Being an impatient control freak, I tend to avoid any eatery with a lineup and a no-reservation policy like the plague. Yes, I have come to terms with the idea of never trying popular joints such as Olive + Gourmando, Kazu or Kem CoBa; I find the notion of not knowing when or if I'll ever be seated nerve racking. In some instances, I have learned when to show up to increase my odds of securing a table.
Case in point; Saint-Henri's Arthurs, a game changer in Montreal's Jewish food scene, draws queues at its peak breakfast and lunch hours. But arrive in between those two – say 11AM – and you won't have to wait much. Such was the case for my wife and me on this Monday morning; as we visited what has become our favorite weekday-brunch spot in town.
Beloved and critically acclaimed since its opening just over three years ago – a feeling I share as demonstrated by my first review and several visits since – Arthurs shows no sign of slowing down. While we succeeded in avoiding a lineup, the small space was still packed to the brim; with a queue of patrons forming again closer to noon.
We were lucky to get a couple stools against the window bar in the corner, probably the only nook where we wouldn't need to rub elbows with anyone. The crowd still leans towards young and Anglo – for clients and staff alike.
Accolades aside, Arthurs' biggest accomplishment will always be how it made Jewish cuisine – particularly the Ashkenazi regional variant – hip and trendy. There is so much to try on the menu from classics to signature dishes; my favorites are probably the salami in challah and chicken schnitzel sandwiches.
For those with a sweet tooth, the cottage cheese pancakes are fluffy to the point of heavenly and embody what Arthurs is all about; simple, traditional dishes crafted with care using quality ingredients. Since it was getting closer to midday, we decided to forego the breakfast menu and instead try out more lunch-y items this time around.
I'm a huge fan of iced tea but normally avoid it when it's homemade as it tends to be overly bitter. Boy, am I glad I rolled the dice this time; this one had just the right balance of bitter, sour and sweet.
I loved the idea of this salad but in the end it was just an assemblage of veggies and proteins – turkey, bacon and egg – with a basic vinaigrette on the side. I did enjoy the seasoning on the avocado though.
Add this to the stock of fabulous sandwiches here. An onion roll contained kosher salami, coleslaw and mustard with a runny, gooey fried egg added for good measure.
Another hard-to-resist item on the menu is these golden, crisp, double-fried potatoes. The malt vinegar is faint but you still get that tart acidity in your mouth.
The front of the house at Arthurs tends to be run by a cohort of youngsters. Our waitress on this visit was friendly, goofy and (overly?) happy. As busy and crowded as the pre-lunch rush was, she was always available and never failed to have a smile on. The kitchen was obviously on top of things too; as our food came out without much delay.
While I wasn't all that impressed by my salad today – not to mention its $20 price tag – everything else at Arthurs is a pure delight. The vintage look and edgy vibe mixed with the fresh take on Jewish staples make this nosh bar the best all-day-breakfast this side of the city. As for lunch, today's visit perpetuates its position on my current crush list.
In the end, is Arthurs worth lining up for? A resounding yes! But I might personally lose patience after ten minutes…
Price per person: $19.50
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.