Anthony Bourdain's The Layover: Montreal Means Trouble (A Recap)

The Travel Channel
Tony Bourdain tucks into a bagel in Montreal.
As the opening credits start, I can't wait to see where Tony is taking us to on his little overnighter that he calls The Layover. I've been on an extended vacation and haven't checked the internet to find out the targeted city.  So many exciting cities to visit -- Paris, London, Nairobi, San Francisco, Seattle, Montreal ... Montreal? Who lays over in Montreal?

Howard Stern lookalike: "If I had 24 hours in Montreal I would go to dinner. I usually stick my finger down my throat and purge".

Tony Bourdain: "Montreal is close. About an hour and a half from New York.

I bought a pretzel dog at LaGuardia airport and the dog landed landed on my shirt".

Howard Stern (again): "Our north is not north like the North Pole. We use the river as a guideline, so north is more like west. Just use the GPS app on your iPhone and you'll be fine."

Tony tells us that despite our instant misgivings about any city that resembles anywhere in France, Montreal is not little Paris. You don't really have to speak French to come here. And you don't come here to eat French food, though there's plenty of it. Tony helpfully adds that there are plenty of hotels in this city, but he's likely going gonzo and pulling an all-nighter. "I'm meeting some dangerous friends and I only have 24 hours so a hotel might not be necessary," he tells us.

Tony takes us to the place that invented breakfast. Beauty's Luncheonette started serving breakfast in 1942 and, according to them, breakfast was never served (or possibly eaten) before that. What's even more fascinating than actually meeting the people who invented breakfast, is learning that Montreal thinks they have better bagels than New York City.

Tony actually poses the question, "Who has the better bagel? New York or Montreal? " He notes that the bagels in Montreal are crisper and sweeter. He points us to St. Viateur Bagel Shop, where hand rolled, wood fire baked bagels are made using the same recipe for over half a century. I'm not convinced.

Tony then takes us to another trend worth killing -- the coffee bar with internet access. "If you're a citizen of Laptopistan then maybe Club Social is for you. Personally I'd rather fry my head in duck fat", our man on the ground tells us. So, dear readers, the question is -- why tell us about a place that you despise?

Blonde chick: "One activity in Montreal - rent a Bixi bicycle and go around the city."

Apparently there are the same rental bicycles in Montreal that are found in South Beach and they are all the rage in Montreal. Which is interesting because it's usually below freezing for most of the year, which would make it seem like bad bike weather.

Tony goes to a farmer's market in the Marche Jean-Talon neighborhood. He finds a good selection of local produce and is told that the growing season in Montreal is about 48 hours -- again because of the sub-freezing temperatures.

Two geeky guys: "The cold keeps people, snakes, Ebola, and ninjas away."

Tony Bourdain: I'm thinking about cheese and cured meats. The greatest single crime against food is that they make cheese so fucking difficult."

Tony is, of course, talking about the fact that you can't get cheese from unpasteurized milk in the U.S. -- but you can in Montreal. Tony eats cheese so fresh, he tells us that he could taste what the goat had for lunch.

A guy in a beret: "I remember every cheese I sold to everybody. I remember the cheese I sold to a guy when his daughter got married two years ago."

Blonde chick: "The myth about Montreal is that there's an entire underground city. But it's literally a collection of cheap clothing stores, pharmacies, and metro stations. You'll never find someone to say, like let's go have a drink underground."

Tony: "There are dickheads in Montreal too. Mimes, human statues, people dressed in colonial costumes."

Tony is now in Old Montreal. There's one in most every city -- a place where tourists congregate to eat in an authentic colonial pub complete with electric lighting and air conditioning. Tony meets food writer Adam Goldman, who immediately bores the crap out of me by expounding on the complete history of beaver hunting.

Tony then suggests going to Marvin's, a Greek restaurant where you can get fried calamari, a steak and mashed potatoes. Really?!

The only thing I can agree with Tony about so far is our combined hatred of mimes and those f**king annoying human statues. Montreal is Miami Beach's Lincoln Road without palm trees. Oh, and the people wear down parkas instead of bikinis. Tony (and I) both dream of punching those people posing as statues of angels, Elvis, and fairies in their smug little painted faces. Is it too mean to hope the face paint is toxic and slowly eating away their brains?

Howard Stern-lookalike (again) on street lights in Montreal: "Red means stop, yellow means hurry up, green means run like a son of a bitch. It's a little adrenaline rush."

Tony meets up with Fred Morin and Dave McMilllan, owners of Joe Beef restaurant in Montreal, where they lure Tony onto a dragon boat. Which is something I usually do when I have 26 hours in a city.

Tony Bourdain: "Rowing a boat with muscled women who could snap your neck might not be the highlight of a trip to Montreal."

