994 Rachel St. E.
(Christophe Colombe/ Lafontaine Park)
It doesn’t have to be poutine week or hamburger week in Montreal to enjoy Restaurant La Banquise. Open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week; it can be enjoyed anytime, all year round. It may be popular with the local student crowd, but people from all areas come here in droves. You will always find a line up of sorts but it’s worth the wait because anything you order here is better than most of any Montreal hamburger joints.
La Banquise was started by Pierre Barsalou in 1968, a firefighter from the Lafontaine Park fire station across the street. He leased the shop after a fire damaged the property and he was looking for something to do on the days he had time off. He first started serving Ice cream and then added hot dogs, hamburgers and french-fries. In the 70’s they added poutine after one of his employee’s returned from a trip from the Warwick ,Quebec located in the Arthabaska region and famous for their cheese festival. He had tasted a dish of fries with cheese curds and gravy at a roadside casse-croute, and asked Pierre to replicate this dish. The poutine was born at La Banquise and it is still one of its best sellers.
Today La Banquise is run by Pierre’s youngest daughter Annie Barsalou and her partner Marc Latendresse. In 2006, La Banquise expanded to add another dining area, which displays its artistic creative side with its different wall art and tree branches cascading from the ceiling. Very original decor I must say. Moreover, it has become a mecca for poutine lovers from far and wide. Even tourists have heard about it and trek to this part of town to try from their list of 30 variations of poutine.
I liked the vibe at The Banquise from the moment, I stepped into the place with Brains, & Gonzo, my two dining pals for this evening. The wait in the front was long, but it went quickly. From this angle the place does not have much ambiance, with its take out counter in front and its long open kitchen on the side, it looks like any case croute, narrow and tight. Once inside we were seated in another dining room that was wide and spacious.
Gonzo and avid junk food eater did not complain at all this evening. Even the short wait did not displease him. He looked around and waited, he seemed to be in junk food heaven. Brains loved the young student vibe and it was upon her recommendation we try La Banquise tonight. The staff here is quick and keeps the place buzzing within minutes we had our order.
After quickly scanning the menu, I ordered La Matty Poutine for $8.50; it came topped with bacon, green peppers, mushroom and onions. And I ordered the Classic Banquise Burger at $ 4.25 and a cola.
The poutine was a mound of fries with toppings and cheese curds and the right amount of gravy. Its taste reminded me of pizza toppings, except the fries serving as the carbohydrates. It was one of the best poutine’s I have tasted in a while, aside from those gourmet poutine’s I have had at fancy restaurant with foie gras but that came at a hefty price tag. But at the price I was paying at La Banquise, this was worth more than every penny and beyond. The Banquise burger was tasty as well, served with fried onions and mushrooms, topped with Swiss cheese, tomatoes and lettuce and a spicy sauce it was not only juicy and moist the buns were super fresh and it contained the right amount of condiments. Not overly packed or messy.
Brains had La Taquise poutine at $ 9.75. If you are having the Mexican cravings this is the way to go. Served with generous portions of guacamole, sour cream, and typical Mexican toppings it was not only original but divine. Too much for Brains to finish we had to help her out.
Gonzo played it safe with his usual Cheeseburger trio for $7.95, but was very pleased with it. It too he said did not fall short of expectations.
We loved La Banquise, from the music blaring over the speakers, which we were told is chosen by the staff, to the latest new food creations. Even the art that hangs on the walls is a display of a consort of their creativity.
There is a feeling of a free-spirited atmosphere here which has probably contributed to its success over the years, especially among students and people in their 20’s, who make up a large part of the clientele. But the feeling also transcends from young to old as you can see the clientele includes families, which we saw plenty of this evening.
We left happy and satisfied and vowed to return again, maybe hamburger week! But those poutine’s are decadent and a MUST TRY. La Banquise did not make it on Montreal’s -30 classic iconic restaurants for no reason; there is always a good reason behind all the madness. I say it’s the poutine, addictive…