Le Bistro Montage
It is a piece of what is now called “Old Portland.” I simply call it Portland. You wouldn’t know Le Bistro Montage was there, tucked under the Morrison bridge in what looks to be an unsavory location, but it has been a fixture of the Portland restaurant scene since it opened in 1992. The restaurant moved to its current location in 1994, around the first time I ate there, and nothing has changed--it looks exactly the same.
The exterior of the Montage is like something out of an old movie: an old brick building that used to be a hotel, a recessed corner entrance, the overpass that hems in the whole scene, forcing your eye to the bright white sign and entrance. The streets are rocky and rough, the noise of cars and trucks passing overhead creates a sort of cocoon of sound, the warm glow coming out of the slightly too high windows makes for a very urban scene.
As soon as you open the door you are transported to another place, another era. The din of voices, and the warm low lighting takes you back in time. The white tablecloths and servers dressed in black pants and white shirts speaks to class and culture. The art and music are 100% Portland; a little rough, dirty, and punk. The wood floor could tell a million stories and may be my favorite part of the restaurant. It is rough and worn, patched with the lids of tin cans. Le Bistro Montage oozes ambiance.
The maitre d’ will seat you where there is space, usually next another group of diners. This is not the place to go for a quiet dinner, but it is a great place to go if you’re looking for some action and energy. The place is filled with a cross section of Portland. Depending on the time, there are groups of people on their way to or coming from a club, teens out by themselves, punks, preps, tech bros, suits, hipsters, retired folks out for the evening, young, old, and everyone in between. Le Bistro Montage is a place for all Portlanders.The crazy, mixed up crowd of diners makes the experience that much better; and the fact that you’re sitting elbow to elbow with strangers and overhearing bits of conversations on all sides keeps things exciting. Sometimes you end up hitting it off with your table mates and you’re nearly family by the time you leave; sometimes you just try to eavesdrop as much as possible to discuss later. You never know
The menu has the same worn in feel that the floor has. It’s a simple sheet of paper that is soft to the touch from use. Le Bistro Montage serves Cajun food and mac n’ cheese. My introduction to The Montage was in 1995 and the item I ordered for the next few years was THE OLD MAC. It is a fat elbow macaroni with ridges in a heavy cheesy cream sauce. Back in 1995 I remember it being $5.00. I didn’t have a ton of money, and it was tasty and filling. The mac selection has filled out over the years, there is a pesto mac, a spicy mac, a spicy/old mac mix called spold, and the list goes on. On our most recent visit I was shocked to find that there are 10 different mac options on the menu. You may be confused, as none of the above is cajun. However, they also have jambalaya, gumbo, fried chicken, frog legs, and gator bites. And next to the mac in terms of notoriety: oyster shooters. It is an experience, if you like oysters get a round and listen for the throaty growl of “Oysters!” from the kitchen, announcing your order is up.
Since the portions are generous and the pricing fair, you may find you plate is not empty. But fear not; you can ask them to wrap it up for you. What comes back to your table is 3-dimensional tin foil art. There are no requests--you get what you get and you don’t get upset--but whether it’s a swan or a scorpion or a long-stemmed rose, it’s always a treat.
The Montage is open till 4:00am Friday and Saturday nights and 2:00am the other nights, which makes it a great spot for a late night snack, or meal. The clientele changes as the evening wears on, but there is always a decent crowd. It may not be the best restaurant in Portland, but in many ways it is THE Portland restaurant-- inclusive, easy, fun and filling. There is a chance I just have a soft spot for the Montage, so go check it out and let us know if it’s the experience we think it is.