Let’s get one thing straight. Chez Boris serves borscht.
I love borscht. For four bucks, the barista shifs from coffee counter to open kitchen to heat me a steaming bowl of delicious, earthen grated beats (organic no less!) dolloped with a good hit of sour cream. I’m not talking a watery broth with a tablespoon of beat shreddings hidden at the bottom either. This bowl of borscht is full of, to borrow from Tropicanna packaging, homestyle borscht. In other words, pulpy, the way borscht should be. I hadn’t planned on eating lunch here, but well, I believe in the happy accident.
Borscht gone, a plate of three latkes appears, topped again with a generous serving of sour cream and dusted with a heavy dose of paprika. I approve the size and shape of the latkes — each about the size of my palm and about as thick (so, diameter slightly larger than the size of a coffee mug bottom and height a little shorter than a deck of cards). They’re nowhere near as thick or wide as those inferior hockey pucks sold at Schwartz’s or the supermarket. I envision the old woman of Woody Allen’s famous joke kvetching at the plate, “Yeah, I know, and such small portions.” Perfectly golden fried, the latkes have a crunchy exterior and chewy interior. They’re more doughy than potatoey, sort of Manischewitz like. It’s not exactly my thing, though I know this type of latke has its fans. I prefer the almost-all-potato-and-onion-patty-fried-up-like-my-momma-makes type.
Also on the menu are quesadillas, sandwiches, and other types of soups all made using, where possible, organic produce from local farms such as Lufa and Valens. I espy patrons at nearby tables smacking their lips on small but tall sandwiches, each topped with a beignet. The cafe’s real specialty, so I’m told, is the donut — “les beignes.” The barista informs me they were recently voted second best donuts in Montreal, and I’m up to test this hypothesis now that my inner Muscovite is sated.
My lone beignet and store-made kvass, a non-alcoholic, fermented rye drink arrive together. It’s my first time drinking kvass. It arrives in a clear plastic glass, reminiscent of a summer camp cafeteria. The donut served in the plastic fake-wood bowl only emphasizes this point. Kvass is a cold drink, a bit denser than regular water. Mine has barely discernible carbonation though I just about feel it bubble — perhaps the cause of its thickness and it functions as an appealing tease. The barista tells me that it can be quite bubbly and that each batch is different. The taste is honey-sweet and it lingers quite pleasantly for sometime on the tongue.
As for the beignet, it is a fine piece of donut. The dough is lightly sweet, not too dense, not too airy. The outside is perfectly browned and crisp, encrusted with a crunchy cinnamon and sugar coating. Chez Boris does not skimp on this, making the entire little pastry decadent. Like my latke, the donut is closer to mini-donut size when compared with the sugar bombs of Tim Hortons or Dunkin’ D or the creative masterpieces at Léché Desserts. My conclusion is that these donuts are an exercise in perfect simplicity. With nothing extraneous to hide behind, the donut’s juxtaposition of tastes and mouth sensations make for a luxurious experience.
But let’s talk coffee and ambiance. Coffee first? The coffee on order is of a premium quality from Montreal roaster/distributor Kittel and BC’s 49th Parallel. No complaints on either count. It’s hard to mess up coffee when you start with a quality sourcer and roaster. Other drinks, aside from the kvass, include the usual selection of teas and espresso drinks. Much like the donut, less can be more when done well.
Ambiance is pleasant with a homey, thrown-together feel. Clearly Eastern Europe is the theme with the Soviet-Union-era Russia make-do style of decor. Tables and chairs of different shapes and sizes fill the room. There’s plenty of space to stretch out. Lighting from the front window is bright and overhead lightbulbs are softened by make-shift shades of empty plastic jugs. Against one wall is a repurposed arcade machine and beside a stack of old board games, including chess and Scrabble. Plugs are accessible by extension cords that stretch awkwardly over the tables. Art changes from month to month. This month is Wolfe Girardin and Charles LeMoyne’s Escape Bored, a series of rather attractive hand painted skate board decks available for sale. Wifi is free. Noise levels are low with soft indie music in the background. Quite a few artists and writers seem prepared for an afternoon of work at their laptops.
Chez Boris is at 5151 Parc. M-F 8 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Filter Coffee $3/Espresso $2.75/Cappuccino $3.50/Latte $3.75/ Tea $2.50/ Cidre $3.25/ Kvass $1.25. Beignes $.90 each.