One nice thing about Montreal hamburgers is that no one can agree on what constitutes authenticity. The lard-soaked blob at LaFleur? The grilled elegance at La Paryse? Everyone definitely has their own favourite “authentic” Montreal patty. This helped in my unscientific but arterially-enriching quest into what makes an ideal Montreal hamburger.
Starting at the bottom was a natural jumping-off point, so I stopped by La Belle Province.
La Belle Province, from outside
Here the burgers are not just a labour of love, they are just a labour. A shine of drippings coats the drooping “bun” as it nestles uncomfortably within its waxy confines, and its interior companions are equally distraught. The patty, such as it is, pokes out from between its green and yellow compadres, wishing it were anywhere else. Well, the news is bad for both of us: it’s about to be eaten.
Onwards and downwards. A rendezvous at a branch of the LaFleur oiligarchy initiates an unfortunate meeting with the “all-dressed” burger – an aliment more suited for roving plains animals than for us bipedal folk.
La Fleur burger (and hot dog)
A friend urges restraint. “There’s no need for the ‘Original Lemon Mint’ Emetrol. There’s always Copoli.”
There is no false modesty at Copoli, which bills itself the home of the “Biggest & Most Delicious Burger in Montreal.” In the interior of the takeout menu is a photograph of a disc-shaped object that spans the two interior folds. “THE ABOVE IS THE REAL SIZE!” screams an accompanying arrow. A friend advised me beforehand to “bring a ruler.” I told him I would be bringing a camera. “No,” he said, “bring a ruler.”
Copoli is a not quite a sitdown joint but neither is it a greasy spoon. It does not make gourmet burgers but neither are they wrapped in wax paper to go. And this is an Italian place. There are many things on the menu besides burgers, including the usual dramatis personae of Montreal junk food joints: pizzas, wings, “Crazy bread,” souvlakis and submarines, poutine ... I have often wondered what would happen if 200 people wandered in at the same time and wanted one of each.
I opt for the star of the menu, the 8” Copoli bacon-cheesburger (with a side of fries, for correlational research). The aspect ratio of this improbable behemoth when it arrives is quite mesmerizing; the mind rebels in concert with the real victim here, the stomach.
The thing is quartered. The roll tastes like a cross between a thick-crust pizza and focaccia, and it turns out that’s pretty much what it is: the owner bakes it fresh each morning. The actual burger has been steamrollered to about a quarter-of-an-inch thickness, allowing lots of room for the fresh leaf lettuce, American cheese, pickles, bacon, mayonnaise and yellow mustard. It is definitely not a Big Mac, but it is nonetheless appetizing, in the same sense that spaghetti with a bonito-cream sauce might be. With this burger, a ruler is not necessary; it’s a gurney you’ll need.
A visit to La Paryse starts with an initial peeve-o-metre quotient of 6.5 at being forced to stand in the narrow entryway at 6:15 p.m. on a weekday, waiting for a table. About 10 minutes later, we enter the somewhat worn interior, and only after a Boréale Rousse arrives at the cramped, lopsided metal table do I settle down to a comfortable level of crankdom.
For a place trumpeted citywide as having the best burgers in Montreal, the choices sure are slim. The only cheese available with your burger is mozzarella. If you don't request otherwise, your burger will be served with raw mushrooms. Inside, not on-side. I am becoming muchly predisposed to hate this burger.
When it arrives, I marvel at its spastically off-centre assemblage and defiantly vertical proportions. This is the best burger in Montreal?
La Paryse - Regular avec bacon
A tentative first bite is unremarkable, but soon the odd, pita-like texture of the misshapen bun and the lissome crunch of the dill pickle, mixed with the irregular grind of the grilled beef, the green-crisp lettuce and the tangy mayo-mustard dressing, begin to hijack my tastebuds. The mozzarella stays on the edge of the action, unobtrusively boosting the mouthfeel. “Not bad,” I mumble to no one in particular. “Not bad at all.” Just my luck. Heavenly authenticity discovered in a rundown burger joint. -- Reviewed by Chef Nick
- La Belle Province
- La Paryse