While the Mile-End may come off as a part of town that’s packed with cafés and restaurants — spaces well-suited to students and business meetings alike — there’s few that arguably make the attempt to synthesize these elements into one space. This informs the inspiration behind Boxermans, run by Eric Berlin and Jade Fortin Côté (both of whom worked at Loïc and the long-defunct and infamous student bar Korova) with Sean Murray Smith (Les Deux Singes de Montarvie) behind the menu. Jade has put together the wine list, having worked behind the bar for restaurants like Marconi.
Having lived in the neighbourhood before, Jade stresses that she was relatively hard-pressed to find a place that’s similar to what they’ve created at Boxermans; a bistro that’s open throughout the day and functions as both a café and place to dine out, something that functions as a space both formal and informal. Essentially, created by the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood. This desire feeds into the name, titled after a depanneur Eric’s grandfather had owned and operated down the street from its address.
This past week, Eater spoke with the owners and executive chef on the eve of their grand opening (June 23rd) to learn about Boxermans’ backstory, and to get a sense of what Outremont and beyond has to look forward to.
What’s the service going to be like?
Eric: We’re trying to do a good, honest, bon-prix meal at the restaurant that’s located down the street from you; the kind of place you pop in, eat a cheap meal, come out satisfied and you want to come back. We’re going for that feeling you get from a neighbourhood place you’re happy to be in and out of for 30 minutes after good wine, beer or coffee, and say ‘I dig it.’
Our menu is going to go all day. The idea is that it’s weekend-friendly in terms of the brunch… we’ve got an all-day breakfast sandwich, some smoked fish and smoked mussels, but when I say ‘brunch’, I mean that because of our opening hours. You can come here throughout the week. The day begins with pastries and little sweets, our sandwich, with the kitchen opening at 11 a.m.
How did you and Jade come about the decision to open this place? You two have worked together, correct?
Eric: I used to be at the bar Korova. I was a managing partner there for two years, and we hired Jade. I feel deeply in love with her, as one does with Jade. Afterwards, I was exhausted with working the late nights that come with a student bar, being the guy who was taking care of plumbing issues at 4 a.m. and staying overnight to make sure the place doesn’t flood.
After that, (Jade and I) did something crazy: We bought a one-way ticket to India and did the Everest trek, all that nonsense. Then we were broke, and said ‘what do we do?’ We heard that Australia had decent wages, and didn’t want to come back to Montreal for the sake of coming back to Montreal, and therein lies the story where this came about.
Jade worked at City Wine Shop in Melbourne, and I (in turn) fell in love with coffee as a barista at The European. It’s one of those local institutions, with everyone from politicians to students and famous AFL players coming in.
So, when we came back to Montreal, Jade and I started to work at Loïc for about a year, with Jade moving on to Marconi after. Meanwhile, I took over this old antique shop that was a complete disaster when I came in. Everyone thought I was insane; it was more of a hoarder’s home than anything else. I explained to friends what I wanted to do, and they’d tell me ‘well, good luck.’
Who designed the space?
Eric: We had the help of Kyle Goforth. He was behind the design at Loïc, and that’s how we met him. He’s a really talented individual who graduated from Concordia only a couple years ago. It was a match made in heaven; he wasn’t freaked out by the space, and we started demolition immediately on the space back in February.
Great. Let’s talk about food for a moment here. Sean?
Sean: Well, I’m the executive chef, coming in to check on quality control and stuff, and while I’m still preoccupied with Les Deux Singes, I had a lot of faith in Eric and Jade and couldn’t pass (this) up. If I hadn’t done anything done with this place and looked back, I would have regretted it. It’s been a wild ride so far, or so my horoscopes have told me. Eric was really into the idea of the old-school deli and community spaces, (something) not too different from Snowdon Deli.
It’s endearing to see new restauranteurs looking to open places that want to develop a history, as opposed to the next Big Thing. What inspired that?
Sean: While Boxermans has a new feel to in the design department, we wanted to do something that’s affordable. Eric wanted to make sure that anybody could come in and enjoy themselves. I went with ingredients like arctic char from Quebec that we’re smoking and curing here, with a blanched salad of spinach and kale with an herb dressing and sour cream; herring caviar with a little floret of pickled red onions; smoked mussels and our charcuterie with meats we’ve imported from Italy and cheeses from Quebec, plus a smoked cheddar from Prince Edward Island.… Classic flavours that are presented just little differently, with a special menu that includes more conceived.
I don’t want to say we’re taking anybody’s idea with this space, (particularly) when thinking of menu items from places like Larry’s with their potatoes in beef fat with aioli, but they’ve inspired me to do something different by serving wedges with a lemon-pepper spice mix I’ve made, served with a smoked herring mayo.
Tell me more about the special menu.
Sean: It’s an eight-item menu. If we get the crowd we want in here for lunch and dinner, we want to start making daily specials. For example, we have Quebec asparagus here right now that we’re turning into a cold soup, but at the same time we’re thinking of preparing it as a breakfast or lunch item. It’s a good way to keep everything fresh.
The nice part is that everything that’s à la carte will pair nicely with the special menu, so you can come in for a cinq à sept and pick and create our own menu from there.
Where are you finding your inspiration for your food?
Sean: It’s hard to explain. Even at Les Deux Singes, I find it hard to describe my food.
Sean: Because it’s kind of creative, and I have a lot of influences. I don’t consider myself to be an expert in Italian or French or Japanese cuisine, but I love all of them and I try to take inspiration from all of them. It’s possible I’m going to come out with a new dish and it combines all three of those backgrounds.
For people that might be wary of visiting Deux Singes because of its (focus on) fine dining, this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and Eric’s opened that door for me. It’s my flavour profile in a lot more of an accessible environment. There’s no tasting menu here, you make your own.
It’s what’s casual that you’re thriving on here.
Sean: Yeah, but in a way, (Boxermans) makes that better. There’s so many things that I eat in my prep, when I’m doing stuff at Deux Singes, and I say ‘wow, this is so good. Why can’t I just serve it on its own?’ Now I can do that here, and that’s one of my favourite parts of this whole experience.
Finally, could you tell me about the wine list, Jade?
Jade: The wine list is going to be really accessible, like our food menu. We’re going to have bottles starting from $30 to $100, satisfying everyone, from (aficionados) to my student friends. We’re doing private importation as well as selection from the SAQ, because it’s right next door. For me, SAQ is doing a really good job providing us with different producers, so I want to keep doing both. We’re keeping a really open mind to that; whatever I taste that I like. For sure, aperitifs and digestifs are going to be Italian for the most part.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Jade: We encourage people to come and use the space as an office or meeting ground for the day and enjoy free wifi, the terrasse, plugs for laptops and finally, enjoy great coffee.
Boxermans is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Thursday to Monday, closed on Tuesday, and limits their hours on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Follow Boxermans on Facebook here.