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The St-Henri Throwdown: Les Gourmets Presses vs. Cafe Saint-Henri

Posted by Amie / January 17, 2011

The St-Henro Cafe Throwdown: Les Gourmets Presses vs. Cafe Saint-HenriA good coffee and muffin west of the great Atwater gastro divide? It's true! At the newly opened micro-roaster Saint Henri, Jean-Francois Leduc of Caffe in Gamba on Parc roasts and grinds his carefully selected beans. Except this isn't the only café in the neighbourhood where you can grab a decent espresso; for years, nestled away on St-Jacques, Les Gourmets Pressés has been turning out cappuccinos and lattes with their home-made chocolate cherry muffins. Laptop-toting, coffee-drinking, muffin-loving St-Henri-ites may now find themselves with some (literally) hard decisions to make on where to park their derrières.

The Criteria: Coffee, Atmosphere, Food and Baked Goods

Sure, just east of the Atwater coffee divide there's the incredible Lili & Oli, in the Atwater market itself there's Brulerie Aux Quatre Vents, and just west of Atwater there's the long-standing popular brunch spot Café Joe, but Leduc's Café Saint-Henri marks the first true coffee shop in the heart of St-Henri. No sandwiches. No soup. Just coffee...and, well, baked goods.
Coffee Roaster at Micro-Torrefactor Cafe Saint-HenriBest Coffee: Café Saint-Henri. Leduc's coffee philosophy and background speak for themselves:

"5 seconds more or 5 seconds less in a coffee roaster and the result will be the same: you fail in both cases," he says, and you've got to understand the characteristics of coffee to know how to get what you want out of it. Leduc certainly understands the beans.

In 2009 representatives from the sustainable and fair-trade coffee importing co-op Cooperative Coffees asked him to do a training program to become a "taster" for their company. The company imports coffees for 23 artisanal coffee roasteries in Canada and the US. He did the training, then more training, and while he was doing this he was also a finalist in the Canadian Barista Competition, later becoming a regional and national judge for the same competition. So he had the knowledge, the coffee-making skills, and good tastebuds.

Then he went traveling. Cooperative Coffees sent him to coffee farms all over Central America to make connections with growers and learn more about the lands where the beans were growing. He eventually trained the farmers about what he (and customers) were looking for in terms of quality coffee.
The (Wall) Art of Coffee at Cafe Saint-HenriAt Café Saint-Henri he selects beans from the different farms he's visited and grinds them himself, creating coffees that showcase exactly what he personally wants to bring out of the beans. You can buy his freshly ground mixes at the roastery in the St-Henri neighbourhood, or you can sit in the café for hours and linger over a beautifully-made espresso-based beverage. Or both. Probably he would tell you to do both.
Pews at Cafe Saint-HenriWhich brings us to Best Atmosphere: Café Saint-Henri

The bean roaster is on display in the back, and if the smell wasn't enough from just the grinding, the roaster ensures that the caffeine-soaked air intoxicates you. The sleek counter display and wooden furniture stick out like a sore (but beautiful) thumb on rue Notre-Dame West, but they're what make this place so attractive on a quiet morning or afternoon. There's Wi-Fi, of course, and you have the choice to park yourself on either a comfortable chair or a less-than-comfortable church pew. Most rightly choose the chairs, but the wooden pews give character to the café. I'll admit I was impressed before I realized how impractical they were.

