4631 St Laurent Blvd.
Montréal, QC H2T 1R2
A vegan restaurant? In Montréal? Really?
Yes, yes it is true.
Aux Vivres has been kicking around the tourtiere-, duck-confit-loving city of Montréal since 1997. The restaurant is located on a bare stretch of Saint Laurent in the Mile End neighbourhood of the city and was the first vegetarian-friendly restaurant that I heard about when I first moved to the city. It was actually with Hilary that I visited Aux Vivres for the first time when we were both students and prior to her move to the U.K.
The restaurant is not only vegetarian-friendly, but it is entirely vegan. That is, you will not find any cheese, eggs, or even honey in the items on their menu. Aux Vivres also sources organic and local ingredients to keep with its environmentally-friendly initiative. Additionally, I have yet to spot a person wearing Birkenstocks or sporting dreads or reeking like patchouli oil during my visits to the restaurant. Instead, you will find patrons of all ages, including families with children, hipsters, and the decidedly non-cool people (that might be me) all congregating at this no animals harmed sanctuary.
Erecting a vegan restaurant in Montréal is both a smart and ballsy move. Smart because, in this city and culture that emphasizes le bon vivant (the good life), restricting your diet to plant-based food is a form of asceticism not welcome for many French Canadians. Here, you have (great) restaurants like Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef that have such menu items as “duck in a can” and “double down” — all various forms of foie gras, the very controversial and rich French dish which is the product of force feeding a duck to fatten its liver. Cruel, say animals rights activists. Delicious, say the French. So Aux Vivres is running against the current and is one of the meatless options for restaurant-goers in the city, capturing a minority market that is still relatively sizeable and devoted.
And as such, how does the comely vegetable match against the celebration/brouhaha surrounding meat-based dishes served in some of the best restaurants in Montréal? This is why Aux Vivres is ballsy. I am sure that, back in nineties when Aux Vivres first opened, they must have faced some disdain and doubts as to whether such a restaurant can survive in a climate of joie de vivre. Fast forward, sixteen years later, and Aux Vivres is thriving. The restaurant does not take reservations and should you wish to visit during peak dinner hours, you will be waiting in a line up snaking out the front door. (I do not recall ever waiting more than fifteen minutes for dinner, however.) Aux Vivres is very forward with technology with servers carrying portable tablets to punch in your orders. For a restaurant that serves a minority of Montréalers, it still manages to produce excellent food. I really mean this. I have visited many vegetarian and vegan restaurants in my native Toronto, but Aux Vivres blows them out of the water.
You may expect that, given a trapped clientele, a vegetarian restaurant operating in Montréal can get away with serving some mediocre offerings. (I find this very true here in Montréal for certain ethnic cuisines.) This is because Montréal does not have a hospitable environment for vegetarians. When I first moved to this city, I was shocked that I could not eat at any restaurant in the city due to my vegetarian-leaning eating patterns as most restaurants do not serve vegetarian main dishes. For friends who are vegetarian or vegetarian-leaning, I cannot emphasize enough to them that they need to double check a restaurant menu before making a reservation because the restaurant industry here is very European in its approach. This is in contrast to eating out in Toronto where just about every restaurant, save for a seafood or steak house, offers at least one vegetarian dish in its menu. All the time. Always. At every meal. But not in Montréal. Here, you ask about vegetarian items and the maitre d’ will respond in the style of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Oh, that is OK. I make lamb.” It soon occurred to me that I was spoiled in Toronto where 95% of restaurants cater to vegetarian patrons because there is so many of them!
Therefore, when I discovered Aux Vivres, I sat and poured over the menu for way too much time. There were so many options. Honestly, I am happy with having one option on the menu that is edible for Lucy standards, and I am completely fine with that. But at Aux Vivres, the array of choices can be consuming for the vegetarian or vegan. Aux Vivres even has vegan desserts, in addition to the sandwiches, burgers, rice bowls, salads, and some ethnic offerings such as seitan souvlaki and chickpea curry. As expected, Aux Vivres also serves an array of organic tea, smoothies, freshly pressed juices, and even weekend brunch. Oh, and they deliver. How great is that?
Therefore, I whole heartedly recommend Aux Vivres, even for non-vegetarians if you enjoy some vegetarian meals, and having a large choice of healthy menu items. Not that all items at Aux Vivres (or all vegetarian food) do the body good — their rich desserts and frites are cases in point. My visits to Aux Vivres has always been with non-vegetarian friends who are able to appreciate having meals without meat for whichever reason it may be. And sometimes that includes taste, because vegetarian food can be tasty. Aux Vivres is certainly a testament to tasty vegetarian food. Drop by to do the body, your taste buds and environment good.