It’s true that Montreal’s newest secret favourite restaurant is anything but a secret anymore. But while it’s tempting to relish the speakeasy vibe of Chuck Hughes’ beautiful basement Le Bremner, we really oughta share. Because a night out here spotlights something that makes this city great: Chuck Hughes—but not just his celeb factor, which is a little weird considering the chef-turned-TV-star still works the line in both his restaurants when he’s not off shooting his new TV show. Rather, go for the food and the vibe: Homey and inventive soul food, Montreal-style…
Chuck Hughes, as everyone knows, is the Montreal restaurant scene’s very own wild child. Once a busboy at glam Le Globe on St-Laurent, he then opened Garde Manger, favourite hotspot stopoff for clubbers in Old Montreal. He became TV spokesman for Hellmann’s Mayo, then became only the second Canadian to win Iron Chef (he beat Bobby Flay!), got his own Food Network show, Chuck’s Day Off, caters for backstage rockstars and their entourage at Osheaga every summer (I saw him doing dishes just hours after making Elvis Costello a poutine), and just wrapped shooting in Mexico on his new TV show for Cooking Channel (in the U.S.) and Food Network Canada.
But what Chuck loves best is being in the juice (a Montreal term for being very busy in the kitchen!) and I suspect he opened Le Bremner for a chance to get back to basics after his runaway TV-star success and the packed scenesterliness of his flagship restaurant, Garde Manger.
“I love to work, and so it’s important to me to be able to always be looking for new challenges,” he says. “We wanted to open a place that would have a mellow buzz, you know, where people would like to hangout, and where the menu could be a bit refined.”
He and his partner, James Baran, and their kitchen staff want to cook good food for old and new friends in a gorgeous, cozy space in a historical neighbourhood, every night of the week (pictured at top with matching tattoos that read 275, the perfect temperature at which to fry their signature pommes allumettes, or matchstick fries) So that’s what happens at Le Bremner.
Named after Alex Bremner, a mid-20th-century construction baron in Old Montreal, Chuck’s new place is across from the Bonsecours Market, on beautiful, cobblestoned Rue Saint-Paul. Identified only by a pink neon sign that reads “Restaurant”, you find it mostly from the human sounds and heavenly smells coming from the 40-seat dining room and 25-seat terrasse. Both of these are beautiful spaces in which to chow down (in the dining room: original beams, mood lighting, and sumptuous banquettes, while the cozy, verdant terrasse is heated year-round.)
Order food, and let yourself get carried away on the menu, which is organized into sections–Chilled Items, From Outside, Bread & Cheese, From the Stovetop, From the Broiler, Vegetables, Dessert)—keeping in mind that the dishes are meant to be like “large appetizers”—2 or 3 per person can be the norm. The raw section is especially prodigious, because Montreal has great seafood, which is a theme throughout the menu. A trio of tasty piles of crab kimchee on chewy rice cakes is a great Asian innovation, while their cheeky sardine cheek and asparagus with a lemony dressing) take on a portugese panela (frypan) was especially fishlicious.
Some of the dishes are straight-up, stone-cold comfort food—a Naan-bread pizza with daily-rotating toppings (we had rapini, mushrooms and lardons, yum) and a sumptuous lemon-curd filled strawberry shortcake, and you’ll be ready to happily curl up in the belly of the Chuck’s expanding food empire, which is, quite rightly, one of Montreal’s worst-kept secrets.
Le Bremner, 361 Saint Paul Street East, (514) 544-0446