In the Little Burgundy neighborhood of Montreal, there is a sequestered noname street just off Rue Charlevoix that happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a narrow conduit behind restaurants and shops where deliveries are made and cooks tread busily between kitchens. There is an outdoor smoker, a woodburning oven, and a huge grill with a spit, some boxed gardens, multiple terraces, a trout pond, a tool shed, and across the street, Parc Vinet, where you can see kids whizzing by on the ice rink in winter, or hitting line drives under the lights of the baseball diamond on long summer evenings.

Eleven years ago, Frédéric Morin and David McMillan opened Joe Beef, a French market-fare restaurant with a back door out onto that no-name street. I was there the first night as a server and still feel a deep sense of belonging at the restaurant, even though years have now passed. I think this is the allure of Joe Beef, really, that diners who will spend only a few evening hours there over dinner also feel that sense of belonging, or at least discovery of a certainSecret Garden utopia that has no affectation (and a whole, whole lot of rib steak).

People rave about the brief glory that is summer in Montreal—packed terraces, pretty girls on bikes, the European feel of the old port, the abundance of the Jean Talon market, with its piles of berries and flowers and smoked fish—but for me, it’s in the deep freeze when the magic happens.

You can cross-country ski over Mont-Royal and descend for a glass of Alsatian white and eggs for brunch. It’s the time of year when restaurant windows are fogged over and you find yourself perched upon a banquette during a snowstorm, eating quail and drinking Cornas. And at Joe Beef, in the depths of winter, that magic is equally apparent indoors—where the cozy rooms

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