Coeur brings the heart of Montreal dining to Philadelphia

Caroline Russock

When news broke that restaurateurs Brendan Hartranft, Leigh Maida and Brendan Kelly were opening a French-Canadian restaurant in the former Mildred space just off the Italian Market, it was pretty easy to assume gravy and cheese curd-topped fries, Quebecois craft drafts and savory, Montreal-style meat pies would be on the menu. But the inspiration behind Coeur, which opened last week, goes much deeper than the trio’s solid roots in Philadelphia beer bar ownership.

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The story goes back a year and a half, when Hartranft was in the last stages of chemotherapy. Even with a wife (Maida), two children under the age of 5 and three restaurants (Memphis Taproom, Local 44 and Strangelove’s), Hartranft, then bedridden, found himself with a lot of downtime on his hands. He started rifling through cookbooks by major
Montreal players.

Once his health was restored, Hartranft and Maida made the trip up north. “Last time we were up there, Leigh was pregnant, so we couldn’t really enjoy it to the excessive degree that we would have liked to. So we decided on a post-chemo trip,” he says.

The couple ate their way through the city, at places like Lemeac, a classic bistro with a decidedly Quebecois lean, and Buvette Chez Simone. “It’s just a rotisserie,” Hartranft says. “But they have a nice wine list, super tasty chow, super excited servers. It’s a really vibrant atmosphere and all they do is chicken.”

Coming back to Philly, they wanted to translate the vibrancy of Montreal and its passion for food, while embracing the lack of pretense.

“There seemed to be a loose, casual nature to [Montreal] that we found really refreshing,” Hartranft says. “World-class food and those guys just making it seem like, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t it be amazing?’”

Coeur is the kind of place where you can have a full dinner with a bottle or two of wine, or stop in for a dozen oysters on, say, midday Monday.

“There’s nothing as decadent as going on the chains on a Monday. Oysters in the middle of the afternoon while everyone is working?” Hartranft says.

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