Montreal’s Restaurants – Super Expensive 1

Joe Beef is one of Montreal’s most expensive restaurants. It is named for a legendary tavern-owner from 1868 or so.

Charles McKiernan earned the sobriquet “Joe Beef” when he was a Quartermaster with the British Army (during the Crimean War). Whenever his regiment was running low on food, McKiernan had a knack of somehow finding meat and provisions, so “Joe Beef” became legendary.

He later became a famous, gruff philanthropist, coming to the city around 1864 with his artillery regiment, and when discharged in 1868, he opened “Joe Beef’s Tavern”.

This was an inn and tavern soon known throughout North America!

Back then, it was located at 201-207 rue de la Commune (in Old Montreal).

Unusually, then, Joe Beef refused service to no one, once telling a reporter that “no matter who he is, whether English, French, Irish, Negro, Indian or what religion he belongs to”, he would be served.

The clientele of the tavern was mostly working class. So, every day at noon, hundreds of longshoremen, ex-army, beggars, odd-job men and outcasts from Montréal society showed up for their main meal of the day.

For working class Montreal, McKiernan’s tavern functioned as the center of social life in Griffintown, as back then the neighborhood had no public parks and gatherings or public celebrations were only occasionally held. Thus, daily recreational activities were centered around the conviviality of Joe Beef’s Canteen.

Today, it is the same but also very different. A savvy chef and restauranteur, David McMillan, has put three businesses near one another, in Little Burgundy, all seeking to cash-in on Joe Beef’s cachet.

The flagship is a super-expensive restaurant named “Joe Beef”. Next comes Liverpool House and lastly, comes McKiernan.

Joe Beef, a little beef-and-fish house, opened in 2005 far from the bright lights of downtown, in an area where the warehouses had not all been turned into high-end lofts yet. Then, the two other restaurants were added in 2007 and 2008 nearby:

___ Liverpool House (at no. 2501), an Italian gastropub
___ McKiernan (at no. 2485), an upscale luncheonette and chowder house as well as being an evening wine bar, with has great food and great value. It even has its own organic garden out back! Try the porchetta tacos which are made with fresh tortillas ($11). Come early as it only has 12 seats!

I recommend only that you check out McKiernan’s. It is open Tuesday to Friday lunches. Saturday brunch. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. It is available for private parties and affairs. 2485 Notre-Dame West, Montreal 514-759-6677.

Now to the flagship — any super-expensive restaurant should never fail. But there are reviews which show that Joe Beef is inconsistent. If you accept that it has foibles, periodically, then also know that most people have had a great multicourse meal here for about $100 – $150 a person.

The atmosphere is moneyed roadhouse — still exhibiting the blue-collar attitude BUT at blue-blooded prices!

Joe Beef is located in a narrow storefront which means diners are elbow to elbow, which is strange, indeed, for restaurants wanting to be regarded as top-echelon and at this price-point.

The menu and wine list is written on a big blackboard occupying one wall. Ask your waiter for a real rundown, if it is necessary. You might also just want to be seated at one of the 4 seats at the bar for attentive service (ask the barman for his version of the menu rather than trying to read the Board).

If you want to try some classics:

___ starters are oysters, including many rarely seen varieties like: Caraquets, Cortez Islands and Marina Gems or try the roasted bone marrow, pickles and brioche

___ salade Joe Beef, which is a “composed salad” – tangy green beans, boiled potatoes, pickled beets, jicama, duck breast and a poached egg

___ mains can include trout, suckling pig, cabbage stuffed with veal cheeks, steak au poivre, rabbit gnocchi and excellent ribs.

Be aware, that if you do not order every course, like no appetizers, tell your waiter you want the order for your other courses put in and brought right away, in succession.

Someone complained that their mains arrived an hour later, which was explained as ‘they had ordered no appetizer course’. The kitchen should be able to do better than that, but it was a braised main dish, so maybe THAT was what took the hour. Make sure you get-the-details so you are NOT just sitting there. Maybe make a quick prep choice, in that eventuality.

As the historic Atwater Market is just steps away, the food is fresh and seasonal at all 3 restaurants.

Because of consistent inconsistency, I am not recommending Joe Beef, but suggest McKiernan’s instead. Get more information from your concierge and others when you arrive. Maybe you’ll decide to try Joe Beef.

Joe Beef, Montreal
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Oest (West), Montreal (near Rue Charlevoix)
phone: 514-935-6504.
Hours: Tues-Sat with seatings at 7 and 9:30pm
Location: near av. Atwater, Outer Districts
Transportation: Métro: Lionel-Groulx

Casual dress, not good for kids, need reservations (try for the first seating — the later one gets really late by the time the food arrives), not wheelchair accessible. Dress well, as you may be waiting outside if your table is not ready, even with reservations. This restaurant is just SMALL, probably too small.

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©2010 mystic at Travel Vacation Review

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