I have, for many years, bought swar from Patisserie Royale in Toronto. It’s akin to pistachio baklava, but something about the form factor transforms it into something far superior – crunchy, sweet, flaky, buttery, and so very good. So it was with much delight that I discovered that there are two well-known Beiruti and Lebanese patisseries in Montréal that offer this delight: Patisserie Amal Bohsali and Patisserie Mahrouse. Not only that, but each patisserie offers some rare regional specialties – ma’mouls and k’nafeh with cheese in ka’keh (a sesame bread) at Amal Bohsali and karabij at Mahrouse. I also decided that on our way back we would stop at Le Glacier Bilboquet, as they serve a frequently-recommended maple taffy ice cream. And so it was that we set off on an afternoon tour of the Montréal suburbs.
Located in a strip mall across from the Adonis shopping complex, the Beiruti chain Amal Bohsali is surprisingly large. White walls gleam in the afternoon sun, and long glass counters frame a very wide aisle. Disappointed that we were too late for the morning single servings of k’nafeh, we opted to not get the half-kilo take-away slices offered. But stacks of phyllo pastries and cookies on trays beckoned, so we snagged our swar and one of each available ma’moul. We parked ourselves at the front window counters for eat-in customers (we were the only ones), and observed others buying pastries by the kilo.
Though happy to try the ma’mouls, I found they didn’t stand out. Of the three we tried, I thought the walnut was best – balanced both in moisture and taste. The date-filled one was nice, but a bit too sweet and the pistachio ma’moul was very dry. Having sampled the cookies, we moved on to the swar. Less syrupy than I’m used to, the swar packed a lot of pistachio flavour, despite having lost most of its fresh-ground topping in the bag. Upon further inspection, tucked within the phyllo core lay ground roasted pistachios that added that extra nutty oomph. While I still prefer Patisserie Royale‘s slightly more syrupy version, Endy quite preferred these less-sweet versions. Of course, neither of us had any trouble eating seconds.
Our small stash consumed, down the road we went to Mahrouse. In contrast, a very much smaller and cramped shop with no room to loiter. The shopkeeper seemed a bit appalled we were ordering by the piece instead of by the kilo. With our swar, baklava and karabij in hand, we headed out to wait for the bus to our next destination. Sampling our goods in the shelter, we found that, like the ma’mouls, the karabij was a nut-filled, dry cookie. There was a lot of similarity between the two pastries and our reactions to both were also similar. Interesting to have tried, not really something we’d bother with again. The baklava and swar were both daintier than the ones we had seen earlier, and the swar was much more syrupy – too syrupy, in fact. I found that of the two I’d had that day, Amal Bohsali‘s swar, dry with strong pistachio flavour, was superior to the drenched phyllo I’d just consumed.
Our bus arrived and took us another few kilometres back in to downtown Montréal. We hopped off at our stop and made our way to Bilboquet. We were there for one reason only, and ordered ourselves a mini-cup each of the tire d’érable ice cream, finding amber chunks of maple taffy in the creamy white scoops. While not a revelation, the ice cream was a lot of fun to eat and try. The taffy was sticky and chewy and so very maple and was set off by the simple vanilla. It was a fun experience in the festive atmosphere of the city celebrating the sap just starting to run.
Finding ourselves with some extra time, we decided to make a stop at the Dieu du Ciel! pub and brewery. Knowing we had a late dinner ahead, we ordered a plate of regional cheeses. Accompanied by olives, nuts and a small loaf of bread, this was a very satisfying snack. While the beers we chose (Equinoxe du Printemps, a maple scotch ale and the Rosée d’Hibiscus, a blonde with hibiscus flowers) weren’t terribly compelling, they did go nicely with our snack. And on that sunny Friday afternoon, over beer and cheese, we watched the room fill with people trying to find a place to enjoy the first hours of the weekend.
- Pâtisserie Amal Bohsali 1420 Rue Sauvé Ouest, Montréal, Québec
- Pâtisserie Mahrouse 1010 Rue de Liège Ouest, Montréal, Québec
- Le Glacier Bilboquet 1311 Avenue Bernard, Montréal, Québec
- Brasserie Artisanale Dieu Du Ciel! 29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montréal, Québec
More photos from the day!