Montreal food halls

Fried chicken and waffle cone at Ho Lee Chix

We taste-tested Montreal’s new food halls

Exceptional bites and stalls to avoid: Reviews of the offerings at Time Out Market, le Cathcart and le Central.

Montreal’s abuzz over a new spate of trendy, gourmet food courts … nay … food halls, which have descended upon the downtown landscape. Time Out Market, le Central and le Cathcart offer a broad selection of reasonably priced, slightly elevated grub under Instagram lighting in a quick-paced setting.

The long-term economic viability of these food halls might become more of a story as the new car smell wears off, but we’ll cross that bridge in a year. For now, it’s full steam ahead with our shiny new things.

Le Cathcart, the newest of Montreal’s food halls

Le Central has been open on the corner of Ste-Catherine and St-Laurent since October, with Time Out Market Montreal hitting the rafters of the Eaton Centre a month later. Le Cathcart is the crown jewel of a massive Place Ville-Marie reno job and opened this January, while Artisans has been doing its own market/takeout hybrid thing for a while in the facelifted Queen E.

Having had the opportunity to spend some time at le Central, Time Out Market and le Cathcart food halls, it’s fair to say all three offer their own spin on the fancy food court concept without stepping on each other’s toes. Perhaps there’s room for everyone.

Le Central was incomplete both times I went, but the unfinished areas really didn’t look out of place given the hall’s concrete and concert poster hodge podge look. Central is inviting, with colourful, individualistic kiosks in contrast to Time Out Market’s imposing monochrome design. There’s a busy train station din when it’s full, with crowds that arrive and disperse quickly. From a bells and whistles perspective, it’s not distracting enough to give a sense of destination eating. Basically, if I’m working/studying in the area or prepping for a concert nearby and have had my fill of Pool Room, I wouldn’t feel sheepish about grabbing a quick bite and immediately bouncing. It would also be my choice for a casual night out among friends, since it’s easy to buy and consume alcoholic beverages on the premises.

Montreal food halls
Charcuterie plate at Republique Democratique du Jambon, le Central

Time Out Market, on the other hand, is deep within the Eaton Centre’s innards, so there’s some sense of achievement when you finally hit the elevator. Once you’ve arrived, it takes a second to adjust your eyes as the stalls line the walls, and they all have the same black awning with white letters. You’ll notice the names of big chefs attached to many — the market was curated with connoisseurs in mind. There’s a uniformity to ordering, too: you get a buzzer and enough time to find a seat before it goes off. The room is dark, but the long tables look great on the edges of an Instagram photo and the lighting is just enough to capture the essence of your dishes. Everything in Time Out Market has been calibrated to look great, and you can feel the effort. If you want beer, wine or a cocktail, though, you’ll have to go to a separate area.

Under a ginormous ceiling of glass, new kid le Cathcart is naturally lit and feels constructed for the long haul, but it’s also the most utilitarian of the three. Place Ville-Marie is a big complex with hungry businesspeople to feed, so the prices are a tad lower to encourage daily visits — many dishes coming in the $12–$14 range — and there’s an open Biergarten section with attentive servers where the white collars can tie a few on before hitting their homebound trains.

On a real basic level, you could say le Central was designed for locals and Time Out Market for the cosmopolitan/tourist set. Le Cathcart has the built-in Place Ville-Marie crowd to cater to.

Montreal food halls
Sandwich from Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson, Time Out Market

But how about the food?

At le Central, start with a margarita at Mexican eatery Bonito’s Taco and Deli or wine and oyster shots at Chasse-Galerie outpost Mignonette. After that, soak the booze up quickly with a squared slice of pizza topped with cured meat fresh from Morso’s oven or fried chicken in a waffle cone smothered with maple sauce from Ho Lee Chix. Once you’re ready for more, the highlight of the hall is Thip Thip, the city’s first Laotian snack bar courtesy of Athiraj Phrasavath. Thip Thip’s jerky and sticky rice combo is the perfect fast, addictive eat, but if you’re more peckish, get the papaya salad and a rice noodle dish. For dessert, there’s pint-sized doughnuts from local fave Trou de Beigne, which also serves a surprising number of non-dairy milks on tap. Bromont brewers West Shefford have a bar there, adding another watering hole to the area. Indian snack bar le Super Qualité was under construction when I went, but it’s open now. Their original Rosemont location is beloved.

Montreal food halls
Thip Thip, le Central

There’s no shortage of options at Time Out Market, so to get the most out of your experience, invite a buddy or two and share two dishes per person. Start at Paul Toussaint’s counter for Haitian dishes griot and fried conch fritters. After that, flip your tastebuds in another direction with a ramen or donburi from Marusan. Last time I visited, the Demo Kitchen was serving up an enticing raclette bowl, which was basically a deconstructed version of the Alpine classic. If you’re using Time Out Market to test out restaurants beyond your budget, Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson of Montreal Plaza fame have done a fine job of bringing fine dining sensibilities to new food court digs. I had their pork and cheese sandwich encased in two charcoal black pieces of Hof Kelsten bread, and although it’s hard to explain how it tasted, I can say safely say it was worth it. Once you’ve had enough, wash it all down with a homemade lemonade from the Soda Bar.

And be sure to do all of this while keeping a watchful eye on Normand Laprise’s Burger T. The line-up at the lauded burger joint fluctuates a lot and patience is a virtue if you’ve got nowhere else to be. Seriously, if there are 10 people in line, give it five minutes.

On a weekday, one would expect le Cathcart to be a madhouse. On the weekend, it’s quite calm, but it also meant a few stalls didn’t open, limiting the already tight selection of nine kiosks. The longest queue formed around famed Montreal fast food burger joint Uniburger. If you’ve never been, go for it. Otherwise, it offers the same food as the other locations. Like Uniburger, Southeast Asian resto HÀ comes in from the outside world as a sure thing, and their steamed buns are the perfect shareable appetizer. Mexican spot Tulum has a tortilla soup they call a pozole, even though they’re two different things, and their al pastor burrito was more lunch-sized than mortar shell. Partner Antonio Park is looking after the health of Montreal’s business elite: Dirty Greens’ salads, Karma’s poke and Omnivore’s Lebanese classics emphasize fresh and hearty greens. The Park touch is also felt with the inclusion of Chinese institution Mon Nan, which makes a generous thai red curry with the right amount of spice for lunchtime. ■

For more about le Central, go to their website. See the Time Out Market website here. Visit the website for le Cathcart here.

For more coverage of the Montreal restaurant scene and food halls, please visit our Food & Drink section.

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