We then go to a park where we watch the weekly pot-infused drum circle and then witness a bunch of Ren Faire geeks make their own weapons and try to kill each other in an homage to Lord of the Rings. Or something.

Tony (finally) gets down to some eating at Brasserie Capri, which is a typical Québec pub. "Big freaking hunks of pork knuckle. I love it. Get rid of that fucking clock you're ruining my buzz now", Tony barks.

Two geeks: "I love kissing Americans because they're not ready for it. You pull them into your zone, and you can feel them crisping up."

We finally get down to the business Tony's been alluding to the entire wasted hour. Joe Beef, the above mentioned Fred and Dave's flagship restaurant.

Tony Bourdain: "Mention their names and you'll get stories of nakedness, embarrassment, deliciousness"

Tony gets some interesting dishes at Joe Beef, making me wonder if my boycott of Canada should be lifted. And if Quebec is really Canada. How about stuffed clams on a radio? Yes, children. Instead of a plate, Joe Beef serves clams on a little transistor radio. They also do razor clams on erotic novels and oysters on a ketchup can. Is it food or is it art?

Remember KFC's epic fail the Double Down? Joe Beef has their own version which involves two pieces of foie gras, bacon, and chicken.

Tony Bourdain (as chicken juice drips down his arms): "It's a crime against humanity. I'm already on Lipitor."

Blonde chick: "You can always pick out an American or English tourist by their always saying merci and you can always spot the French tourist because they act snobby and pretend to not understand you."

Tony: "This countdown clock is really stupid. I feel like I only have 14 hours to find the nerve gas"

It's onward and upward for a little drinking and more eating for Tony who notes, "If I were a reasonable man I would have retreated to my hotel. But I am a flawed vessel. This kind of thing leads to tragedy and daytime talk shows on ABC."

After that clear dig to Batali and Symon for The Chew, Tony heads to Brasserie Japonaise. This is the after-hours place for drunk chefs. Out comes the Japanese whisky. "This was the exact moment in the evening when we started to lose it. We all must meet out waterloo. Mine is in about 14 minutes", Tony slurs.

The Grumman 78 taco food truck is closed. And Tony is drunk. Very drunk. But he manages to tell us that food trucks in Montreal were banned decades ago. Clearly in distress over the lack of food trucks Tony muses, "Why does the average New Yorker come to Montreal? To get drunk and eat good food. Out of a truck. But you can't."

Smarmy guy: "If you need to know one sentence in Montreal It could be 'Would you like to sleep with me'?"

Tony Bourdain: "As far as I know, no one was hurt last night. No karaoke, no lap dances do drunk dialing of my fourth grade social studies teacher. I rise. I pack. I cough yellow bile into the bidet. Travelers tip? Eat something big and good before getting to the airport. That way you'll be out on your ass on the flight. But first stop to get some over the counter codeine, which is sold in Montreal. And other drugs. And we can give them back Celine Dion. That would be good."

Next week: Amsterdam. Home to coffee shops that don't serve coffee.

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The ''blond chick'' is Anne-Marie Withenshaw, ex-Musique Plus (our version of MTV) veejay.  She's now a food critic!


You can get cheese made from unpasteurized milk all over the U.S., you just have to get it from small micro farmers. In Florida, unpasteurized milk is sold "for pet consumption only", but it is widely available (thousands of gallons of it are sold in Miami-Dade & Broward every month). To be safe, it requires superior animal husband and feed; you wouldn't want to drink the watery junk called milk in a grocery store unpasteurized. Yes, it is much more expensive, but you get far more nutritional density from it per dollar of cost. 


I avoid Canada. Canadians bash seal pups on the head with clubs.


Thanks for your article - I watched the show on YouTube and it was great.  The Howard Stern lookalike is Andy Nulman - he created our famous Just for Laughs festival.  From a proud Montrealer!!


If you prefer, we could start water-boarding the seals.  Would that be sufficiently American for you?


Yes, Canada has a seal hunt, which is after all a traditional food of the Inuit.  The clubbing is normally only done if a bullet didn't get the job done.  Compare that to throwing rooster chicks in a high powered grinder because they aren't worth raising for meat, keeping veal calves in crates to keep them tender or raising fish in overcrowded fish farms while often slaughtering them by simply letting them suffocate, and I'm not convinced the seal hunt is particularly cruel.

As for the show, it was a good episode, but I think they overstated the need to know French to drive in the city.  Directions on signs are Nord, Sud, Est, Ouest.  Stop signs say Arret but are red octagons.  Construction signs are orange.  One way signs are white arrows on black.  It's all very clear.  What wasn't pointed out is that you can't turn right on red on the island of Montreal.

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