La Bête à pain
Discover the gourmet destination inside Must Société Griffintown
You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer place in town to think about buying a sofa. It’s also a popular draw for the many locals and tourists who come to explore Griffintown, the city’s buzzy new ̒hood and hipster neighbour to Old Montreal. Then, of course, there’s the lively eatery imagined by Marc-André Royal, the visionary chef with an impressive resume and unwavering dedication to the quality of his ingredients (impeccable) and the experience he wants to offer his customers (pleasant and unpretentious). Let’s rewind. The growing trend of creating hybrid locales — such as a bakery, café and restaurant rolled into one — is a practice Marc-André has been perfecting for more than 10 years. After opening his Ahuntsic-area restaurant Le St-Urbain in December 2008, one thing quickly became clear: the in-demand chef could not get his hands on bread that was good enough to meet his high standards. Knowing no one could serve the restaurant better than himself, Marc-André entered the bakery business. “On a whim! Since I didn’t have the space to bake my bread on site, I bought the bakery next door,” he says. And so, the first Bête à Pain was born, giving Marc-André the chance to cater to hungry customers across the board — from the people who simply want to pick up a baguette to bring home to those looking for a quick bite at any time of day. The concept was a hit, and his bakery quickly became a must-stop destination on Fleury Street West. What’s more, both St-Urbain and Bête à Pain are considered key players in the revitalization of the western section of the Fleury Ouest commercial strip (which has since acquired the nickname “FLO” now that it’s been sufficiently gentrified).
In 2016, Maison Corbeil invited Jean-Marc to take part in the development of a new concept store, Must Société Griffintown.
In 2016, Maison Corbeil invited Jean-Marc to take part in the development of a new concept store, Must Société Griffintown. Coincidentally, the chef was quite familiar with the neighbourhood and already had a keen interest in it. “Working as a chef at the private club 357c (located on De la Commune Street in Old Montreal) for four years, I spent a lot of time in this area, before all the towers went up, and I saw the full potential of the sector,” he says. Where an abandoned warehouse and loading dock once stood, Marc-André saw a blank canvas and the opportunity to create a bespoke kitchen and restaurant.
“I drew the plans myself, with all of the technical aspects, even the fridges,” he says. Once feature that was particularly important to Marc-André was the open-concept kitchen. “It gives customers the opportunity to see how everything is made,” he says, adding, “The bread is baked in front of them!” The rest of the decor he envisioned was simple, inspired by the industrial past of the neighborhood and the building itself: discreet tables and seats, painted brick walls, oversized windows accented with metal and a neutral palette, all coming together to ensure the breads and pastries, punctuated by coloured ceramics, are what catches customers’ eyes upon arrival.
So, is it a bakery that serves meals, or a restaurant with counter-service baked goods? The answer is a bit of both, but make no mistake: the crossover between bakery and cuisine does not extend to how the food is prepared. While the bread pros focus on their specialty, “it’s cooks, not bakers, who cook here,” says Marc-André. His stint at Michelin-starred establishments surely explains his high standards for even the most casual of meals. Here, the highlight is made-to-order sandwiches served on freshly baked bread (often emerging from the oven only an hour or two before landing on the plate). There are vegetarian options, but also cold cuts (including bresaola) and smoked salmon, both made in house and supplied by Le St-Urbain. It’s quick-service food with a focus on quality. “We always use the best ingredients,” says Marc-André, who also makes of point of using seasonal products whenever possible. In the summer, for example, you can order a simple tomato sandwich, “but the best tomato sandwich!” he says, adding, “also the best olive-oil ciabatta with fresh Quebec mozzarella and basil leaves.” Complementing the menu is a nice list of affordable wines. A simple recipe for taming any hungry beast.
Marc-André’s Address Book
The chef is also an avid traveler, and Paris is one of his favorite places to find inspiration. Here, he shares two of his top spots in the French capital.
— Pâtisserie Michalak
The incredibly innovative pastry chef Christophe Michalak now runs a café slash pastry shop, which features a sweet and savory menu that includes his famous Kosmiks (verrines) and Klassiks (Paris-Brest, millefeuille, pavlova), along with salads and sandwiches.
60, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, Paris 10e / christophemichalak.com
— Septime Le Cave
“A stylish wine bar, where you can enjoy black-truffle toast with smoked butter.”
3, rue Basfroi, Paris 11e / septime-lacave.fr
“After years of experimentation in pastry making (when often looks took precedence over taste), we are witnessing a return to traditional, gourmand-style pastries: religieuses, mille-feuilles, chocolate eclairs…”
Whole grains are also growing in popularity. “People are looking for a nutritious but modern bread, not like the heavy kinds from the 1970s. Our multi-grain loaf is very popular!”