Four Montreal café bookstores to feed our appetite for learning

Take a sip, take a bite and tuck into your book at Café l’Éditeur, Éclair, Fletchers and Olivieri.

Café L'Éditeur is one of a number of Montreal spots to linger over books, coffee and good food. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

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With the back-to-school frenzy comes a kind of generalized societal impulse to get back to the grind. Or maybe the coffee grinder? In the case of this crop of bookstore-cum-cafés, hitting the books goes hand in hand with knocking back top-notch espressos and enjoying a satisfying bite.

Café l’Éditeur

This biggest of the two outposts of Café l’Éditeur, both opened within the last two years, seamlessly meshes coffee shop and bookstore, with the tables and comfortable charcoal grey couches set among the bookshelves. The black-and-white image of chairs floating on an ebbing sea that’s wallpapered behind the counter invites you nearly subliminally to take a load off. Order a green-tea lemonade with nice pops of pulp and a ham-and-cheese sandwich made with L’Amour d’un Pain bread, take a seat, and read the afternoon away to the calming sounds of quiet French chansons. The shelves are lined with the latest Québécois novels, a decent section for kids, and a vast selection of food-related books, including Forêt: Identifier, Cueillir, Cuisiner, an engrossing foraging guide by Ariane Paré-Le Gal and her dad.

7240 St-Hubert St.; chezlediteur.com

Serving customers at Cafe l’Editeur. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

Éclair

New from this summer, Éclair is part-bookshop, part-coffee shop, and so oh-my-gosh beautiful that it feels like an art gallery. Featuring a U-shaped forest green banquette near the front and a vast, white, rounded rectangular counter in the centre behind which lives the highest-tech coffee-making equipment I’ve ever seen, the small space’s hushed atmosphere and minimalist design might take some moments to suss out — but the kind service and comfortable banquette will soon engulf you in comfort. This is a place to come alone and read, not to chat. The books, a mix of English and French, line the shelves along one wall and are selected with great care. They’re grouped into themes and introduced with poetic little info cards, tempting the reader to dive in. I did, into Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, as I enjoyed an exemplary chocolatine and an espresso that was strong on the berry and pleasantly bitter in the jaw muscles.

12 Maguire St.; facebook.com/eclair.montreal

Fletchers

The bookstore of this forward-thinking museum of history on St-Laurent Blvd., corner Duluth Ave., stars more than a coffee shop, really — Fletcher’s is a proper Jewish lunch counter, complete with overflowing plates of gefilte fish tacos and halloumi tartines (a airy piece of pumpernickel toast topped with baked eggplant and tomato rounds and the eponymous grilled cheese, all smothered in a nutty home-mixed za’atar. Take it up a notch with a fried egg on top.) Order your meal and browse the store, not only books prettily displayed but also essential kitchen tools like mugs with bagels on them. The Jewish history books sit beside Jacob Two-Two by Mordecai Richler and some really interesting cookbooks, including the The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook — I’ll definitely be trying my hand at the green-pea schnitzel. To drink, silken cappuccinos sit beside fetching offerings like the delicate iced chai and rose latté.

4040 St-Laurent Blvd.; facebook.com/fletchersmontreal 

Olivieri

No such list would be complete without Olivieri, a mainstay on Côte-des-Neiges Rd., which has had its bistro as a main draw since it brought its brand of edification to the strip in 1985. The great big bookstore has a small but nicely stocked anglophone lit section — including Neil Smith’s Boo, a jolly good read — and noteworthy section of international literature translated into French. Pass the massive Taschen coffee-table books to find the bistro in the back, full of clattering action every weekday lunch and serving up French-influenced, market-inspired daily specials like Niçoise salad, duck magret and Nordic shrimp sandwiches. The canopied terrasse is a splendid spot to bemoan the imminence of fall.

5219 Côte-des-Neiges Rd.; librairieolivieri.com

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