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Plates of fruit garnish ready for service at Nuart

Breakfast At Nuart 

I subbed in for Alex the omelette maker and egg scambler over the Labour Day Long Weekend and found myself cooking breakfast with Phillippe Groulx and Madeleine Tomic at Nuart Café in Verdun,. They have been doing breakfast on the weekends for the last nine years, and they recently added weekdays before 11:30am as well. Madeleine is the owner and takes care of the toast, chopping fruit, and the dishes during the rush. Phillippe is the breakfast Chef and the mastermind behind the cheeky theme menu each week. Example of a menu theme: “Les petits Déjeuners à l’international” with items like ‘Pakistanais pas assez bien, il est tombé” ou “Iran Fou”. Or better yet, “Les Petits Déjeuners du Nymphomane” with choices like “Les Toilettes son porno clients” ou “L’exhibitionist à la fenêtre”. Plates are usually elaborately done, with various combos of an omelette or garnished scrambles eggs (“broulli” comme on dit en français), a garnished bagel, with a sweet crêpe or French toast on the side, and always served with fruit and usually potatoes! There are also lighter continental breakfasts or basic bacon and eggs if you want it.

Phillipe writing the funny breakfast menu

Word play poetry menu at Nuart

Nuart is on Wellington Street in Verdun and has been open for ten years. The breakfasts are swinging, even to the point of having a pianist on Sundays, and they are the bread and butter of the restaurant. They have one of the few terraces in Verdun, and you can enjoy the sun outside or the coziness inside when it’s cold or rainy. The food, service and decor are warm and unapologetic- straight from the heart. There is filter coffee and one kind of juice- orange. Clients partake in the antics and discussions of the staff, and they also get served a bit of mood swing once in a while. But it’s all a part of the experience and…real-life.

Nuart sunny terrasse (3780 Rue Wellington, Montréal, QC, Canada) +1 514-762-1310 ‎

I was the evening cook from 2007 to 2009, and it was my second job in a restaurant. Since I left, I come back regularly to visit and sub-in, and Madeleine kindly lets me use the space for belly dance dinners, dinner club, and benefit dinners. I started working there in 2007 right after I had returned from Europe and was broke. And history repeats itself: I just got back from Europe and I was broke. I have only ever worked breakfast once before, and I was so hung-over that they never asked me to work breakfast again. (I’ve since cleaned-up my act.)

serving an omellete

Coming back to Nuart to work is always an experience that fills my heart cup up and gives me pangs of nostalgia. Nuart is a very human experience. Many young people have been helped out of their shells there, and the original block of four, Madeleine, Tania, Jacques and Phillippe, are still there. Jacques and Tania (Madeleine’s daughter) are in the dining room, and Madeleine and Phillippe are in the kitchen. The original four are like a tight family unit, and anyone that works there becomes woven into the fabric as well. As much as everyone loves each other, everyone is also able to drive the other up the wall. And, like any other family, there are certain tensions that aren’t spoken about openly, but as it is a re-constituted family, you can still get a lot looser than many people can with their real family. You can really be yourself at Nuart.

The staff has seen each other through battles with alcoholism, illness, depression, broken hearts, and confronting personal demons. No one is perfect, and at Nuart, no one is obliged to pretend to be. I’ve seen staff members do strip-teases and I’ve tried to recuperate on the deep-freezer after a night of heavy partying. There’s been screaming matches, pranks, drunken confessions, and some of the funniest jokes you’ll hear. There’s been some great food, some so-so food, things that worked and things that didn’t, but the Nuart stays the same even though the menu changes every service.

Madeleine doing her speciality at Nuart - making crepes

Jacques waiter at Nuart

There is always a band of alley cats partaking in Nuart’s re-insertion program on the back balcony- getting fed, some love from the staff, and sometimes even a home with a client. Eugene, the most infamous, was a a ratty washed-up playboy at the end of his 100 lives and at least 10 years of fathering dozens of other Verdun alley cats. He didn’t show-up at the door after the 2009 winter, but his picture is on the fridge.

Scan of the photo of Eugene, the don of alley 2009

The Nuart is a social experiment that allows people to live outside of the mold  with ease or to choose to live in the mold with conviction after the experience. It must also be said that in the last few years, there have been few heterosexual men working there and the few that did were like gentlemanly roosters in the hen house. In kitchens with a feminine vibe, there tends to be a lot of helping each other out. Female/gay staff tend to be less showy and very willing to exchange ideas and tricks, while masculine kitchens are much more about the clashes of egos, strutting your stuff, under-cutting your colleagues, and ganging up on the weakest link. Feminine kitchens/staff on the shadow side can be a little moody, over-sensitive, and passive aggressive. Given the choice, I would prefer a majority of feminine staff and kitchen, hands-down.

The electric griddles that Philippe uses to perform breakfast miracles.

The Nuart doesn’t try to be anything. In fact, it is a restaurant without a concept. The art on the brick walls changes drastically from collection to collection, the food from cook to cook, and the mood from moment to moment. It’s a place where people come to work and say, “Let’s do this”, and customers come because the food and atmosphere puts people at ease and makes them feel like it’s “their” place.

Cooking breakfast that morning, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt as we were sweating away in the smouldering heat over the electronic stove and griddle, and Madeleine came up to me and said, “Tiens, 2 piaces, vas t’acheter de quoi moins chaud en face.” She was talking about the friperie across the street. I went with Tania and bought a pink nightie that could have easily been hospital wear.  We had some laughs, and boy it felt nice having that breeze come under my garments. What really felt good was letting loose and being able to let go and laugh- and  not the nervous forced laughs, but laughs that make you remember what life’s about!

Me working in my one dollar nightie from the second-hand store across the street

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