I’m a big fan of local food when I travel. Sure there’s a McDonald’s in every town; and Starbucks, sometimes Burger King, Chili’s and other exports of American culinary failures are available too. But to really get the feel of a place, you need to see two things: The places the locals hang out and the places the locals eat.
Another thing I’m a huge fan of is the advice and wit of Anthony Bourdain. So when I found I was coming to Montreal for a week of work with my team at Canonical, the first thing I did when planning out my evenings was look for places that have been seen on The Layover or No Reservations.
Now one thing that Tony and I have in common (there are more than one, surprisingly) is a love of all things meat. Beef, pork, fish, chicken. More importantly, we share a love of things like meats on sticks and meats cooked with smoke. So I was quite excited to learn that not only was one of his favorite places near-by, it was actually just down the street from our Montreal Office.
Schwartz’s Deli sits sandwiched between somewhat run-down looking shops and bars on what is actually the center of Central Montreal’s restaruant district. To see it from the outside, you’d expect diner quality fare, but at any time of day, you’re more than likely to see a line formed outside and hustle and bustle inside as a never ending stream of customers come and go, all hungry for their special take on meat.
Lets face it, it’s a deli. One that provides sausages, cuts of pork, sides of beef and other tempting treats, but the thing the locals come for is generically called “Smoked Meat”. You can buy it by the plate, pound or sandwich, and it’s well worth the sometimes hour long wait to get in the door.
To start with, most things are a la carte at Schwartz’s. Also, things move fast. You’d damn well better know what you’re going to order when they get to you. But fear not, because the staff is friendly and understanding of the indecisiveness of the average tourist.
I suggest you order the smoked meat sandwich, a cherry soda and a pickle. Forego the fries as they don’t really stand out, and in my opinion, can detract from the taste of the unbelievably large pile of meat sandwiched between two freshly sliced pieces of local bread.
The sandwich starts with a slab of beef that is slow roasted and smoked for hours until it is so tender it nearly melts. Seasoned beforehand, it has something like a smoked Corned Beef flavor, without the strength that corned beef typically has. This is thin sliced by hand per order, and believe me, you get a LOT on the relatively small pieces of bread that make up the sandwich.
The bread is sliced fresh from loaves that are purchased from a local bakery, not mass produced, pre-sliced Wonderbread, it’s a delicious bread baked with care. Add to this some yellow mustard and that’s it, and that’s all that’s necessary. The subtle smoky flavor of the meat with just a little tang of mustard mixed with the wheaty bread make for a delicious meal any time. And you almost can get it any time as Schwartz’s is serving until 12:30AM most days.
The only thing extra you really NEED is either a pepper or a pickle. Ordering either one will get you a large accompaniment. The dill pickels are whole, and you can get 4 nice sized spears from each. The peppers are several inches long, sweet and spicy red peppers that are steamed before serving.
To wash it down, they have a selection of sodas and waters, but I’d suggest the cherry. It’s a black cherry Canadian soda that is quite tasty, and thanks to not being an American product, is made with real sugar, not corn syrup. I don’t care what the shills for the corn producers want you to think, anyone who has tried a Coke with real sugar and a Coke with corn syrup can tell you there is a definite taste advantage for the real sugar variety.
Schwartz’s is a cash only place, but they do have an ATM located in the back of the small, crowded dining room for those who forget to bring a $20. Expect to pay about $12CAD for a sandwich, pickle and soda, more if you get a plate or steak.
So thanks Tony, you do not fail to disappoint. Schwartz’s Deli in central Montreal is a must do for anyone traveling to this lovely island town in Eastern Canada.