Pedro Medina grew up on the second floor of a triplex on the Plateau. His grandparents lived on the ground level — and a trip downstairs was inevitably accompanied by a meal.
“Even if I ate two hours ago, I had to eat again,” the Portuguese-Canadian restaurateur tells Eater. “We love food, and we love treating people to food.”
Fittingly then, Emilia, Medina’s latest brainchild is an enterprising ode to his origins. The Portuguese cantina, which opened in August, is a partnership with Kevin Henriques, Rui Pereira, and Tony Khoury, and serves classic specialties with a local twist. The best part: It’s located steps from Jarry Park, in Villeray.
“What’s better than Portuguese chicken in a park...in Montreal?” Medina asked. His question remains unanswered.
Emilia, named in honour of Medina’s mother, is a quaint and familial place. Black and white photos of Medina’s parents, grandparents, and other relatives hang in plain sight. “I think it’s good luck,” says Medina. The cantina’s walls are made to look like elaborately-painted Portuguese tiles, called azulejos, part of the 20 seat space’s design work from Plateau firm Espace 313.
For food, Emilia offers tried-and-true classics; grilled chicken, chorizo, and pork cutlets, all in varying combinations. But unlike some Portuguese grills a few kilometres south, the focus here is on sandwiches. Papo secos (Portuguese bread rolls) are filled with the above-mentioned staples, and garnished with cheese curds, semi-hard São Jorge cheese from the Azores islands in the Atlantic, and house piri-piri sauce.
Some more innovative takes include a Portuguese hotdog, a grilled cheese and a chorizo omelette sandwich, inspired by the breakfasts Medina’s grandmother used to make for him. For dessert, Emilia offers more richness with Nutella, or peanut butter natas.
Medina is no novice when it comes to Montreal-style Portuguese food. In 2013 he co-founded Ma Poule Mouillée with chef Tony Alves, the Plateau’s beloved counter-service Portuguese grill known for its out-the-door line ups and proximity to Lafontaine Park.
“I wanted to get my feet wet in the chicken business,” says Medina, “which I did, and [Alves] taught me a lot.” Medina and his partners at Emilia are also involved in L’Oeufrier, the Québec breakfast eatery chain.
But Emilia, according to Medina, is the project he’s “always wanted to do.” In devising the concept, he didn’t just look to Ma Poule Mouillée and other local Portuguese grillades. He went to the motherland.
“I go to Portugal once a year,” he says.
Medina is especially drawn to Lisbon, the capital and largest city, where young chefs appear to be pushing the boundaries of their national cuisine. Traditional flavours and cooking methods are being applied, according to him, to just about anything.
“They’re not doing something like they were doing ten years ago, They’re innovating, They’re preparing it differently, different ingredients,” he says. “It doesn’t mean it’s not Portuguese anymore.”
This could involve a refined version of the porky bifana sandwich, made with more tender porcelet, or giving the traditional side cover of cheese at a Portuguese meal the deluxe treatment, converting it to melted cheese with honey and truffle oil.
It’s that kind of playfulness Medina seems to be channeling here, with a fusion grilled cheese given an extra twist by being made with cornbread, or a Portuguese chicken and waffle dish.
Still, Medina’s family serves as his greatest source of inspiration. At some point, at home, he began putting parmesan cheese on grilled chorizo. His kids loved it. Hence, Emilia’s grilled chorizo popcorn, topped with parmesan and served in a waffle cone — unintentionally designed for a stroll in the park.
“The Portuguese here have stuck to the same thing, when there’s a lot more to [see], and that’s what I’m going to try to do with Emilia,” Medina says. “I want to show you a different part of how Portuguese [people] eat and how you could eat.”
STATUS — Emilia is open at 7901 St-Dominique Street from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
- Emilia Cantine Portugais [Official]