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Visiting a city the first time is easy: Every street yields new discoveries, every top-rated attraction is a fresh experience. But the second, the fifth, the 10th visit? You have to get creative. Setting out with a themed mission is a great way to go. In Montreal, for instance, seeking out the latest and greatest pastry shops offer up prime carb-loading and caffeinating – plus an entry point to the city's most happening neighbourhoods. Got your stretchy pants packed? Here are five spots to try.
RUSTIQUE PIE KITCHEN
The neighbourhood: Up-and-coming St. Henri – not far from Westmount – is “becoming an amazing food area” thanks to a stream of new restaurants on main street Notre Dame, says co-owner Jacqueline Berman.
The shop: Framed shots of the bakery’s own pies and cookies adorn the white walls. Three tables inside are crowded with locals lingering as much over conversation as over sweets and coffee from 49th Parallel, a Vancouver-based ethical roaster. Shelves hold jars of granola and other take-home goodies, while glass cases are piled high with pies of the mini- and full-size variety, in seasonal and timeless flavours.
Most popular: Classic Quebec apple, and lemon meringue, which some say is the best in the city.
We tried: A flaky, fruity muffin-tin-size rhubarb pie, a steal at $1.99.
The calorie earner: Across the street, Square Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier offers tennis courts, plenty of picnic-friendly green space and an outdoor pool open daily with free admission. 4615 rue Notre Dame Ouest, rustiquepiekitchen.com
The neighbourhood: A residential corner of the perennially popular Plateau, which chef and owner Stéphanie Labelle describes as bobo, or bourgeois bohème – “a lot of families, artists and people enjoying good things of life.”
The shop: A nondescript building with partially updated 1970s interior. Decor does not matter, though, as your eyes will be drawn to the white-painted shelves holding preserves, granola and copies of the Montreal Gazette – not to mention the glass-fronted cases filled with rows of éclairs, pots de crème, square cheesecakes topped with cubes of sour cherry jelly and other delights. Sunday mornings fill up fast thanks to a popular brunch.
Most popular: In season (spring), the namesake rhubarb tart; in summer, the strawberry-based fraisier.
We tried: The nutty, crunchy pistachio-grapefruit dacquoise and, in a cute, stamped brown paper to-go bag, a chamomile macaron.
The calorie earner: The shop’s a bit of a walk from the nearest Métro station, so it’s worth staying in the area to explore. Head to nearby Parc Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier for a run, a swim or a game of pétanque. 5091 rue de Lanaudière, patisserierhubarbe.com
DE FARINE & D’EAU FRAÎCHE
The neighbourhood: The Village, whose LGBT community base is diversifying, as young families and artists move in thanks to affordable real estate.
The shop: Chef Marilu Gunji, who was raised in Japan and graduated in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu. She brings her detail-oriented style to a wealth of pastries, cakes and cookies as well as savoury dishes. Tiny, perfectly decorated cakes sit under bell jars on white shelves along one wall.
Most popular: The passion-fruit cake, which came recommended by a fellow customer (a Montrealer who rides in daily on a Bixi rented bike for his regular snack).
We tried: The picture-perfect, melt-in-your-mouth triple cream puff in chocolate-hazelnut-cherry, topped with miniature fresh mint leaves.
The calorie earner: Gunji likes to burn off steam at Moksha Yoga in the nearby Plateau. Or rent a Bixi from the station around the corner and take it for a tour on the separated bike lanes along nearby boulevard De Maisonneuve. 1701 rue Amherst, dfef.ca
MAISON CHRISTIAN FAURE
The neighbourhood: Picturesque Old Montreal, where some of New France’s first settlers landed in 1642. Nowadays, the tourist traps are receding in favour of some of the hottest places to eat – and to be seen.
The shop: Chef Christian Faure and his wife and business partner, Pamela Bakalian, created a space where historic appeal (think classic Québécois grey stone walls) co-exists with modern elements such as clean white tables and acrylic chairs. They also run a pastry school that offers a professional program as well as classes for “serious amateurs” and “little bakers” (i.e., kids).
Most popular: The éclair Paris-Brest, choux pastry filled with a praline-hazelnut mousse that’s lighter than the traditional buttercream.
We tried: The sweet-tart Tarte passion framboise, whose precise flower-like design of fresh raspberries and passionfruit cream showcases the shop’s mission of providing accessible luxury pastry.
The calorie earner: Walk or cycle the nearby waterfront trails for a voyageur’s-eye view of the heart of Montreal. Quadricycles – multipassenger pedal-powered vehicles – and pedalboats, in which to cruise the Bonsecours Basin are available for rent from company Écorécréo (ecorecreo.ca). 355 Place Royale, maisonchristianfaure.ca
The neighbourhood: Little Burgundy, near Atwater Market and home to plenty of antiques stores and popular restaurants such as Joe Beef and Vin Papillon.
The shop: Local TV personality and pastry chef Patrice Demers, formerly of critics’ favourite Les 400 Coups, started the shop along with business partner Jean-François Archambault to showcase his sophisticated, modern-looking creations, often featuring citrus and seasonal fruits.
Most popular: Kouign Amann, a sweet, ultra buttery croissant-like pastry; St. Henri coffee cake, using coffee from the namesake local roaster.
We tried: A thick and creamy chocolate ganache sandwiched between tender-crisp sablé cookies with only a bare minimum of sweetness. It is a chocoholic’s dream.
The calorie earner: Do as Patrice does (as well as many Montrealers) and go for a run along the scenic Lachine Canal. Or take a kayaking lesson or tour from nearby H2O Adventures (h2oadventures.com). 2360 rue Notre Dame Ouest, patricepatissier.ca
The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism Montreal. It did not review or approve the story.