Montreal’s famous St-Viateur bagel shop still rolling 60 years later

Montreal’s famous St-Viateur bagel shop still rolling 60 years later

Patrons line up to buy bagels, Sunday, May 21, 2017 in Montreal. St-Viateur bagel celebrated 60 years of bagel-making with a block party in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.

MONTREAL — Ask any Montrealer and they’ll tell you: the bagels taste different here.

Chewy, sesame-rolled and slightly sweet, Montreal bagels have become internationally famous — and as Joe Morena would say, it may be better not to mess with a recipe for success.

Morena’s store, St-Viateur bagel, celebrated 60 years of bagel-making with a block party in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood on Sunday, complete with music, games and, of course, bagels.

As on any other day, dozens of people at a time lined up outside the bakery to buy hot bagels, fresh out of the oven and served in brown paper bags.

While Montrealers will dispute which shop makes the best bagels in town (some are fiercely loyal to Fairmount bagel a few streets over), most agree it’s the distinctive baking process that gives the city’s bagels their taste.

“Since day one we’ve always made the bagels the same way — hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, dipped in sesame and baked in a wood-burning oven,” Morena said.

Since he started working at St-Viateur in 1962, Morena says he’s rolled bagels for Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion and William Shatner, among others.

He became an owner in 1974, and his three sons have since joined him in the business, which has grown to eight locations in the Montreal area including several cafes.

They also have an online site that ships bagels across North America.

The formula is also spreading in other ways, as a number of Montreal-style bagel shops have been cropping up in other cities — many run by former employees.

Irfan Khan, who co-owns a shop in Toronto, said he learned his craft working at a number of Montreal bagel shops including St-Viateur.

His Bagel Time shop on Danforth Ave. features a custom-made wood-burning oven, and his bagels are made following the Montreal formula — down to the exact amount of honey in the water, he said.

He said many ex-Montrealers have been showing up since he opened three weeks ago, excited for a taste of home.

“If you miss anything in the recipe, you can’t get the same taste,” he said in a phone interview.

One city that still does thing differently is New York City, whose citizens still prefer a larger, softer style.

But when asked to comment on the long-standing rivalry, Moreno stays diplomatic.

“They’re used to eating those big fluffy bagels that I don’t consider a bagel,” he said. “But they like their bagels, so who am I (to judge)?

The Canadian Press
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