We all know Québecers love Florida. But do Miami and Montréal in particular have any kind of bond? A week ago, I would have said no.

But sometimes it pays to rent a car and follow your stomach. The first stop on my namesake quest took me to Schwartz of Miami, a surprising discovery which I discussed last week.

Here’s the rest of the rundown.



How odd. Here I am in Spring Break Central, a town where 70% of the local population is Spanish-speaking, and a local Google search for Copacabana yields nothing. Meanwhile, I am reminded of the near-legendary status of Montréal’s booty-shaking venue de Maisonneuve Blvd.

I persist. And with some effort, I uncover Boteco Copacabana, a newish Brazilian resto with mixed reviews online. I track it down on foot, landing smack in the middle of Miami Beach’s less-glamorous, tourist-trappy pedestrian street, Espanola Way.

I approach with caution. Visions of our own flamboyant, booming Copa quickly recede as I spot a lonely man played guitar in a front window—Boteco Copacabana’s sole indoor patron.

Sad guitar playing manAnd while the streetside has customers, the food looks sad and the prices outrageous. As much as I’d love to waste $30 of my hard-earned dollars for a lousy plate of chicken, I need to save up for the journey.


Montréal’s Grumpys is a cozy and cavernous joint whose vibe—intentional irony?—is so good-natured that I always stay too long. There’s no Grumpys in Miami, but there is a long-lost-brother: Gramps.

IMG_3529Crusty on the exterior while remaining honest, loveable and addictively fun inside, Gramps is a last remnant of grunge in Miami’s quickly-gentrifying Design District. The city’s de facto dive bar radiates screeching guitars, is housed in a crumbling warehouse, and is even guarded by ZZ Top’s eldest grandson.

Casa del Popolo

It seems like a safe bet: generic Spanish name and all. So imagine my joy when, after a hot thirty minutes on South 22nd Street, I spot Casa Felipe. My joy turnes to disappointment when (instead of a café I could compare with our own) I realize I am approaching a cigar emporium. But then I turn the corner and suddenly, it was all worth it. Thanks, Obama.

Obama smokes a stogie in Miami

Le Cheese Truck

Just outside Gramps, I stumbled upon a southern sibling of Le Cheese Truck. I almost did a double-take! It was called Ms. Cheezious.

IMG_3521Even the down-to-earth dudes who ran it mirror the sweet, bubbly proprietors of Le Cheese. They are super nice and obviously have a loyal following. Sandwiches such as grilled blue and bacon, apple-pulled pork, all sounded tantalizing—if a bit unoriginal to me. Sadly, they are not up to par with our own boys’ endeavour. My “Shaved tavern ham” with spiced apple and sharp cheddar with tomato on sourdough was sloppily satisfying—great for après-bar. But frankly, I was struggling to see why anyone would pay $10 for that when the same price would yield something much more flavourful and original chez Le Truck (such as the chili with cheese curds or their fabulous mac n cheese).


In rush-hour-induced moment of contemplation on our two towns, I was struck with the fact that throngs of Montréalers escape to Varadero on a whim while Miamians—whose roots extend far deeper into the country than, uh, Sunwing—have no such luck themselves.

To make up for it, they have places like Varadero II, a run-of-the-mill Cuban bakery somewhere near nowheresville, (I later learn it’s called Tamiami).


Handing my fate over to the lady behind Varadero‘s counter, I am summarily presented with a pastellito de guyaba. What a revelation. The flaky, unsweetened exterior gives way to muted, silky cheese. All fine and good. But then: the sweetish aftertaste of that mild queso suddenly bleeds—miraculously—into a gooey, ultra-sweet guava jam. Insane! At 75 cents, my blood sugar will be thankful that I won’t be able to find this in Montréal.

But I include this anecdote only to conclude that, subtle bonds aside, Montréal needs more Cuban food. While my stop at this and this Cuban cafeteria were both exceptional, it was that tiny bakery on SW 8th Street that truly tipped the scales.

More Cuban flavours on our frigid streets can only make this a warmer, happier, healthier place.


Miami beach

By way of weather or food, Montréal and Miami seem to have little in common. But, I happened to have a stopover in Miami for one evening last week. I thought I’d follow my gut. You see, my suspicion was that some kind of culinary simpatico must exist between these two towns. With little time to test my hypothesis, there was only one choice: deploy the Namesake Methodology. Here’s how it works:

1) Jot down the names of the first 5 Montréal eat/drinkeries that come to mind
2) Search for their Miami namesake over crappy, stolen WiFi at a South Miami strip mall
3) Visit as many as physically possible within a 6 hour window, in an economy rental car, during rush hour traffic
4) Compare and contrast their essential nature

The optional fifth step, which I’ll for next week is to: summarize your (mis)adventures into some kind of far-reaching pronouncement as to how Montréal should enrich its culinary landscape.

