From the glossy wood finished speakeasy interior to the fact that it was busier inside than outside on a beautiful winter’s morning, Matt’s bistro takes comfort food to a new level.
If nothing else, elementary school has taught me that the key to success is a big, healthy breakfast in the morning. Orange juice, cereal, milk, eggs, toast, fruit, the works. [Personally, I’ve always felt that leftover pizza is an adequate breakfast, but that could just be me.] You can function better when you are well fed in the morning, you are focused and alert, and it is a means to a healthy way of living.
I was never big on breakfast (unless it was Sunday and there were pancakes to be had), and it seemed that a proviso for going out to breakfast was the consumption of eggs and bacon. As someone who never used to eat bacon and generally felt sick after eating eggs, this was mildly problematic as many of the grease-bowl, Formica topped table morning joints I liked to frequent for their homefries tended to offer the standard fare of eggs, bacon, rubbery crepes, boxed-pancake-mix waffles, soggy grilled tomatoes, and unfortunate-looking, underripe slices of honeydew and cantaloupe.
Last semester, it was tradition for a friend of mine and I to commiserate on Friday mornings before class over plates of eggs over easy, buttered whole wheat toast, home fries, and bacon, as I had finally gotten over my theologically-induced aversion to eating fried pork-product and instead could revel in the tantalizing aroma of sizzles in a pan. It could have had something to do with the fact that, the first time I ever tried cooking bacon, I had managed to cook it perfectly (not like the bacon at Cafe Orange or Station aux Sports, though, which is too often dripping with grease and at that awkward either too-crispy or overly-limp stage). My friends all had some fear of making it themselves even though they were the ones who were going to be eating it so I volunteered to brave the sizzle of bacon grease over high heat.
Some time before that, I had read about weekend brunch at Prohibition Montreal; an article in the gazette promised fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes, a lox and cream cheese extravaganza, Shakshouka with tangy tomato sauce, sugary sweet french toast with a side of crispy fried chicken…
Prohibition doesn’t just do brunch; they are known for their extravagant, possibly over-the-top, comfort food. When I got out of the car, I wasn’t just stymied by the tantalizing aroma of sizzling bacon; the scent hit me like a fourteen wheeler going over the speed limit in the Monkland Village. Bacon and maple syrup. The scent wafted away from the restaurant and to the corner of Oxford and Monkland and I wasn’t surprised that the place was packed when I stepped inside. With little leg room and less room to manoeuvre between tables, the waitresses were ferrying trays of food with skill the likes of which I have never seen. However, the number of people crowded in the tiny space was troubling; true, I had made a reservation a week in advance, a necessity for brunching at Prohibition, but my date was notorious for being, well, just a bit late, and there were already zero seats to choose from. Thankfully, I was received by the manager, Matt, who introduced himself upon my arrival and hurriedly had a table by the bar cleared away. There was barely room for two people and we were seated next to a group of ladies who were clearly celebrating christmas just a little bit late as gift wrap and ribbons littered their table and the floor, but the cramped space was not altogether off-putting. The noise-level hadn’t hit that of a jumbo jet yet, so when my friend arrived, we were able to converse with relative ease.
The menus showed up, along with complimentary water and coffee, but I knew what I wanted before the laminated menu hit the table; lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry sauce and candy bacon. I had read about the fluffy, tangy pancakes in the Gazette and had to try them for myself. And what’s not to love about sugary bacon? My brunchmate deliberated a while longer, finally settling on the Bulgarian Benedict. I took in the small room; the glossy wood finish, the rows of shimmering high ball, low ball, and wine glasses… The lighting was somewhat muted but large windows near the front of the restaurant bathed the room in bright winter sunlight. Our plates arrived and… I’m not going to lie, I was feeling skeptical…
When you read the words “lemon ricotta pancakes/crepes au ricotta et citron”, you’d probably think pancakes: you know, fluffy, four inch disks, brown on one side, mottled on the other. Slightly saggy because that’s what happens when you take pancakes off the griddle, and swimming in syrup. Delicious.
Instead, breakfast looked like this:
Now, I’m not complaining. It was beautiful to look at. Stack of sunshine yellow pancake-looking-things, bright pink candy bacon, luscious blueberry sauce…with a small bottle of maple syrup. Call me crazy, but that felt gimmicky in this otherwise classy and stylish establishment. We live in Montreal and that means there should be a gallon of maple syrup on every table. But I digress. I eyed the plate apprehensively. Did I really want to disturb this artfully plated meal?
The answer, of course, was yes. So I dug in.
Now, I’m not going to say that my tastes buds experienced a culinary extravaganza because, honestly, they didn’t. What they did experience, however, was a very competently put-together brunch with flavors that blended nicely and was great to look at to boot. The pancakes had a perfect consistency—not too fluffy and not too substantial or pasty—and tasted lightly of lemon. I would have preferred a more intense lemon flavor as it was lost in the dense fruity taste of the blueberry coulis spooned on top. However, the blueberry-lemon-maple combination was delicious and I tucked into the pancake stack with gusto. The candy bacon, though, was something new. I could practically hear the thick, bright pink slices of the most heavenly-scented bacon calling my name. It was the kind of thing that made me more than happy to be sitting, warm and cozy, in Matt’s packed lunchroom on a Saturday afternoon.
The Bulgarian Benedict, on the other hand, was divine.
Puffy egg whites, thick, unctuous, buttery egg yolks, sharp goat cheese, spicy paprika, and crunchy baguette slices all blended together to create a delicious and savoury combination that I should probably order next time. The smorgasbord of flavours and consistencies was complex, interesting, and the peppery taste of the paprika heightened the wonderfully spiced mixture.
However, since I didn’t actually eat the whole dish, I have nothing more to say about it. Eggs typically make me feel a little sick so I try to avoid eating them for breakfast. Even though I eat eggs every time I go out for breakfast because they’re typically the only decent things on the menus of greasespoon diners (aside from the homefries and toast but that’s not breakfast, that’s a snack). The waffles and pancakes are always a little sad, poor souls.
All in all, I would go back to Prohibition Montreal before the high season (which, for them, is probably every season). Their friendly, welcoming staff, tasty gourmet comfort food, and its general air of badassery that stems from the fact that they give no shits that they’re called “Prohibition” and have a liquor license all blend together to create a fun and enjoyable experience for saturday brunch. Give them a call, make a reservation; Matt’s not that scary to deal with…