This year is the perfect time to visit Montréal: The city is celebrating its 375th birthday and, in so doing, hosting all manner of festivals, outdoor art installations and cultural events. Montréal has long had the reputation of being an elegantly European city, albeit one improbably situated in Canada. And like its European cousins — Paris, Brussels, Zurich and others — its many opulent chocolate shops and world-renowned chocolatiers only reinforce that notion. So at this momentous juncture, I suggest you put down the poutine, bagels and smoked meat sandwiches and discover the more refined side of the city by visiting some of the most notable chocolate shops in North America.
Most of this self-guided walking tour takes place in Le Plateau Mont-Royal, but we’ve also included a few stores outside that neighborhood to round out this decadent experience. Located centrally, Le Plateau dates from the late 18th century and boasts numerous gastronomic delights, especially on Boulevard Saint-Laurent (mainly the aforementioned bagel and smoked meat shops). Le Plateau has most recently become the home of Montréal’s hipsters, with a preponderance of art galleries, independent boutiques and a strong café culture.
To maximize your time, begin your excursion before breakfast — because at these shops, it’s perfectly acceptable to start your day with chocolate.
At this full-service specialty restaurant, you will be overwhelmed by chocolate, but in the most pleasant way possible, as even omelettes, frittatas and salads are accompanied by sweet fondue or syrup. For a breakfast beverage, we like the vintage hot chocolate, which consists of pure, melted chocolate served in a snifter with a cup of hot milk on the side. The drink is perfection with savory ham and Swiss crepes or the sweet variety, stuffed with dark and white chocolate and topped with whipped cream, Belgian cocoa powder, fresh fruit and, of course, more melted goodness.
929 Mont-Royal Ave E. Tel 514-507-2210
As you digest your breakfast, walk over to Les Chocolats de Chloé and watch artisanal chocolatier Chloé Gervais-Fredette create delicacies at her open-kitchen factory and store. Like other chocolatiers, she uses premade chocolate to create her own recipes for truffles, bonbons and other confections, but Gervais-Fredette’s are impeccable. Using only Valrhona, a fine French couverture known in the industry as the gold standard, she crafts bonbons and bars in unusual flavors like pepper, balsamic vinegar and chai as well as classics like ginger and peanut butter. Her goodies are impeccable presents for the loved ones you left at home.
Les Chocolats de Chloé
546 Avenue Duluth E. Tel. 514-849-5550
Walk along picturesque Boulevard Saint-Laurent, stopping at high-end clothing boutiques like General 54 and Les Étoffes for a brief break from dessert. Then head to the next locale whose namesake, chocolatier Geneviève Grandbois, has been creating sweet delicacies for almost two decades. Her exquisite bonbons come in classic flavors such as caramel as well as modern varieties like matcha tea and olive oil. Also look for her gourmet granola, extravagant boxed collections and the decadant Le Rocher (The Rock), a cube of dark chocolate, caramelized pecans and almond flakes. Grandbois bought a cacao plantation in 2007 and, after she perfects her harvest, plans to make chocolate from bean to bar herself, that is, beginning with whole beans and roasting, grinding and smoothing them into bars from scratch.
Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois
162 Rue Saint Viateur O. Tel 514-394-1000
About a block away is the understated Boulangerie Cheskie. Montréal’s active Jewish community has long defined the city’s food scene, and at this kosher bakery, we continue to reap the rewards. It’s all about the babka here, so make certain to arrive early to secure your slice while it’s still warm from the oven. If you’ve never eaten babka, you’re in for a treat: Imagine an outrageously rich coffee cake of sorts with chocolate spilling from every side. If they’re out of the specialty, don’t despair: Grab some rugelach instead.
359 Rue Bernard Ouest. Tel. 514-271-2253
Last on our walking tour is this adorable dessert shop, which specializes in drinking chocolate. Try anything on the Grand Cru menu, made with single-origin beans. Like wine, cacao exhibits terroir, and you’ll be able to taste the differences quite prominently: Think bright citrus notes in the chocolate from Madagascar; caramel and fudge in the chocolate from Ecuador; and smoke and vanilla in the São Tomé.
Juliette & Chocolat
377 Avenue Laurier Ouest. Tel. 514-510-5651
If you’ve been enjoying fabulous cakes, bread and pastries at restaurants and hotels around Montréal, you may have already sampled Arhoma’s delicacies without realizing it: The specialty French bakeshop supplies to all the best places in town. Of course, there’s nothing like going to the source. The Joe Couture, a chocolate cake stuffed with white chocolate mousse and vanilla, then coated with the dark stuff, will satisfy even the most incessant sweet tooth. Or sample what’s simply called The Chocolate, a flourless chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and ganache spiked with fleur de sel.
15 Simon-Valois Pl. Tel. 514-526-4662
Unlike the chocolatiers we’ve mentioned so far, Catherine Goulet makes bean-to-bar chocolate, using whole cocoa beans that she purchases directly from farmers in Central and South America. Visit her factory and shop here and take a tour to see firsthand how she does it. Be sure to snag a few single-origin bars made with cocoa from either the Dominican Republic or Ecuador, as well as heavenly “inclusion bars” made with coconut milk and coffee.
309 Rue Gounod. Tel. 438-388-0200
Technically this is an online store, but Miss Choco, aka Karine Chrétien Guillemette, is one of the most knowledgeable experts in the country, focusing on bean-to-bar chocolate. She curates a small but delicious collection of the best brands in the world and often hosts pop-up events that are a must-visit. Check her schedule to see if she’ll be hosting an event while you’re in town, and be sure to buy a few extra bars while you’re there — you’ll thank yourself later.