I’ll get to the bulk of my findings next week. The first journey of Namesake Quest yielded enough to whet the appetite for these subtle affinities.

Random test 1: Schwartz

Schwartz of Montréal is “world famous, serving the best smoked meat from the original recipe of spices since 1928,” and is demarcated by a large orange and black sign.

Schwartz of Miami flies under the radar, tucked away like a delicate flower in a hidden, gleaming patio.

Michael Schwartz Restaurant, MiamiOur smoked meat purveyor’s only namesake in Miami, it turns out, is also preceded by the first name of its founder: “Michael.” Yes, Chef Schwartz was apparently so rushed (or just so badass?) that he didn’t even spin celebrity-chef nameplay–so common in large American municipalities. (Think of the shudder-worthy Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in NYC, or Ramsay BurGR in Las Vegas).

No. In his bid to compete with suave South Beach elitesplaces with names like Meat Market, Zuvia, SLS and 660Mr. Schwartz seemed to just have said, “enough!” to all the vapid words. “Why not just copy the name on my passport onto the sign,” I imagine him thinking, “I’ll just ‘Restaurant’ to the top of the menu.” It’s the drabbest name in town. But it’s ingenious.

When I arrived at Restaurant Michael Schwartz, I’d already strolled past half a dozen half-empty lounges on the bouncy strip known as Collins Ave. Meanwhile, his venue was humming.

Entrance to Schwartz resto, at the Raleigh HotelSchwartz’ entrance is as inconspicuous as its name. Tucked behind unmarked glass doors at the back of the stunningly-preserved Art Deco lobby of the Raleigh Hotel, I completely missed it. I must have seemed so obviously Canadian to the valet boys: fumbling around the hotel environs, address in hand, marveling at the lack of deli signage.

Then there was the fact that I was arriving on foot (unheard of in Miami), in Birkenstocks (even more uncouth), hands hitched to my backpack (shudder!). It was a wonder they even let me into the lobby. But they did show me pity–once they had finished parked a pair of matching white BMW 5-series that appeared to belong to some fellow diners.

Unlike its St-Laurent sibling, tables at this Schwartz are located almost entirely outdoors. A small dining room opens up onto a vast terrace spilling over two deco-tiled levels that flank the original 1941 pool replete with chairs and vines à l’époque. And every table was packed.

Despite my aforementioned attire (I’d just come from a campground), an effervescent hostess guided me to a spare seat at the small bar.

Backlit with a deep yellow light, the wood-panelled drinkery was stocked to the hilt with a seemingly well-heeled selection of liquor. It appeared to hover in space, a backdrop to four (count ’em…four) perfectly-tanned male bartenders. The closest one greeted me with a refined swaggerthe not-at-all-unpleasant air of an establishment that has confidence and class. “What’s going on tonight, sir? What are we having?”

I was almost upset. I had wanted to hate this place so much.

The barman even avoided the natural up-sell (there’s a $25 martini and a $28 glass of merlot), pointing me instead to their more-than-respectable house ale…for $8.

When my bottle of “Michael’s Genuine Home Brew” arrived, I was sorta kicking myself for not ordering a cocktail. But once again, Miami Schwartz’ eponymous naming conventions proved deceptive: this ale had a nice tone and a sweetish nose with hints of fruit and molasses. It was followed up by a surprisingly bitter, but very agreeable finish. Yet another indication that the U.S. is becoming a craft beer mecca.

Instead of brisket, Schwartz Miami has ceviche ($13). I expected a few lonely morsels of fish, but was instead saddled with a cereal bowl packed to the rim with fleshy morsels of tilefish swimming with Florida orange segments in a no-holds-barred citrus sea. I like agressively-acidic ceviche, and this one had such fresh citric acid that I literally tilted the bowl up and finished every last drop. Cilantro and chili slivers topped the near-perfect dish. If only there’d been more of the latter (there was but two tiny red slivers), Mr. Schwartz would have surely knocked this one completely out of the park.

By the time my bowl was empty, the terrace was blanketed in diners’ chattera flurry of voices and chuckles left mostly naked to the wind. And such a welcome respite from the basslines pumped by the majority of its South Beach neighbours.

Warm refinement just oozed out of the place. The longer I sat by this cabana-style pool bar, inflected with a certain 1940s vigor, the more optimistic I began to feel about Miami itself.

To sum up: Miami Schwartz was contrapuntal to its Québec namesake in nearly every imaginable way: from décor to flavours to pricing to clientele. But its mastery of each of these ingredients produced a southern Schwartz that was just as true to its roots–the history and ethos of Miami Beach–as our own version is to Montréal.

Next week: the wrapup of the MIA-MTL culinary mashup wherein we visit bagel shops, Really Bad Brazilian Restos, and a dive bar…and propose that Montréal start offering more Cuban food to distract us from snowstorms…ASAP!!