Best Food and Baked Goods: Les Gourmets Pressés

Les Gourmets Pressés is much more a lunch bistro/caterer than a coffee shop, so when you need a little more than a cookie with your coffee you want to come here. Yes, they have Wi-Fi, a good espresso machine, and home-made muffins, but they don't have the big front windows and people-watching opportunities of Café Saint-Henri. Les Gourmet Pressés also doesn't make you want to linger through the afternoon with a good book or even a coffee friend. It does make neighbourhood workers and residents want to come for lunch from their daily-changing menu that includes braised chicken with tomatillo and garlic confit on tagliatelle for $14, duck confit on salad for $11.50 ($14 if you add garam masala-spiced potato wedges), or my personal favourite vegetarian moussaka with eggplant and lentils - a tomato-based instead of béchamel-based moussaka with a nice balance of salt from the olives and Parmesan and sweetness from sun-dried tomatoes and onions. Students and rushed workers in the area come for the sandwiches (saran-wrapped up to go) of goat cheese, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, marinated mushrooms and sweet balsamic reduction with grilled almonds or grilled chicken, homemade chipotle mayo, bacon, and aged cheddar ($8.77 as a sandwich, just under $10 as a salad).

Still, I'm not convinced the bistro gets enough traffic to survive on lunch service alone and it closes at 7pm. So most of their business seems to come from business lunch catering in the area and from their Old Port counter sister restaurant where hungry workers grab a coffee and muffin to go and avoid seats and pews all-together. But the St-Henri location of Les Gourmets Pressés has an extra reason to come for lunch - a very interesting wine list. Wine at Les Gourmets PressésOkay, I know not a lot of people reading this are going to come for lunch here because they have an interesting wine list, so I asked the server if a lot of people order wine with lunch, and yes, apparently enough do to justify the list. There are also regular tastings, which is definitely unique for a lunch spot. The wine list changes regularly and is at the whim of the restaurant owner, a Montrealer with a wine passion who gets a lot of the bottles by private import instead of from the SAQ shelves. The week I went the options included a good sampling of Western Europe with 2 reds, 2 whites, and a rosé from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal including a Cote-de-Rhone Feuilles de Garances 2008 for $6.50 a glass. Other options were going for just $4.50. We're not talking Golden Kaan Cabernet Sauvignon here either; these are decent, and if you go with the house wine "discovery of the week" for just $5.50 you could get a real bargain.

Wasn't I writing about food?
Muffins at Les Gourmets PressésIn terms of just baked goods, it's a tough call between Les Gourmet Pressés and Café Saint-Henri. The catering kitchen at the former turns out a wide selection of muffins including chocolate cherry or the savoury-sweet peanut-peach. The peanut is more cake-like than muffin-like since it looks like a mini-loaf and has a ridiculously smooth texture, but the mild peaches make the muffin loaf moist and the un-roasted peanuts are soft and chewy. Café Saint-Henri, however, has also done well, recruiting Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery for the savoury scones, cookies, and muffins. You won't find sandwiches here, but no need to starve. Sugar is a food group, right? You need to try a chocolate mint cookie or an apple, cherry, and orange muffin. If there's anything there with squash in it, buy it, trust me. Her savoury options involve sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, cheddar, and/or basil, so they're good if you just want a snack instead of the similar sandwich option at Les Gourmets Pressés.Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery at Cafe Saint-HenriYou may remember Sweet Lee's from such places as the Verdun farmer's market, Cupcake Camp Montreal, and the Concordia Sustainable Food Fair. She definitely one of the nicest people in the baking world and recognizes repeat customers, especially ones who are as obsessed with her molasses cake with butternut squash and ginger as I was. You can also get a croissant with your espresso at Café Saint-Henri, but for options and variety, Les Gourmets Pressés takes the cake.

Les Gourmets Pressés also used to do brunch, but there wasn't enough foot traffic in the area. In 5 years you can probably expect that to change, especially if more independent businesses like Café Saint-Henri keep moving in. The barista at Café Saint-Henri said he doesn't like the term "gentrification," but he does admit the neighbourhood is changing. He insists, however, that there's a big difference between having a Starbucks in the neighbourhood and an independent business like his café. So until they can't afford the rent, both Les Gourmets Pressés and Café Saint-Henri will be there, serving the students and business people in the area who, for now, can afford to splurge on a home-made muffin and some of the best coffee in the city. It'll be interesting to walk through the neighbourhood in 10 years...Cafe Saint-HenriCafe Saint-Henri
Where: 3632 rue Notre-Dame Ouest West
Hours: Daily, 7:30am-8pm

