This isn't my first time at Chez Boris, but it’s been quite a while since my last visit. This time around, I had a working theory: Chez Boris is where you go to seek comfort and warmth. With Montreal's winters and their arctic winds, that's exactly what you need. In fact, I went for the full experience and walked over from my downtown office to this Mile End doughnut-and-coffee shop. By the time I got there, my beard had turned into one big icicle. Needless to say, I was prepared to ingest some warmth.
Chez Boris's space is cozy and homey but in no way sophisticated. On both sides of the door, what were once elevated display windows are now mini alcoves. You can easily catch the midday sun sitting there. Maybe even get your tan on. Along the walls, local artists' works are displayed and available for purchase. While Boris Volfson, owner, is not an artist himself, he sure is creative. As such, you'll find quirky little design elements throughout his space. The light fixtures are either made of large cooking oil bottles or teacups and coffee mugs. The tables are made of plywood and particle board. There's nothing fancy about that except that they’re wrapped with various old newspaper cut-outs and vintage maps. At the front of the kitchen sits a large marble slab where the rings of dough are crafted. There's something awesome and comforting about seeing the doughnuts that you are about to consume being made right in front of you.
You've probably realized by now that this place is more doughnut than coffee shop and that's perfectly fine by me. However, this is no ordinary doughnut shop: it's a Russian doughnut shop. What makes it Russian? Let's start with the fact that the owner, Boris, is Russian. Then, let's move on to the actual doughnuts. They're yeast based, double raised and smaller than what you might be used to. You can't go wrong with cinnamon and sugar, especially at 90 cents a pop. However, they do serve some exotic flavours as well as doughnut sandwiches. They also serve a number of Russian dishes such as pierogis and borscht. Considering I had just stepped in from what can only be described as a polar vortex, I couldn't resist ordering a plate of pierogis. At 7$, you really can't go wrong, once again. I had been craving some homemade pierogis for quite a while and these were downright satisfying. Like everything else made at Chez Boris, the pierogis are prepared on location.
But isn't this blog about coffee? Fine, let’s talk about coffee. There is some good and there is some bad. Let's start with the bad. Chez Boris carries 49th Parallel for its espresso and the Epic was on deck when I visited. You know I like my ‘spros but, in this case, I suggest you stay away from a straight espresso. It was quite honestly underwhelming and the low point of this visit. Far too bitter, the preparation was meh, as it tasted burnt.
That's for the bad, but what about the good? Let's face it, if you're going to Chez Boris you're probably gonna order Russian doughnuts. You might as well stick with the Russian theme for your coffee as well and get a Le Soviétique, filter coffee with condensed milk similar to Café Bombón and Vietnamese coffee. It's simple, straightforward and typically Russian. It’s the kind of coffee you'll find at any construction site in Montreal with Russian immigrant workers. It also explains my father's love of filter coffee with cream.
Chez Boris steps up the coffee part of Le Soviétique by using Montreal's very own Kittel Coffee. They use Cachoeira da Grama, specifically the Peaberry variety, hailing all the way down from Brazil. What is Peaberry, you ask? Coffee grows as a fruit and the bean is merely the seed of that fruit. Typically, you'll find two flat beans facing each other per fruit. In a small percentage of all beans worldwide, you will find only one bean in the fruit rather than two. That bean is a Peaberry and it is rounder and generally smaller than ordinary beans. The use of such quality coffee is a very welcome twist to this Russian classic. Despite the filter coffee having been mixed with the condensed milk, the bean’s natural nuttiness did come through. All in all, a very pleasant concoction to be warmed up by. If you rather enjoy the Cachoeira da Grama without any milk, Chez Boris also makes pour-over with that same bean.
If you're seeking a good quality espresso then this place isn't for you. But, when all is said and done, Chez Boris does its own thing very well. Their specialties are all you really need whether it be to cozy up, warm up or homey up. Not only are they good but also the prices aren't crazy. This place is for the proletariat and that's just the way I like it.