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City, Food

Métro Roulette: Préfontaine

Posted by John / June 10, 2006

station.JPGI had a vague awareness of the Préfontaine station prior to this visit (thanks to occasional green line trips to Pie-IX to watch the Expos or to feed the cats of some friends who had chosen to live in the eastern fringes of the city), and thus I knew it was squarely in the middle of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district. A perfect opportunity, then, to seek out poutine, which, according to science, gets better the further east you go. Oh, and to explore the neighbourhood, of course.

An hour or so after doing some pushups and eating a salad in preparation, my sister and I stepped out of the train into the naturally-lit space of the Préfontaine station. This stop was part of the subway expansion constructed for the 1976 Olympics, and thus incorporates a lot of function-as-art notions of concrete use, but in this case successfully. A large atrium opens over the tracks and mezzanine above, while red metal fixtures hang over the platform, which is complete with modular walls with built-in benches. The best feature, in my opinion, is the corrugated-looking concrete abutment to which the payphone is attached at the metro's exit .

Anyway, poutine beckoned, so we went outside.

Préfontaine station sits at the northwest corner of a large park. Hochelaga St. is the northern boundary, and in this area at least, it's a failed avenue, so wide that the commercial buildings have a suburban feel. From the outside, the cost of having a naturally-lit station is clear -- a rather hideous, modernist (I'm guessing), yellow metal and glass structure sprawls over 100 metres or so of the park like an abandoned greenhouse project. Most of the neighbourhood around the station is built up with typical Montreal triplexes and duplexes, and so the streets don't look much different than the Plateau. It's the less permanent things that make the difference: the lack of hipsters; a preponderance of depanneurs where the signs suggest Labatt 50 is still the most popular purchase; those canopied slider-ottoman things that old people like to rock back and forth on; 5 and 1/2 apartments being rented for $650, etc.

clownexpress.JPGIt's also the home of a place called Clown Express. You know, a clown service. They send clowns all over the province -- certified clowns. Presumably to scare children, but we're not sure; we looked at numerous photos in the window, but it was hard to tell what their real purpose was. Eventually we began to imagine a whole gang of clowns emerging to find out why we were so interested in their storefront and getting rough with us, so we left.

This brings us to Ontario St., the commercial soul of the district, the shop-lined artery through which the capitalist spirit flows like ... never mind. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is often portrayed as the city's poorest district, and in spite of some signs of gentrification, Ontario St. would seem to bear this out. Dollar stores, pawn shops, stores that sell ensloganed t-shirts and cheap belts, and greasy spoons make up the bulk of the enterprises along the section we decided was within the boundaries of Préfontaine metro (roughly from Préfontaine St. to Joliette St.), with a mid-sized Armee de Salut as the hub.

boob-ashtrays-small.jpgIt was on this block that we found the breast ashtrays. They can be found in a curio shop-/head shop run by an Asian family that sells bamboo plants, rasta-with-doobie figurines, sex toys, candles, samurai swords and desktop relaxation fountains (among other things). I wanted to borrow their music, too, which my sister described as Hawaiianized elevator music. If You're Going to San Francisco sounded particularly great.

A bit further down the street, we noticed a vintage jukebox in the display window of an appliance store. As we strained to see what songs were on it, and whether it was for sale, I noticed a framed black-and-white nudie pinup on the wall behind it, hung from an electric stove element. Nudity everywhere! Breasts! Where would we be safe from Ontario St.'s rampant smut?

poutine.JPGThe answer, of course, was Davidson Lunch, a classic greasy spoon with naugahyde-cushioned booths, a neon Labatt 50 sign and a vague aroma of failure. It was difficult to choose our poutine destination; the orange-and-white kitschiness of La Québécoise was only a block east, while La Belle Place was just two blocks west, with other less-deserving-looking joints in great number in between. But Davidson's sign noted that it had been there since 1954, and since the other restaurants offered no date, we could only assume that Davidson was the area's fried-food patriarch.

We were not disappointed, and I'm confident in putting that day's poutine in my top 5 all-time list. Very crispy fries, possibly lightly battered (which some object to, but not me), well-crumbled curds, and an adequate but not excessive amount of gravy, the darkness of which is probably the factor that prevents this poutine from reaching the top of my rankings.

It was only later, as we walked down to Ste. Catherine St., that we stumbled upon what surely must be the greatest poutine destination of all. Called simply "Restaurant," with a half-dozen tables inside and a sign offering a child-sized poutine for $1.90, it displayed all of the crucial characteristics of a perfect venue. Alas, we each had ordered and finished one of Davidson Lunch's largest size not long before, and I am thus obliged to admit that I have failed you, readers.

I offer this photograph of Restaurant as proof of its existence, and though I have failed, I am convinced that someone else can continue this crusade.



Hannah / June 10, 2006 at 12:19 pm
Nice. Are you sure 'Restaurant' wasn't serving child poutine (you know with baby curds), instead of a child-sized portion of poutine?
J Mac / June 15, 2006 at 01:23 pm
Hmm. Good point. Perhaps the police car in the photo was parked there while someone from the infanticide squad asked questions inside the establishment. Cmon, cops, they're <i>babies!</i> They're practically vegetables, still, like shrimp or mussels. Is eating them really a crime?
djt / June 16, 2006 at 12:09 pm
Good way to promote child obesety...
John is a jerkwad / June 16, 2006 at 12:57 pm
Yes, you gave a whole paragraph to the station and 3 paragraphs to the "neighbourhood" - only you gave 0 relevant information about the area. If you cared so much about indian food, you would have mentioned the fact that there is an indian restaurant 2 blocks from the metro. Paltoquet for example has the best croissants in the city, pendelis and van horne pizza are institution, paris beurre is one of montreal's best kept secrets. there are numerous shops, parks, and a very diverse street life that you completely ignore. the indian restaurants of jean talon are certainly NOT walkable from Outremont Metro. One would have to go down McEachran to rockland to Jean Talon. By foot, that's like an hour walk.... then theres bernard, that's a completely different story. You make no mention of the numerous cafes on both van horne and bernard, the fine dining, and the simple pleasantries of a stroll through the neighbourhood

you might as well tell people that lionel groulx is right beside the downtown shopping district
Eriquita / June 18, 2006 at 07:01 pm
i don't care what anyone says... i've found the best poutines served at La Belle Province, and Valentine's. Granted, the latter is absolutely grease-soaked with so much gravy it's the soup that eats like a meal, but really, I've talked to purelaine Quebecois who swear up and down about the ones served at McDos. It's an uphill, french-friend battle.
Martin / February 4, 2015 at 01:21 am
ENFIN !!! Bon de9barras. Bebye, les taudis !Cela dit, malgre9 la vinelurce de mon commentaire, je crois qu il serait pertinent de conserver une maison de ce village-champignon – en guise de relique d une e9poque significative – quitte e0 la de9placer e0 cf4te9 du futur mane8ge militaire.+++Par ailleurs, j espe8re que les prometteux et l arrondissement en profiteront pour ab pie9tonniser bb le boulevard Mochelaga.Le citoyen me9rite mieux que des micro-trottoirs de9fonce9s et des cages e0 poule de9connecte9es de la trame urbaine.Peut-on faire en sorte qu il soit agre9able de marcher de la route de l c9glise jusqu e0 l universite9 : grands trottoirs borde9s d arbres, commerces de proximite9 – ce qu il est impossible de faire sur le boul. Laurier ?

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