Wren's Pacific Rock cheeseburger 2 Photo by Scott Pilgrim

One of Montreal’s best burgers was born of red-zone restaurant closures

How a new restaurant emerged from a fine-dining experiment on hold.

Wren’s story begins with another restaurant altogether: Restaurant 212.

Restaurateurs Brooke Walsh (École Privée) and Trevor Coulton of the A5 group (Kampai, Apt. 200) assembled an all-star cast of hospitality veterans for the duo’s first joint project. First and foremost is the Noma-trained chef and co-owner Patrick Marion, whose refined, seasonally driven cooking has been honed across Canada and the world at a series of highly acclaimed restaurants. By his side is a duo of established beverage directors in Coldroom’s Kevin Demers, who designed the cocktail menu, and le Mousso and Menu Extra sommelier Alexis Demers, who curated a short but carefully selected wine list. The lavish Old Montreal restaurant, which was formerly the Accords wine bar at 212 Notre-Dame W., was designed by the Gauley Brothers (Atwater Cocktail Club, Foiegwa, Bird Bar) in collaboration with Walsh and renowned photographer, creative director and co-owner Scott Pilgrim.

Hand-cut cep oil fries from Wren’s. All photos by Scott Pilgrim

The restaurant was keyed up to be a destination — a future premiere Montreal restaurant — but after having been open for little more than two weeks, Montreal entered the red zone and dining rooms, for the second time this year, went into lockdown.

“We basically created a brand new concept in 48 hours,” explained Walsh. Knowing they had to put 212 on hold, they looked to their chef for inspiration. Marion wanted to do something accessible, and knowing that the fine-dining food of 212 wouldn’t work for take-out, he turned to an icon of fast-food: the humble cheeseburger.

Wren's cheeseburger Photo by Scott Pilgrim
Wren’s Pacific Rock cheeseburger

Named for his daughter, Wren’s opened within days of the implementation of second-wave lockdown measures. The concept is simple: An upscale casse-croûte that borrows the seasonality and technique of Marion’s fine-dining background without sacrificing the approachability and affordability of a traditional casse-croûte. 

On the menu, you’ll find a choice of three burgers: The classic, topped with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles and Wren’s sauce; a cheeseburger that subs out the tomato and lettuce for Pacific Rock cheddar; and a cherry bomb burger that adds a spicy aioli and house-bacon to the mix. In keeping with the ethos chef Marion has cultivated over his career, everything is made fresh, in-house — that means meat ground daily, buns baked daily. For vegetarians, there is a delicious veggie burger made of fresh seasonal vegetables, topped with goat’s cheese and herbed aioli. The menu also boasts a number of fresh market salads, hand-cut fries and two different types of homemade hotdogs, one of which is called “le Montréalais,” a hotdog featuring celery root coleslaw and “secret mustard,” that happens to be Walsh’s favourite menu item. Make sure to leave room for dessert — there’s an excellent pumpkin cake with buttercream frosting. 

Le Montréalais hot dog from Wren’s

Since opening earlier this month, Wren’s has been a hit, so much so that Walsh and his team plan to open it as a stand-alone business even after dining rooms reopen. For now, Wren’s is operating out of the 212 space and is open for take-out (and delivery via UberEats and Skip the Dishes) Wednesday to Sunday from 3 to 9 p.m. Don’t sleep on it: Wren’s is carving out a place for itself as one of Montreal’s best burgers. ■

For more about Wren’s, please visit their website.

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