In my 10 years in this neighbourhood, I've rarely met anyone who could resist the tantalizing scent of the roasting sesame seeds of wood-fired oven-baked bagels. Both St-Viateur and Fairmount bagel shops draw hungry patrons from the four corners of Montreal, creating long lines and double-parking mayhem on two of our main thoroughfares. And let's face it: we've all gotten in line to buy just one bagel, which we eat plain as we walk down the street, and we've all found telltale sesame seeds on the upholstery of someone's car, who couldn't wait to get the half-dozen home.
That's right folks. The Mile End has always been Bagel land. And Lucie, I don't care if Westmount has a great bagel place, the Mile End has bagel history and bagel magic, two things that money can't buy. And I'm not alone in my opinion, just ask the Grey Lady. The New York Times reported in December 2009 that Montreal's two best bagel shops were St-Viateur and Fairmount. They also described our carbohydrate creation as leaner and sweeter with a smokier, thicker crust than its more savoury, bloated New York cousin.
But when push comes to shove, which Mile End bakery serves up the best bagel: St-Viateur or Fairmount? (Please let me know in the comments or take my survey:top right.) For all you out-of-towners, who've never tasted either one of these bagels, I'll be giving away two St-Viateur cloth shopping bags to two lucky people who click on my Facebook icon and "like" my blog.
The Fairmount Bagel Bakery (1919), 74 Fairmount West
As any Montrealer will tell you, in days of yore the Mile End was a Jewish neighbourhood. In 1919, Isadore Shlafman, a Russian immigrant, opened the first bagel shop on "the Main" and then moved to Fairmount street in 1949. Shlafman is believed to be the person who introduced the bagel to both Montreal and the universe, as Montreal-born astronaut Greg Chamitoff brought the first bagel into space. But it should also be mentioned that Chamitoff is a cousin of the current owner, Erwin Shlafman.
Fairmount is open 24 hours a day, year round, and a few times a week, you may have some problems getting in the door, as the store is often full of red plastic delivery crates. Just take a look at the picture for evidence thereof. When I asked the girl some questions about the store, she referred me to the store's website.
St-Viateur Bagel (1957) 263 St-Viateur West
It has been reported that one of Fairmount's employees learned the bagel business before striking out on his own and starting St-Viateur. However, according to the company website, St-Viateur Bagel was started by Myer Lewkowicz, who brought his now famous recipe from Eastern Europe to Montreal in 1957. It was later purchased by Joe Morena, who has kept Lewowicz's tradition alive for the past 45 years. St-Viateur has expanded to include two cafés and four bakeries, two of which are located in the Mile End.
In many respects, St-Viateur looks as though it hired Wilensky's interior decorator, and appears to be stuck somewhere in 1957. There is, however, quite a collection of autographed pictures of celebs who have come through the door and lined up like other mere mortals. The picture of Leonard Cohen with Joe Morena was the one that immediately caught my eye. I suspect Cohen is not smiling because he has a sesame seed stuck between his teeth. St-Viateur also has some great souvenir t-shirts and cloth shopping bags, two of which I will be giving away. It too is open 24 hours a day.
Added bonus: St-Viateur has online sales and ships to other areas of Canada and the US.
Although you might prefer the PR or client service of one bagel bakery over the other, this is immaterial. Right now, it is purely a bagel-vs-bagel competition. So Montrealers, former and present, which one is your favourite?
Further reading on Montreal bagels in the New York Times:
Montreal bagels square off against New York's
Other hood-related posts
What it is by Lynda Barry
The True Gender
Almost a Visit to Gender
St-Viateur: the Polish Bazaar
The Mile End Buzz Around Beekeeping
For the Love of Vinyl
Airing Our Dirty Laundry
Filming on St-Viateur
A Sense of Humour With the Wilensky's Special
S.W. Welch: the Nicolski Coincidence
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard