Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, Montreal QC

(Honeymoon flashback: In July 2009, Marie and I took a road trip up to Montreal and back, enjoying some really terrific meals over our ten-day expedition. I’ve selected some of those great restaurants, and, once per month, I’ll tell you about them.)

I mentioned a couple of months ago in an earlier flashback chapter that I had a lot of fun reading about the restaurants in Charleston, West Virginia as I made a decision where Marie and I would be having supper. With Montreal, this would be a no-brainer. The most popular, line-out-the-door place in the city is Schwartz’s, and that’s the way it has been for more than eighty years. Schwartz’s specializes in a smoked meat sandwich, the likes of which you can’t get anywhere close to around here. In Montreal, they cure beef brisket in a dry mix of spices, peppercorns and coriander for ten days before it’s hot-smoked and sliced to order. Then it’s served on rye bread with yellow mustard. It’s as simple a sandwich as one with a ten day prep time could possibly be, and it is definitely worth the wait in that line.

We had Schwartz’s for supper on the third day of our honeymoon. We stayed the second night in Toronto with Dave and Shaindle in their condo. They’re somewhat late risers, much later than me, anyway, and we had brunch at the George Street Diner, one of their favorite places, before packing the car and getting back out on the road. It’s an easy five-hour drive between Toronto and Montreal. Highway 401 leaves the city and keeps that name throughout Ontario before changing to Autoroute 20 as you cross into Quebec.

Montreal must have looked like the most modern city in the world in 1976, when it hosted the Summer Olympics. Today, much of the stark, white, concrete structures and overpasses that surround the city look like Logan’s Run. Once drivers get through these tunnels and mustard yellow lighting, at least on the side of town that we saw, the city is revealed to be a gorgeous, thriving and bustling metropolis, clean and full of pedestrian traffic. Our route took us north up Rue Berri past the Université du Québec à Montréal towards a bed and breakfast that I found for us. Called Bienvenue, I selected it because it was just five short blocks’ walk from Schwartz’s.

I had not stayed at a bed and breakfast in… well, hang on, no, actually, I had never stayed at one before. This actually proved to be one of the most sensible decisions that I made in planning our honeymoon. For the most part, we just aimed to pull into interstate-convenient motels whenever we got tired, but booking a place in a huge city like Montreal is a much better idea than just leaving things to chance, especially when you’re like me and don’t speak French particularly well. Bienvenue was a very nice place on a gorgeous, tree-lined avenue. Neighborhood kids had left more graffiti behind than I would prefer, but we didn’t even have to pay to park. The prices were very reasonable. We didn’t appear to be anywhere close to any comic book or record shops, although we did pass a place with the inviting sign for “bandes desinee” on our way out of town. There were several clothes boutiques along Sainte-Laurent Boulevard, and a spice shop which Marie and I visited before leaving Tuesday morning.

Monday night, though, it was time for a great big sandwich. We did not have a very long wait; arriving between waves with our often-excellent timing, we only had to stand outside for about seven or eight minutes. The restaurant has only a few long tables inside, and guests, who are called in based on how many are in their group, will usually be bumping elbows with others, with the expectation that they shouldn’t linger for very long. If you would like to have a large group at Schwartz’s, it is best for everyone concerned to plan ahead that you won’t all be sitting together, paying together, or leaving at the same time!

I was told later that we really missed a trick not ordering their slaw. Marie and I each had one of these amazing smoked meat sandwiches and a pickle, which was the most delicious pickle ever, along with a small plate of devilishly greasy fries and a nash. I didn’t know what the heck a nash was, so I ordered it. It’s a little pepperoni stick, about as big around as your pinky finger and maybe five inches long. It looks kind of naked and sad on a little plate by itself. Oh, and a glass of black cherry soda is de rigeur here.

The smoked meat is just amazingly tasty. It’s not too many miles removed from pastrami, although you usually find pastrami made from turkey and often cured with more sugar than pepper. You get a pile of it, and it is wonderful, and once we get that corporate sponsor and expense account that I daydream and fantasize about having, we’ll go to Montreal every dang summer for a vacation and return to this place every time. We had so many awesome meals a year and a half back, but this one honestly sticks out the most. Does anybody from Montreal want to start smoking meat this way down here?


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