In Montreal, every neighbourhood has at least one little bistro open comfortably early for a leisurely breakfast, reasonably late for a nightcap and nosh. Brunch on Saturday and Sunday is a lengthy reservations-recommended affair; such eateries are packed from 10 in the morning to nearly 3 in the afternoon.
For freelancers working from home, such places are a boon. They provide welcome respite from isolation and an excellent venue for client meetings. For nearly ten years now, my favourite spot, my headquarters away from home, has been the Le café Petit Flore on Fleury East in Ahuntsic.
Unlike many parts of the city, Ahuntsic has the sleepy feel of a village.
A working class neighbourhood shared by young families and retirees, the restaurants and shops along Fleury East attract an older clientele during the day. Upscale bars are rare, old-timey taverns with decrepit pool tables are the norm.
Dull, you say? Yes, at times.
Then again, peak meal times are shorter in Ahuntsic and, off peak, you can always find a table. Not so on the Plateau, in Mile End or any neighbourhood near a university, where armies of laptop wielding students and independent workers colonize tables around the clock.
The Petit Flore takes its name and inspiration from the Café de Flore, a Paris landmark and iconic gathering place for the literary and artistic elite that once drew the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre. I have not seen any obvious existentialists hanging out on Fleury, however, the ambiance of the bistro does hearken back to an era when time moved a little slower and flâneurs frequented cafés along the grand boulevards.
Music of the great French and Québécois chansonniers is always on tap. The specials of the day are listed on an ardoise, a blackboard, in white chalk. Wait staff, both men and women, wear traditional black brightened by a tie. The wine list is extensive; trained sommeliers are on hand in the evening. For breakfast, in addition to standard North American fare, diners can enjoy a lighter continental choice. For lunch and dinner, menu offers a range of traditional bistro food—croques, omelettes, sandwiches, hearty soups and fresh salads—or more elaborate confections worthy of an haute cuisine label. In summer, an awning shades tables set up on the sidewalk in front.
Aside from the food, drink and careful design inspired by nostalgia for a bygone era, it’s the people who work at the Petit Flore who keep me coming back.
Whatever my reason for a visit—to take a break, to read the weekend papers, to entertain a client, meet with colleagues or share a meal with a close friend—the staff makes me feel at home. As a regular, they regularly treat me as a VIP. And after ten years, I truly feel a kinship with the gang. So, hats off to Alex, Alexandra, François, Jean-Nicolas, Marie-Ève, Mark, Maxime, Naïnouk, and Rose, and the owner, Stéphanie Bouchard, for making Le café Petit Flore a cherished landmark in my life.