Five to ten years ago, Montreal’s most renowned restaurant as identified by those outside of the province was, without a doubt, Martin Picard’s Pied de Cochon. While it’s still at the top of most food lovers’ to-do lists, it’s not this restaurant that people inquire about most when I travel in the United States. It has been replaced by a restaurant for which Pied de Cochon surely paved the way: Joe Beef. Opened in 2005 in Little Burgundy, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood in southwestern Montreal, it soared to fame after David Chang called it his favorite restaurant in the foreword he wrote for Joe Beef’s innovative cookbook. The restaurant was also featured in the Montreal episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover,” which only made the place even busier.
I dined at Joe Beef last year, and I must say that I went there highly suspicious— believing the place was likely more hype than substance. What I knew was that co-owners, David McMillan and Fred Morin, were colorful characters, as I’ve seen them frequently featured on TV shows, and that the food the two served was rich and indulgent, like Picard’s. But being naturally distrustful of overly trendy spots (and annoyed by how difficult they are to book), I was far from being certain I would hop on the Joe Beef-loving bandwagon. Well, it turns out I was quickly won over. I’m not sure if it was the rowdy atmosphere and tattoo-covered but affable servers, the menus stubbornly written on a large blackboard covering one wall of the narrow restaurant (making it unreadable by half the diners), the eclectic Québécois memorabilia displayed throughout the restaurant, or the cheeky and irreverent dishes (Swedish meatballs with crispy sweetbreads come to mind) that got to me, but I emerged with a smile. I also bought the cookbook the day after, and I’ve been responding since then that no, it’s not all hype, to everyone who inquires.
This week’s Food on Film comes from Vice, which has been producing an online food series called “Munchies” since 2009. Episodes feature some of the trendiest chefs and restaurants from the US and Canada, and last November’s edition featured, yes, of course, Joe Beef. The video starts with an introduction with the place’s main characters: David McMillan, Vanya Filipovic, the manager, and Marc-Olivier Frappier, the chef de cuisine. The trio then leaves on an edible tour of Montreal, with stops at Park (an innovative Japanese restaurant), Nora Gray (recently opened by Emma Cardarelli, named one of Canada’s 2012 Best New Restaurants), Honey Martin (an Irish bar), and Burgundy Lion (a pub located across the street from Joe Beef, specializing in Scotch and Whiskey). Already very full and a bit drunk, the group ends up at Liverpool House, McMillan’s second restaurant (with associate Fred Morin), where they share a huge board of smoked meat, sausages, and slaw and pickles with a whole room of gourmands. I love the video because it perfectly illustrates the irresistible, indulgent, and excessive nature of Joe Beef’s cuisine.
The tour will surely make you hungry—aren’t you wondering why you haven’t visited Montreal yet?