This used to be a link to my article in the Montreal Mirror from last April (2012), but when the Mirror closed, the site went down. So here’s the full article. It may have been edited before publishing, but I think this was the final version.
It’s lunchtime in Pointe St-Charles. Just a few years ago that could only mean greasy pig’s knuckles, greasier Indian, or greasiest “patates” from one of the handful of neighbourhood casse-croutes. But with condo construction and start-up tech companies come gourmet burritos, quinoa salads, cocktails, and brunch, or so believe the owners of Café Cantina Taqueria. Welcome to the new Point.
From 11:30am-2pm daily Café Cantina is hopping with customers tucking in to baskets of homemade tortilla chips and salsa, quesadillas, heavy-weight quinoa salad with lime-cumin vinaigrette, and “naked” burritos – tortilla-less chicken, beef, carnitas, or roasted sweet potatoes with sour cream, avocado, and black beans on (sexy) brown rice – listed on the hip chalkboard menu above the open grill.
Lunch business is booming, but how did a couple from California think a tex-mex restaurant would work in the Point? “It was a gamble,” says co-owner Marianne while the other owner, Pierre, mans the grill and calls for a spoon to heap the slow-cooked shredded chicken onto some not-so-scantilly clad burritos. “Friday lunchtime is packed with workers from the Nordelec building,” she continues. “Saturday brunch is picking up. It’s mostly young families who come for breakfast burritos, granola, smoothies, home-made pastries, and to read the paper.”
“Brunch? Really?” asks real estate agent and neighbourhood resident Stefanny Fodor as she pays for her food. About sexy tex-mex in the Point, she says, “I love this place and the area. I moved in three years ago and you can really see the change – all these new restaurants and local businesses.”
Each morning the 107 and 57 buses from Charlevoix station are standing room only for the 4-minute ride to the Nordelec building at rue Shearer at Centre. Once owned by the Société de Développement de Montreal, a small business incubator, the building is home to over 200 software, graphics, communications and textile companies including Zoom media and Hype Energy Drinks, all of whose employees seem to love tex-mex.
Across the street from Cafe Cantina Taqueria at Restaurant à la Fine Pointe the express lunch is in full force. Three servers work the much larger space, serving office workers and locals alike who come for bacon, eggs, fèves au lard, and bottomless coffee. The revamped menu with its wider selection and lighter options is set to compete with the new restaurants in the area. But some customers don’t like the change: “It’s too expensive,” says a patron smoking outside a party at the restaurant last Saturday night.
The basic egg breakfast still goes for less than $6, though most of the breakfast combos that come with coffee, soup, and dessert (optional beer replacement) are more expensive than Café Taqueria’s $8.95 giant, quality burritos. But if more customers chose jello or pudding over beer La Fine Pointe could pay their increasing rent through dessert profits.
Other long-established Point lunch options include Quebec Smoked Meat Inc. for medium-fat sandwiches, and Charcuterie Wayne for old-school European pizza and apple cake. Empanada emporium, Mesa Latina, on Island and Richardson has been around for nearly a decade, serving affordable lunch specials and alfajores for dessert in its shoebox locale. New Duo Bistro Express next door to Café Cantina, though not as packed, is cashing in with quick pasta specials and Portuguese flan.
And instead of a mass exodus at the end of the workday, office workers head for pricey pints and freezer-fabulous wings at the Taverne Urbaine. It’s the only option for beer and grub since La Fine Point’s breakfast-with-a-beer special ends at 3pm.
There will be plenty of business to go around since residential construction in the Sud-Ouest is booming. Since 2001 the housing committee of the organization Régroupement Economique et Social du Sud-Ouest (RESO) has worked to maintain the Sud-Ouest’s socially diversified demographic. They aim to minimize transition costs for low-income residents by “managing the area’s revitalization according to the principles of equitable development”. That includes obliging new, residential projects with at least 200 units to reserve 30% of those units for affordable housing, half of which should be social housing.
Since social housing units are permanently taken out of the market, they won’t be directly affected by the Point’s revitalization or rent increases. ”Some social housing units are allocated to low-income people whose is always geared to their income – 25% or 30%, which may or may not include heating,” explains Damaris Rose of the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique. “In social housing that isn’t rent-geared-to-income rent can go up, but there’s no profit motive, so they don’t go up as quickly as in the private sector.” But while social housing rent won’t be greatly affected, Rose says that “the inflation in house prices in the Point has now made it impossible for long-standing residents to even think about buying there themselves.”
Unlike the luxury condos on the north side of the canal by the Atwater market, the condos on the Pointe St-Charles side are designed to not stick out like a sore thumb, and to remain relatively affordable to entice the young family demographic of condo-buyers. And according to Montreal en Statistiques until the re-opening of the Lachine Canal in 2002 for recreational boating after closing in 1970, the population of the Point had been in steady decline. And according to Rose, revitalization can have its perks. “An influx of middle-class consumers can bring in new services that potentially have a wider benefit, e.g. new supermarket,” which is a service that the Community Coalition of Pointe St-Charles, Action Watchdog, says the food desert could use.
Back at La Fine Pointe, a regular from Nordelec’s neighbouring Mokko visual effects studio is explaining his love for the place: “I always order the same thing, I like the Indian place, Bombay Tandoori, down by the Charlevoix metro, but it’s too far to get there and back over lunch.” Fortunately, Masala Cuisine just opened next to Café Cantina last week. Both the relocated North Indian restaurant/cooking school of Ilyas Mirza and a new Portuguese rotisserie set to open in the adjacent building see the area as prime restaurant real estate.
Mmm…Tastes like economic development, sweet potato burritos, and overpriced strawberry jello.
Café Cantina Taqueria
1880 rue Centre 514-903-3511
Restaurant à la Fine Pointe
1791 rue Centre
1871 rue Centre
Quebec Smoked Meat Inc – 1889 Centre Street
Cafe Mesa Latina – 2047 Richardson
Charcuterie Wayne – 1766 Centre Street
Duo Bistro Express – southwest corner of Centre and Shearer