Les Gourmets Pressés
Where: 3911 St-Jacques West
Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-4pm


Discussion

29 Comments

nico / January 19, 2011 at 09:36 am
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I just wanted to say that Sweet Lee`s Is one of the most amazing Bakers in Montreal, the Raspberry Tobleron Cheese cake is one of my favorites. Especially the chocolate mint cookies.
Keep up that Hard work.
Liana / January 19, 2011 at 02:41 pm
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Thanks my darling Nico, always appreciated! I do believe your truffles and biscottis to be simply divine!
Thom / January 19, 2011 at 09:38 pm
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An other to add to the list of amazing bakers in Montreal: SweetSassofrass: a newbie, but with great passion & promise.
claudia / January 21, 2011 at 01:06 pm
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You`ve got to try Sweet Lees` divine cheesecakes, the wonderful triple banana cake, the sweet muffins, the savoury scones - actually try everything! There`s so much variety available and so hard to decide on a favorite! It all goes super well with a great coffee.
Sharon / January 21, 2011 at 01:11 pm
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Sweet Lee`s is by far the best!!!! You will become addicted to the baked goods. A must try for EVERYONE!!! Keep up the great work!!
Amie / January 21, 2011 at 01:39 pm
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Thom,
Where is SweetSassofrass? Is it open yet? What would you recommend?

Liana, Does Sweet Lee's make the enormous brioche or cinnamon roll-type sweet I saw at Saint-Henri yesterday? Or do you think they get them from whoever does the croissants? I didn't ask because I got lost my espresso...
Sara D / January 21, 2011 at 03:47 pm
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Sweet Lee's is the bomb, literally. All of her goodies, from cookies to cheese cakes explode with flavour in your mouth. It's great to see local, young entrepreneurs, with amazing products who are not afraid to jump, head first, towards their dreams.

Sweet Lee's should be on everybodies 'something new to try' list. You will not be disappointed.
Genevieve / January 21, 2011 at 05:01 pm
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Cookies,muffins& baked goods Oh my!!!! Sweet Lee's Rustic bakery,is the best thing to happen to Montreal in a long time!so long Premier Moisson,& all other chain bakeries,& say hello to real,made with love scrumptious goodies!!!
Liana / January 21, 2011 at 05:19 pm
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Thanks for all your awesome comments guys, but I would like to mention that both Cafés offer amazing espressos and great ambiance. Gourmets Pressés has a wide selection of wines that pair really nicely with their lunch options and it is a great place to have a nice meal in St. Henri. I worked there for three years and will say that it is a nice option not only for the food, wine but for the great team behind it!
I am also very happy with the new addition to St. Henri with the Micro Torréfacteur and we are extatic to be a part of it!
Liana replying to a comment from Amie / January 21, 2011 at 05:21 pm
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Amie, Sweet Lee`s provides all the baked goods that St. Henri carries and we appreciate the comments in the article!
Dorothy / January 21, 2011 at 06:19 pm
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I live around the corner from Gourmet Presse. That is where I first tasted Liana's awesomly delicious, absolutely the best in town...muffins, cookies and more. Liana now owns a company called Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery.

If you see Sweet Lee's in stores, you gotta purchase it, or you can contact Liana directly.

One of my fav's is the chocolate banana bread, and top it with Maple ice cream. Heavenly.
Jennifer DiMarco / January 21, 2011 at 08:15 pm
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I have had the divine pleasure of tasting Sweet Lee's Rustic Bakery's food many many times! My family and I have never been disappointed! They also cater meetings, events and more... Enjoy!
Thom / January 23, 2011 at 10:01 pm
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Amie, I'd recommend SweetSassofrass' Marshmallows (They're unbelievable) But I think he only bakes for private events... For now.
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