It was 2015 and surrounded by fast-food chains and signs that said A LOUER in N.D.G., Jonathan Dresner decided that an upscale burger restaurant was missing.
“Not just any classic burger joint though,” Dresner recalled. “We set out to create a fun, intimate restaurant which would immediately become an integral part of the neighborhood, and a destination for tourists and people from all over Greater Montreal.”
The appropriately dubbed Notre Boeuf De Grâce (https://www.notreboeufdegrace.ca) was an instant success and expansion happened quickly today there are nine locations (NDG, Downtown, St. Laurent, Pointe-Claire, Laval, Terrebonne, Le Village, Le Plateau and Saint-Jérôme) and one more in Blainville on the way later this summer.
Notre Boeuf De Grâce locations grind top-quality fresh beef daily on-site and sometimes twice a day. They order local ingredients and make almost everything in-house, from fresh-cut French fries, homemade sauces, house sodas, shakes, house beer and their handcrafted, signature cocktails.
Dresner also owns the Pigeon Expresso Bar downtown, the trendy new Pigeon Café on Monkland in NDG and is part of the groups which operate the plant-based restaurant and bars called Hello 123 and Kupfert & Kim and the new vegan burger shop Burger Fiancé in Old Montreal.
Like all other restaurants in Quebec, Notre Boeuf De Grâce has had to focus on take-out and delivery almost exclusively for more than the past year. There is also weekend brunch from 9 am to 3 pm, with some of the items from that menu available each day.
There are variety of salads to choose from via the “In the Beginning” portion of the menu, as well as such items as chicken wings, bacon wrapped dates, potato skins, fried pickles, fried cheese curds, grilled asparagus and fried calamari with lemon aioli. I sampled the latter at my last pickup and it was outstanding.
“The Other Side” of the menu contains barbeque ribs, mac ‘n cheese with ribs, hamburger steak, club sandwich, fried chicken strips, chicken Caesar wraps, fish ‘n chips, grilled cheese, the veggie dog and the DG (Dame Good) Dog – a Hebrew National all-beef hot dog with bacon, onion, fried banana peppers, ketchup and mustard, served with fries and a pickle. I can vouch for the latter, which was also included on our list.
There are different variations of sides and poutines to choose from as well.
Of course, if you are going to experience Notre Boeuf De Grâce then their burger creations represent the big draw. I ordered the Cheese-US. This was outstanding and took me two days to eat. It consists of two six-ounce beef patties, bacon, grilled cheese buns, cheddar and American cheese, lettuce, pickle, onion and ketchup sandwiched between two pieces of Challah – so basically a mega-grilled cheese sandwich with all the fixings. You can also ask for a special bun or a lettuce wrap.
Dresner introduced the Burger of the Month a few years ago, created by a local hero. They also have veggie chicken and salmon burgers and a Phillie cheesesteak sub.
Do not forget the desserts. I had a delicious piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream on the side. To find the Notre Boeuf De Grace location closest to you go to https://www.notreboeufdegrace.ca/
At the age of 40, Jonathan Dresner is quite the entrepreneur. After graduating from Concordia University with a business degree, he tried his luck at a number of jobs and eventually made the plunge into restaurants, operating some Quiznos franchises in Montreal and became part of a startup called Kupfert & Kim. He’s also a partner in the Hello 123, a plant-based restaurant and bar.
Dresner’s masterpiece was Notre Boeuf De Grâce (https://www.notreboeufdegrace.ca), born in 2015 in NDG. It has since grown to nine locations. After opening an NBG downtown, he started something called the Pigeon Expresso Bar next door.
You’d think that the new dad had enough on his plate, but when the very popular St. Viateur Bagel Café on Monkland Avenue closed in March 2019 Dresner’s phone started to ring off the hook to see if he was interested in leasing the prime location. He resisted the temptation for several months until the landlord of the building sent him a text. “My son says you should take this space,” the message read. He had Dresner’s attention.
“I have an open mind and I am also a very spontaneous guy,” Dresner told me. “I went to meet with him, signed a lease and got started on gutting the premises to introduce a completely new version of Pigeon that would serve three meals a day.”
Dresner took possession of the property in the summer of 2019. Renovations were set to be completed for a March opening, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Construction work ground to a halt and getting things back on track took a while. Then there was the decision of whether or not to open during a pandemic.
In July, the Pigeon Café officially opened. With seating for 60 people inside, as well as a terrasse, Dresner’s magic touch remained ever so present. The place has been an instant success. Opening hours are 7 am to 11 pm and customers seem to have no trouble taking a table inside. “We will leave the doors and windows wide open, so right now it is like one big terrasse,” he said.
During the course of this pandemic, I have been opting for the take-out route. At Pigeon Café that is an excellent option as I recently found out for a fun pickup experience. When I arrived for the order there was a social distanced line stretching more than half a block to get in.
For breakfast, there are such items as steak & eggs, omelets, bagel and croissant combos, pancakes, smoked salmon avocado toast, with an array of side, coffees, smoothies and shakshukas.
Dresner has implemented a distinct Jewish/Israeli and Hollywood theme to the menu with Bubbie’s Matzah Ball soup, Israeli salad and Israeli fried chicken, the Mensch panini (a six-ounce New York strip steak, with sautéed mushrooms, swiss and harissa) and the Reuben (smoked meat, sauerkraut, swiss and horseradish mayo). There is also the Larry David “crab salad,” and The Ted Danson and Richard Lewis paninis, tributes to HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“Yes I love Curb,” acknowledged Dresner. “How can anyone not love Curb? I loved the episode where he had a sandwich, but it was the white fish. We didn’t want to do white fish so we did an amazing crab salad sandwich as our Larry David instead. After all, he is a crab. And then of course from the same episode, you had the amazing Ted Danson sandwich which was a big seller with turkey, Swiss and Russian dressing which we make in house.”
There is a big photo of David on the wall, with his trademark comment “Pretty, pretty, pretty good!” Dresner’s wife Yana Badamshin painted the David caricature, as well as the bathroom walls. She is an artist whose work can be seen on Instagram@yanaverse.
There are numerous appetizers, pasta and other sandwiches and grilled paninis and we have not even gotten to the dinner menu yet which has such additional choices as full grilled Mediterranean Seabass, organic salmon, pan-seared scallops, a New York strip and braised lamb shank, Wow!
The lunch pick up was nicely coordinated by manager Sean Weis-Heitner: two mimosas with orange juice; spinach artichoke dip with grilled baguette; smoked salmon avo toast; Shoey’s (that is Sean’s nickname) breakfast bagel; The Mensch panini (a six-ounce NY strip steak, sautéed mushrooms and Swiss harissa; an order of breakfast potatoes; their to die for waffle fries and a piece of apple cake. This was unquestionably the best lunch we have had bar none since the start of the pandemic. We will do this again!
Log on to pigeonespresso.com and if you scroll down it says Cafe for the menu online.
There is a full liquor menu, with beers, wine, cocktails and bubbly. Delivery will probably be added to the repertoire in the early fall via DoorDash.
Pigeon Café is located at 5625 Monkland Avenue. The phone number is 514- 484-0062.