be here in a heartbeat. Or 20 minutes, by bus.

ADDRESS: 124 McGill (Old Port)
METRO: Square-Victoria
PHONE: 514-954-0707
WEBSITE: java-u.com

Spam

The original Spam, resplendent in its 800 mg of sodium.

The original Spam, resplendent in its 800 mg of sodium.

I was just thinking about how much junk email I get, and since it’s called “spam,” I started thinking about the meat-product that inspired the name (via Monty Python and their Spam song). I mean, has anyone here ever eaten Spam? I know I haven’t. What the heck does it taste like? Is it any good? I mean, it’s canned ham… or some kind of ham-flavoured substitute, I suppose.

According to the Spam website, Spam was first introduced in 1937, and it fed Allied troops in WWII (ew!). In 1963 they introduced “deviled Spam” (a possible oxymoron), in 1971 they introduced Hickory-Smoked Spam and Spam With Cheese. For those watching their weight, Spam Lite was created in 1992, and contained 25% less fat and sodium; in 1995, the fat content was reduced by 50% (sodium levels apparently remain high: 580 mg of sodium are in each serving). In 1997 the bizarre product “Spam Oven Roasted Turkey” was introduced (is it turkey or is it spam? the mind reels!). Hot and Spicy Spam was introduced in 2000, to corner the hot-n-spicy market (did you realize salsa is the number one condiment in America?). In 2004, Spam With Real Bacon was put on the market (pig and MORE pig? Spam, you’re CRAZY!), and in 2007 a grand total of 7 BILLION cans of the stuff had been sold worldwide. How’s that for insanity?

Spam, man. Honestly, I don’t get it. If you’ve got a Spam-related story (about the canned ham product, and not the junk email), I’d like to hear it!