Cafe Gentile Westmount: Once upon a time in Canada

Life can get pretty busy sometimes, and this past Saturday was no exception. Between our regular household chores, visiting the tailor and picking up a dozen zeppole for San Giuseppe, we both had our hands full and decided to reschedule our morning bromance to later that afternoon. As we zipped down the highway in the bromance mobile, we reminisced about how simple life was in our early twenties. Back then, there were no full time jobs, mortgages or life insurance policies. Our biggest concern was whether we were going to eat pizza or 2$ chow mein after leaving the club at 3 AM. Perhaps our fathers were right when they said: “enjoy it now, while you still can.” When we finally reached Westmount and walked into the new Cafe Gentile location, we were shocked to see how busy it was. For those of you who are not familiar with the area, Westmount is typically a ghost town on weekends as many of its residents visit their chalets or go to Miami for a few days. This was definitely not the scene we witnessed at Cafe Gentile. A sea of well entertained guests filled the room, while the sound of wine glasses clinking and Frank Sinatra’s unmistakable music echoed through the air. It felt as though we had travelled back in time to the 1960s.

The story of Cafe Gentile is one of humble beginnings, hard work and perseverance. To say that we are familiar with the original location on Parc Avenue would be an understatement.  When both of our families immigrated to Canada, they settled in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, near Chabanel Street; an area formerly known as Montreal’s textile district. In fact, both of our grandmothers worked as seamstresses for textile factories on Chabanel.  It is within this area that the Gentile family opened their first location in 1959, primarily catering to Italian immigrants. Today, Gentile has become a well-known Montreal institution which boasts a diversified clientele ranging from local residents, to a sizeable Jewish business community.

In November 2016, Anthony Gentile Jr. decided to expand the family business by opening a second location in Westmount. The interior décor was designed by the famous Zébulon Perron and draws its influence from the classic café/bar of the 1950s and 60s. The floors are covered in green and white tiles with a unique Gentile mosaic facing the La Marzocco espresso machine.  Brown leather stools are lined up along a stainless steel bar, where people can comfortably sit and enjoy a true Italian coffee experience. Several bistro tables and banquettes are spread throughout the sitting area, as well as Anthony’s grandmother’s original couch from the 1960’s (a nice vintage touch).

 

Aside from its famous lunch menu and renowned coffee, Gentile Westmount now offers a new dinner menu as well as a complete wine and cocktail list.  To start, we enjoyed a delicious bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes, fresh parmigiano shavings and a sweet balsamic glaze. As a main dish, David couldn’t resist the famous chicken cutlet panino with a side of linguini caccio e peppe. Joey, instead, opted for a sausage panino with an arugula salad, which was also an excellent choice. We strongly recommend adding some Bomba (Calabrian hot sauce) to your sandwich, if you like a spicy kick! After our meal, we enjoyed a latte and an espresso. Both coffees were strong, full-bodied and displayed a nice thick layer of golden “crema”.  An honourable mention must be given to the cannoli that we savoured for dessert – a true Sicilian staple. Not only was the shell crunchy and fresh but the ricotta filling was light, sweet and had perfect consistency. We are confident enough to claim that Gentile’s cannoli’s are among the best in the city (and this is coming from David, who recently travelled to Sicily and ate his fair share of cannoli’s). We also recommend the tiramisu which struck a harmonious balance between its coffee flavoured savoiardi cookies (lady fingers) and fresh mascarpone cheese. Overall, the menu was well prepared, simple and reasonably priced.

While we finished our coffee and dessert, we casually chatted with Daniele, the cafe’s head barista and manager as well as Giuseppe, a barista in training. To our surprise, both these young men were fresh off the boat (or plane) and had just arrived here from Southern Italy, this past September.  As we sat there trying to communicate in our broken Italian dialect, we were reminded of the stories told to us by our grandparents about when they first arrived in Canada with little more than a suitcase. Here we were, nearly 60 years later, sitting face to face with a new generation of Italian immigrants seeking the same things our grandparents once did: opportunity and a better life for themselves. This was definitely a full circle moment. The kind of moment when you realize that the more the things change, the more they stay the same.

As we continued to share stories and experiences with Daniele and Giuseppe, they asked us what our blog was about. We then proceeded in a feeble attempt to explain the word bromance in Italian. “Bromance is a strong friendship between two male friends “, we said. They both looked at us puzzled. “Si, si bromance” Giuseppe replied, all the while wondering what on Earth we were talking about. We could tell that they were still trying to grasp our unique Italian-Canadian culture and the strange language that came with it. Who knows? Maybe in 60 years from now, their grandchildren will be the ones explaining what bromance is to a future generation of immigrants.

 

Bromantically yours,

 

David & Joey

 

 

 

 

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