You already know poutine, the cheese-curd and gravy comfort food. No? Someone needs to take a trip to Montreal. But poutine is only the beginning. Stacked smoked meat sandwiches. Arguably, better bagels than New York (easy, New Yorkers, we said arguably). Ice wine. Soft cheeses from provincial farms. Craft brew a plenty.
Who’s Ready for a Food Tour?
Founded only a few years ago, ‘Round Table Tours (Tours de la Table) is already Montreal’s number two activity on Trip Advisor. It is popular not only with tourists, but hard-to-impress foodies who live in the city.
Maybe it’s because tour owner and operator Mélissa Simard is bright and personable. Or maybe because she takes visitors to “forbidden” places – behind the kitchen, into neighborhoods well off the tourist track and to food production sites. Or maybe it’s her long list of accomplishments: A degree in Canadian Studies from McGill University and a diploma in professional cooking from St-PIUX. Winning “Best Female Entrepreneurial Project of Montreal” in 2013. A history working in top restaurants.
‘Round Table Tours is definitely doing something right. Whether you’re thinking of organizing your own tour group or looking for a good food tour, take a cue from Simard.
The Lightbulb Goes Off
Simard got the idea for the tours after cycling from Seattle to California, popping into eateries along the way. She felt burned out from years of working in restaurants and the trip provided a much-needed break. “I thought, this is so nice, people should do it all the time,” she says.
An idea was born: exceptional food tours with a rare look behind the scenes. Get guests in the kitchen and talking to chefs. Go to breweries and tea shops, to chorizo producers and rooftops to explore urban farms. It’s the unexpected, the underground, the “how it’s made” stuff that resonates with people.
Many food tours offer an overview of the region, small bites with a heavy dose of history and attractions. ‘Round Table Tours does it different. Simard wants her groups to “come in with an open mind, see things they’ll never see.”
According to Simard, the tours focus on important, iconic food that shaped the city. A taste of the Iberian Peninsula by way of Spanish tapas, Portuguese petiscos and Basque pintxos. A sampling of Montreal Jewish food from family-owned diners, delis and bagel factory. An eat and ride that explores Montreal’s emerging food truck scene. For the hungry but health conscious, there’s the Living Table Tour, which zeros in on the city’s green scene.
Tour-goers can expect the equivalent of a seven-course meal. “No one leaves hungry,” Simard says. Or thirsty, we suspect as most tours include wine, tea or coffee.
In-depth knowledge of the culinary scene and long-standing connections to the restaurant world helped Simard create her vision. But as the saying goes, anything worthwhile comes with challenges. Like many tour operators, Simard has extensive knowledge about her passion – food, but no prior business experience. “I don’t have a business background. It’s been trial and error,” she says. And she’s busy, running at least three or four tours a week, six in the summer.
As for expansion? Simard would like to set up ‘Round Table Tours in other cities, perhaps in British Columbia or maybe in one of those hamlets dotting the Quebec countryside. But there are no immediate plans. “We’re still growing in Montreal,” she says. If you’re headed to La Belle Province (lucky), find the tour for you.