Montreal has a flourishing Jewish community (vide The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz). Consequently it has fine Jewish bakeries and bagel emporia, but it's glory is the SMOKED MEAT SANDWICH.
As a student in Montreal in the middle fifties, friends quickly introduced me to the wonders of Ben's Delicatessen on Maisonneuve near the McGill campus. A smoked meat sandwich on deli rye with double mustard and a pickle was 35 cents in 1954-55. Like all Jewish sandwiches it was piled high in the middle (about three inches thick). It was ambrosia. Ben's was very fine, but then I discovered Dunn's on St.Catherine St. West and fancied that it's meat was a little jucier. Then an Irish-Cuban friend taught me that one could order the sandwich lean, medium, or fat and I discovered that fat was almost a religious experience. On cold winter nights, before pizza delivery had been invented, we could call up Dunn's and order a sack of sandwiches and fries. The cashier at Dunn's would summon a cab from the rank out front and the cabbie would pay for the food and deliver it. We paid the food tab, the meter, and a tip.
Smoked meat is what in other countries pastrami would aspire to be. It is my experience that Canadian beef is superior to U.S. beef and that kosher butchers use the finest (i.e., the fattest, best marbled) beef.
After listening to me brag about Montreal smoked meat for several years, my German-born wife, who knows a thing or two about schinken and speck, finally got to Montreal and we checked in to Ben's for a sandwich. She was very impressed, but the young waiter didn't know what I meant by a fat smoked meat. The next day we went to Dunn's, which was better. We stayed a week and I could not drag my wife away from Dunn's for even one lunch. That was over ten years ago, and we just got back to Montreal this spring of 2000.
Dunn's was gone, as were two of the major downtown department stores (Eaton's and Simpsons had been turned into malls of a sort). Reuben's deli near where Dunn's would have been served a decent smoked meat sandwich, but it was too lean to be really succulent.
Then we heard about Schwartz's
on St. Laurence St. It had always been there, but I had never discovered
it. It is a small kosher restaurant (i.e., no Reubens) on what used
to be a tough street, the dividing line between the English west Montreal
and the French east Montreal. The waiters looked like the Ben's waiters
of old, with long white aprons. The one who took our order said the
magic words that assured us that we were in for a real treat. He
asked: "How would you like your smoked meat?". My wife answered,
"medium" and I -- with a big grin on my face -- rejoiced to say, "fat".
After I finished, I said: "I can die now." And meant it.
Schwartzs Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen
"Original World Famous Smoked Meat"
3895 Saint Laurent
Phone: (514) 842-4813