Schwartz’s, The Main, Smoke Meat Pete’s, Snowdon Deli, Lester’s, Dunn’s, Nickel’s, plus Ben’s, Dusty’s, Delly Boys and Caplan’s of bygone times… our Montreal Delis have always been unique and each has had its own legions of fans.
Schwartz’s claim to fame is its smoked meat – and I do mean fame; the lines tend to swell with tourists and grow very long for this quintessential deli, but the wait is so worth it. Beyond compare, you just have to trust me and try it. For those who whine that it’s too dry, I say do not order it lean! Order it medium! Look, I know it’s not the healthiest, but let’s face it, if you’re heading out for smoked meat, you’re not looking for a chick-pea sandwich on wholewheat. No, you only live once, get some FAT in there. That’s what gives it awesome flavour and texture.
Okay, I admit I’m a SchwartzEvangelist. But yes, The Main is good. And its advantage is that for true fressers, it also has oodles of side dishes. That might be the only failing of Schwartz’s – it’s really for purists, in that it doesn’t have a ton of sides… although the fries are delish and the cole slaw and pickles are – oh, sorry, I was talking about The Main. Well, yes. There you can get wonderful chicken soup, as well as knishes and kasha and kugel, all those yummy things that start with “k,” stuff that your Bubby (grandma) used to make, especially if your Bubby came from Romania. 🙂
Smoke [sic] Meat Pete is worth a visit although you’ll need a car; it’s just off Montreal island on Île Perrot. I can’t do this place justice – you should really take a look at their website. You’ll see they have all the favourites, plus excellent cakes for dessert. I find their smoked meat and fries are a tad less scrumptious than they used to be, but maybe it was an off day when I went. Come to think of it, it happened twice. So you might want to take a pass, or else check it out for yourself, and enjoy the live blues as you nibble ‘n’ nosh. Great rustic ambience.
Now: Snowdon Deli, Lester’s, Dunn’s and Nickel’s are, to me, pale imitations of the restos above. I just don’t find their smoked meat to be as sublime as, well, Schwartz’s (also known as the Hebrew Delicatessen of Montreal. Except now the title is in French. Argh.) But I’m so biased, so don’t listen to me. Explore the others if you so desire. (Traitors! 😀 )
(By the way, here’s a bit of trivia most of you are probably aware of, but just in case you’re not: Celine Dion and her late husband René Angélil, were the first owners of Nickel’s, and the most recent owners of Schwartz’s. Happily, Schwartz’s is still a classic because it retained most of its staff, the guys who actually prepare the food. As for Nickel’s, well, have you been to Denny’s in the states? Enough said.)
The late, lamented Ben’s (1908-2006) was quite a downtown calling card back in the day, its clientele teeming with late-night performers out for their post-show snack, its walls plastered with glossy 8×10’s of many of their glamourous show-biz patrons.
Dusty’s, Caplan’s, Delly Boys, all gone now too. Done in, I imagine, by the health-food craze, growing ever relentless in recent years. Sigh. A moment of silence might be in order.
Okay, that’s enough.
For any Americans reading this, I will close by just taking a second to compare our smoked meat vs. your pastrami or corned beef. I will only say this: there is no comparison. Try it, you’ll love it.
Thanks for joining me on my tour of delectable delis!