home Restaurants Sprucing up the hot dog

Sprucing up the hot dog

Paul Patates serves dogs with a snap, tons of fries and a spruce beer that pulls no punches

by A.J. Kinik

What happened to the famed Montreal hot dog? It’s not like there’s a shortage of hot dogs in Montreal or anything, but is the hot dog still as central here as it used to be? I mean, would anyone in their right mind still bring their Montreal-situated novel to a close in a hot dog stand/amusement centre modelled on the Montreal Pool Room the way Leonard Cohen did when he wrote Beautiful Losers? Forty years ago, somehow that made perfect sense. Now, not so much. Was it the advent of the pogo? Clearly the pogo was no exterminating angel because the steamé didn’t exactly disappear, but maybe that cornmeal-encrusted aberration unsettled things just enough.

The Montreal hot dog might not be quite what it was, but it’s good to know that there’re still some true believers out there because, let’s face it, sometimes all you really want is a good hot dog. Nothing fancy, just a good hot dog and some fresh-cut, old-fashioned fries. Preferably from a place that’s got a little character. Preferably from a place that’s not part of a chain. And if they brew their own spruce beer, you’re talking a true Montreal powerhouse.

For over a century, the granddaddy of them all was the legendary Restaurant Émile Bertrand on Notre-Dame. Then, in a transfer of tradition and know-how worthy of the Habs’ famous parade from the Forum to the Molson Centre in 1996, the Bertrand spruce beer recipe made its way through St-Henri, across the Charlevoix bridge and into Pointe St-Charles, to Paul Patates. With almost 50 years’ experience under its belt, Paul Patates was already no slouch as a casse-croûte and local institution—becoming the new home of the Bertrand spruce beer was just another feather in the Roy family’s cap.

If you’re a spruce beer fan and you haven’t tried the Bertrand recipe, you’re in for a treat. It’s not as sweet as other brands on the market, and it’s long on that distinctive pine taste—it’s also more highly carbonated than other brands and needs to be opened with caution. If you’ve never had spruce beer before, you’re in for a hell of a surprise. Even a generic spruce beer can be a little too bracing for first-timers—Bertrand spruce beer pulls no punches. Try it. It’s really the ideal old-time accompaniment for most of Paul Patates’s offerings.

Now, I know this is heresy, but I prefer my hot dogs toasté—for one thing, I find it gives the dogs more “snap”—and Paul Patates has one of the finest toastés in town. They don’t make their own hot dogs and they use commercial mustard and relish, but they’re prepared with care and their all-dressed numbers come with excellent homemade coleslaw, and just that alone is enough to distinguish them from the vast majority of competitors. Order the Trio #1 and you’ll get two steamés, a mountain of fries and a spruce beer (or other soda of your choice) for the low, low price of $5.50 (a buck more for a couple of toastés).

Paul Patates’s Michigans are made in the true Montreal style: not with spicy chili, as they tend to be south of the border, but with a meaty, homemade spaghetti sauce that’s got strong hints of oregano and basil (Trio #2: two Michigans, fries, soda, $7.50). Meanwhile, their club sandwich ($8.25) is notable for being a great bargain—one that includes a side of that amazing coleslaw, a pickle and a veritable Magic Mountain of fries—and for featuring bacon that’s actually freshly fried, as opposed to that dried-out, overcooked junk that desecrates your average club. And, lest you have your doubts, not only does Paul Patates make some seriously great fries (what do you expect from a place called “Paul Potatoes”?), but they make a mean, extra-squeaky poutine ($4.75).

And if all that wasn’t enough, Paul Patates doubles as a soft-serve crèmerie. This means they serve cones and that they make their own super-sized ice cream sandwiches, but it also means they’re one of the last remaining places in town where you can get a spruce beer float—one made with artisanal spruce beer, no less.

Paul Patates
ADDRESS: 760 Charlevoix
PHONE: (514) 937-2751
HOURS: MON–SAT, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
BEST FEATURES: All-dressed hot dogs,
homemade spruce beer.
CREDIT CARDS: Cash and Interac
PRICE: Lunch for 3, $25
RATING: ***1/2 OUT OF ****