Long before I moved to Montréal, one of my earliest memories of visiting the city was when my family I rode on one of the horse-drawn carriages in the Old Port (Vieux-Port or Vieux-Montréal in French). I was about seven years, had my hair fashioned up in pigtails, and clutched my favourite stuffed animals along the cobblestone streets, making for a bumpy and rugged carriage ride. I also remember thinking the buildings looked funny because they were unlike anything I had seen in Toronto with their grey stones and lofty windows that lined the narrow roads. And after my first encounter with baguettes, I fell in love with the assortment of these heavenly carbs at my disposal in this strange French-speaking land.
Two decades later, I relocated from Anglophone Canada to the French Canadian province of Québec, and I found myself feel a natural pull to the Old Port from my downtown apartment. I rediscovered this historic neighbourhood and became hooked on the bakery and café called Olive+Gourmando (“Olive et Gourmando”), a sister business to the very successful restaurant Toqué! I had done some online sleuthing and figured out that Olive+Gourmando was a place to visit for breakfast fare, sandwiches, and baked goods. Well I love breakfast, sandwiches, and baked goods so I made a beeline to this café, only to be met with long lineups at all hours of operation.
Olive+Gourmando is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesdays to Saturdays, but whatever time you decide is probably down time and the best time to pop in, no matter. This place is packed. And by packed I mean there is a line snaking through the interior from the front door to the ordering counter and back to the cash register, and then there are the few brave patrons patiently waiting for a spot at one of the few tables in the small lobby area, and then there are the remnant visitors standing outside the café hoping to be called inside. And the menu items go fast; I recently dropped by during the weekday to grab the Viva Las Vegan sandwich ($9.50 CDN) for takeout, which I had heard so much about, and had hyped up the melded flavours of marinated tofu and hummus in my head. However, by 1 pm the sandwich was already sold out. Disappointed, I decided to go for one of their salads instead and settled on their Salad #24 ($15 CDN) that tossed together soba noodles with cilantro, peas, and tofu.
Yes, their prices are a bit on the steep side but Olive+Gourmando gets aways with it because the quality is excellent, consistent, and the demand is high. For breakfast and snacks, they offer a range of baked goods produced in-house, including cookies, bars, muffins, and croissants. Other breakfast items include egg sandwiches, granola and yogurt, and homemade ricotta. For lunch there are an array of sandwiches to choose from, Le Cuban being the most famous (braised pork, pancetta, Gruyère cheese, chipotle, pickles, lime and mayo), in addition to the soups, salads, crab and shrimp roll, and mac n’ cheese. Coffee is brewed fresh, and drinks include San Pellegrino (flavoured), sparkling water, and even wine by the glass. And for a Montréal institution — Olive+Gourmando is really elevated to that status — they offer two vegan options which is unheard of in this city amongst mainstream restaurants.
Most patrons are coming in to order takeout, and like the majority I took my salad out to one of the many park benches in the neighbourhood. The salad size was substantial but not overly so, and the sweet onion vinaigrette was mild and happily matched with the crisp summer vegetables and tofu. This was my fourth time visiting Olive+Gourmando, and despite the long lineups and high prices, I was happy and well satiated. Is it worth the trip down to the Old Port and the lineup at this café for takeout? Absolutely. But drop by right during lunch time to avoid seeing your favoured menu item sadly singled out with the Trop Tard! sign — or Too Late! in English. I still hanker for that Viva Las Vegan sandwich.