On my second trip to Montreal, there was no restaurant I wanted to dine at more than Joe Beef, a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain.
When I was able to make a last-minute reservation through Resy, I excitedly jumped in an Uber for the ride to Little Burgundy.
Reading his stories and watching him on TV inspired me to want to break out of my picky eating habits, which I'd carried from childhood into my mid-twenties.
He led me to seek out foods I would never have previously considered, such as the notoriously smelly durian in Singapore and sheep's head (known locally as a "smiley") in South Africa.
Over the years, my tastes have expanded. I don't like everything I try, but I'm willing to give most things a go. I've been surprised by what I like more than a few times.
Sushi, oysters, foie gras, pig's tail, and cow heart are just a few of the foods I'll eagerly eat today.
Anthony Bourdain's Celebration of Joe Beef
Bourdain was a champion of Joe Beef and co-owners David McMillan and Frederic Morin.
"They are Canadian. They are Québécois. And what they bring to gastronomy is a particular embrace of French Canadian lumberjack appetites and joie de vivre—coupled with a deep respect for the traditions of dining and hospitality unique to their region.
They do not look like intellectuals, historians, or gentlemen farmers. They look more like a motorcycle gang or well-fed fur trappers."
-- Anthony Bourdain, Field Notes for Quebec, Parts Unknown (2013)
The more I hear them speak, the clearer it became why Bourdain was drawn to them, and vice versa.
They're all humble, hard-working, and dedicated to producing (and eating) excellent food.
It wasn't my plan, but I happened to be having dinner at Joe Beef on the eve of the first anniversary of Bourdain's death. He was top of my mind.
See also: The Best Restaurants in Montreal
Arriving at Joe Beef Restaurant
Joe Beef opened in 2005 as a 30-seat restaurant. The original dining room is what you see when you walk in the front door.
In 2011, due to its growing popularity, they were able to expand into space next door.
It was into this second dining room where the hostess seated me at the end of their small bar.
The day's menu was handwritten in French on a chalkboard at the opposite end. Not intimidating at all, I thought!
The young bartenders were friendly and attentive; they helped translate the menu and make recommendations.
Despite sitting in front of a bucket of chilled wine, I ordered The Vijay Singh (gin, chartreuse, tonic water, green tea syrup) as featured in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts.
The menu changes so frequently at Joe Beef based on what's in season and available at the market, even if I could read French (by relying on my Spanish), it'll be different by the time you go.
Therefore, let us focus instead on the incredible three-course dinner I ordered a la carte.
To kick the experience off, I went with the caramelized onion and beef-stuffed pasta with asparagus butter.
Four pouches of pasta goodness arrived with a sprinkling of peas, sliced asparagus, mushrooms, and a bit of dried beef.
Every bite packed a world of flavor.
I stepped out on a limb and ordered the half rabbit stuffed with escargot (snail) for my main course.
I've tried rabbit a few times before and been disappointed; however, that was far from the case here.
Joe Beef's creative and expert preparation has opened me up to ordering rabbit again.
The portion size was extremely generous, and while I enjoyed it, there was no way I could finish.
Anyone ordering the full rabbit better have plans to share!
The first dessert listed on the chalkboard above the bar was Marjolaine Classique, a layer cake with almond and hazelnut meringues and chocolate buttercream.
French chef Fernand Point created Marjolaine in the mid-1900s at his 3-star Michelin restaurant.
And it was featured in the Quebec episode of Parts Unknown (see video clip above).
Other options included a Bavarian rhubarb dessert, chocolate fudge sundae, strawberry cheesecake, and a honey and buckwheat crueller.
As tempting as the sundae and cheesecake sounded, the Marjolaine was new to me, so I decided to give it a try.
The thin slice of cake arrived with a dollop of ice cream. The presentation needed nothing more as the alternating layers make it beautiful.
Despite being oh-so-full from the heavier dishes that preceded it, I had no problem savoring the layer cake one bite at a time until all I was left looking at was an empty plate.
The bill for my three-course dinner with a cocktail, tax, and tip came to about 112 Canadian dollars ($86 US).
It was an extravagant meal at an affordable price, thanks, in part, to the value of the US dollar right now.
Joe Beef more than lived up to my expectations. And I know I only scratched the surface of what's created there.
Plan Your Visit
Joe Beef (website)
- Address: 2491 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal
- Hours: 5:30 pm - 10 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
- Dress: Casual
- Reservations: Recommended. Make a reservation through Resy.
To learn more about Joe Beef, I highly recommend listening to this entertaining episode of The Dave Chang Show.