Montreal’s Mile End hosts many outstanding cafes and restaurants, but most locals shed some tears when Sardine closed last year. Tucked into a small nook a few blocks from Boulevard St-Laurent, the cafe had become a second office and meeting place for many neighbors with a mix of good coffee, quick breakfast, interesting music, and laid-back ambiance.
After a few months' dormancy, the space has been taken over by Larry's, the newest project from the group behind the restaurant Lawrence, literally next door, and Boucherie Lawrence. Owners Sefi Amir, Marc Cohen, Annika Krausz, and Ethan Wills have put Keaton Ritchie, one of Montreal’s most respected baristas, in the role of manager. So it’s not surprising that Larry's serves some of the best coffees in town.
Those who knew Sardine might be surprised with the new decor—the space is now much brighter, with white brick walls and a retro-style ceramic mosaic. The old (very old!) counter area has been simplified and painted in a pale shade of grey with a new wooden serving space. The small kitchen is still hidden at the back of the restaurant, although a large opening in the mosaic allows the customers to spy on the work of Chef de Cuisine Jessica Mallette and her team.
Larry's is open from 8 a.m. to late at night and the menu, written on a large black chalkboard, is both very complete and eclectic. Mallette and Cohen, Lawrence’s chef, have worked to put together a selection that allows all sorts of liberties. “The idea is to have a wide variety of small plates and more ‘robust’ items that can be served at every hour of the day,” explains Mallette. “The basic menu is adapted throughout the seasons in order to serve the freshest products. And since the brunches are very popular—there are line-ups in front of Lawrence every weekend—we made sure to have many breakfast items on the menu.”
There is also a fine selection of pastries prepared each day at the Boucherie.
Ritchie, who had previously worked at Lawrence, adds: “People can come here at every hour of the day for a coffee, a drink, a quick snack or a full meal. And we encourage a more adventurous approach with all sorts of plate combinations and also a wine and beer list that offers many original products.”
Back to the coffee side of things, Ritchie and his staff work on a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine, serving a selection of beans from Portland’s Heart Coffee Roasters. “Along with Ethan [Wills], we choose their coffees because they’re really good, but also because I’ve had a long and very close working relationship with them, dating back to my time at Myriade,” explains Ritchie.
Although the cost of importing Heart’s products has risen a lot in recent months, Ritchie thinks it’s important to serve distinctive coffees at Larry's. “We also considered working with 49th Parallel coffees—and we would like to serve Canadian-roasted coffees eventually—but we decided to go with a more unique offering.”
After many participations at the Canadian Barista Championship (he was third in 2014), Ritchie has taken a break from high-level competitions. Working at Lawrence and now at Larry's broadens his experiences and it’s interesting to see that many staff members have gone through the same route.
Larry's is much more than a cafe, but the quality of its coffee testifies for the rest of your foodie experience in that cherished space of Montreal’s Mile End.