Over the past few months we've heard quite a few people speak fondly of the brunch service at Griffintown Cafe on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We dropped by a couple of weeks ago to see what we thought for ourselves but unfortunately the dining room was packed and the hostess who greeted us let us know that there was an hour wait for a table. We were too hungry to wait that long so we went with plan B. We returned the following week to make another attempt at getting a table, but alas were told again that the waiting list was superior to an hour. Griffintown Cafe employs a first-come-first-serve policy for their brunch service so the obvious solution of reservations was out of the question. They do however, allow walk-ins to leave their cellular phone numbers to be called back when their table becomes available. It has occurred to us that the idea of leaving your name, phone number and amount of seats that you require with the hostess is in fact the definition of a reservation, but you must actually physically present yourself to be put on the list. It's not the first brunch place that we've been to that uses this system, it seems to have actually become pretty popular, but it does strike us as being somewhat contradictory. Our personal quandary with the reservation policy aside, our curiosity had peaked. We had now returned on more than one occasion to find plenty of people who for themselves, had determined that the food here was worth the wait and we were determined to find out what the big deal was.
We returned for a third time with a plan, we would aim to arrive at opening hour in order to hopefully beat the rush for the waiting list. We got there a few minutes past 10AM and the plan worked, but just barely. Every table in the place was already occupied but we had succeeded in snatching up the last remaining available seats at the bar. The restaurant's heritage bones are graceful and simultaneously casual. Wood floors, brick walls, super high ceilings and ample floorspace for the number of tables make the dining room feel airy and uncluttered. As you walk towards the back where the kitchen and bar are you notice the bar tops covered in gorgeous copper finish and the kitchen walls in beautiful antique tin tile. We sit down in the bar chairs, which turned out to be very comfortable, and began admiring their extensive selection of bourbon and whiskey on display. Our waitress arrived soon after with menus and water in an old glass bourbon bottle which we found to be a pretty cool touch.
We ordered a few lattes while we looked over the menu, the southern theme to the food immediately caught our undivided attention. We were having a little difficulty trying to narrow down our choices but ultimately, in what seemed like the perfect compromise, we decided to order the mac n' cheese and crab cake dishes with additional side orders of biscuits and pulled pork; this way we could try everything we were keen on tasting. Rather than elbow macaroni, the mac n' cheese was made with cavatappi pasta which was well cooked, not mushy and fun. The cavatappi was smothered in a fantastically smooth and rich cheese sauce made of 2 year old Iles-aux-Grues cheddar, Swiss Gruyere and one of our favorite beers, Bierbrier Ale, which is brewed here in Montreal. It makes us happy to see that Griffintown Cafe is supporting local business. A few croutons were scattered in the mix for a little crunchy texture and the dish was topped with poached eggs, pickled onions and a few slices of bacon, which chef Dylan Kier smokes himself over white oak (follow him on twitter to see awesome photos of everything from the pigs he's having raised for consumption in the restaurant to his butchery, bacon and brisket smoking escapades). We can't pretend that eating mac n' cheese for breakfast wasn't a pretty heavy-duty undertaking but it was so good we didn't care. The addition of the pickled onions on top was very well calculated, they cut through the richness of the cheese sauce extremely well, we only wish there was a tiny bit more of them. The bacon was fantastic and the runny yolks from the eggs mixing with the cheese sauce was silly-good. Our only real criticism of the dish, if you can even call it that, was if it hadn't been listed on the menu we would have never guessed there was any beer used in the sauce. It's not everyday that something as inherently simple and down-to-earth as mac n' cheese makes this much of an impression, but that in itself says a lot about how impressive it was. We will certainly return for this dish.
Bacon & Egg Mac n' Cheese - 15.50$
Our second choice was the crab cake and eggs. Two fried eggs were served with a large crab cake topped with a dollop of smoked jalapeno remoulade and the same pickled onions and fantastic bacon as the previous dish. The eggs were eggs, let's not get all romantic about that but the crab cake was certainly worth elaborating on. Many crab cakes we find in restaurants regrettably come full of more filler like bread crumbs and chopped bell peppers than they have crab in them. Worse yet, they are often so over-mixed that whatever crab meat is actually in them ends up losing its identity being reduced to what turns out looking like tinned tuna fish. This crab cake however, was full of identifiable lump crab meat and very little filler, just enough to keep it together. It had clearly been folded attentively so as not to break up the crab, assembled carefully, breaded and fried crisp. Honestly, crab cakes need only fit three criteria to be successful, quite simply they need to look and taste like crab and be seasoned properly. It's a shame and really incomprehensible that other people have such difficulty getting it right, but the ones at Griffintown Cafe hit the nail on the head. The smoked jalapeno remoulade, which is basically a flavored mayonnaise, was very good but we were expecting a little more of a spicy kick, maybe the heat of the jalapenos had been subdued by smoking them. In any case it was nice and traditional to have a remoulade to pair with the crab cake. Another great dish.
Crab Cake & Eggs - 15.50$
The sides we ordered were reasonably priced and unquestionably up to the same great standards of our mains. We take an annual trip to St Louis, Missouri so let's just say we know what we're looking for when we order biscuits and pulled pork. After so many failed and barely passable attempts, we were elated to have finally found such sterling examples right here in Montreal. The biscuits were light, tender and flaky. We loved them so much that as we were preparing to leave and pay we made a point of telling the hostess and our waitress that quite a few restaurants in Montreal (which we will spare the embarrassment of naming) should come to Griffintown Cafe and learn how to make a biscuit properly, they were stellar. Not to be outdone, the pulled pork was equally spectacular. Why do so many places insist on smothering their pulled pork in overwhelmingly sticky, sweet BBQ sauce? Probably because their pork is dry and they're looking to cover up their faults. This pork tasted terrific, it was juicy, tender and required absolutely no sauce. If you're looking for good biscuits in Montreal, look no further, because you might find passable examples elsewhere but why settle for passable when you can have something that any person south of the Mason-Dixon line would be proud to serve on their table. As for the pulled pork, it's not quite as difficult to find it made well in Montreal as biscuits are but this pulled pork is unquestionably one of the better examples we've tried, it can certainly hang with the best of them.
Biscuits - 2$ each Pulled Pork - 3$
As the gentrification of historically blue collar neighborhoods all around Montreal roll on, so to will the opening of trendy boutique shops and restaurants to accommodate the crowds that follow. Not all of them will be good, but the law of averages dictates that at least some will rise to the top. With a new name comes new life, and reverting back to the area's former moniker of Griffintown, when Irish immigrants landed in Montreal's Port and never moved beyond the surrounding area, makes selling condos to a new generation easier than under the names Little Burgundy or St Henri. This is from where we assume Griffintown Cafe derives it's name. Call the neighborhood what you want, we'll stick with Little Burgundy or St Henri because that's what it's been called since we were kids. But if along with the clever marketing agenda comes a good spot to eat, who are we to begrudge it? Bring it on!
As you may be able to tell from our glowing review of our breakfast at Griffintown Cafe, we enjoyed our visit a lot. After eating there we're better able to understand the demand and why people seem not to mind waiting in line for a table. We'll keep showing up at opening hour to beat the rush though, lines aren't our thing. Well prepared southern style eats are tough to find in Montreal and it certainly brakes up the monotony of bistros and brasseries every weekend. We're glad that our brunch experience at Griffintown Cafe was so brilliant because it makes us eager to want to return for the dinner menu. Friendly service, great grub, easy recommendation, but make sure you get out of bed in a hurry if you want to beat that brunch line up!
1378 Notre Dame West