“ Address: 3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard / Montreal / Quebec / H2W 1X9 / Canada „
If you like your smoked meat sandwiches, you need to go here! Personally, I think it beats Katz's in New York!
I spent last year living in Montreal (I'm back home in the UK now) and lived within wakling distance of Schwartz's. For 10 months I walked past groaning at the queue that would go half way up the block, full of hungry Montrealers and tourists.
On a rainy day I noticed no queue so dived straight in and instantly I was floating towards the kitchen from the delicious smell of smoked meat.
Their choice isn't enormous, a few types of meat, a few types of bread (what more do you need?) but what they do have lots of is quality. Such succulent meat and lots of it, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
You know when a sandwich shop is awesome when it has it's own musical based on it! I kid you not!
I only regret that I did not frequent this place more often and I urge anyone reading this to check out Schwartz's today even if that means flying to Montreal right now. Do it, you wont regret it.
This review has been a long time coming. Montreal is one of my favourite North American cities, and on this, my fourth visit there, I finally have the pleasure of reviewing the legendary Schwartz's Deli. Lying to the east of the centre of the city, this place is something of a Montreal institution, and is mentioned in every guidebook I have ever read as THE place to go for smoked meat. I always make a point of going there when in Montreal.
The first time I ever went there, following my guidebook and entering on my own, I was a bit worried as to what the meat actually was, as I don't eat pork. I really should have taken note that this was a Hebrew deli, which would have allayed any fears. When I was meekly ordering a takeaway turkey sandwich, the old chap serving me clocked me as a British tourist and said "I bet you didn't come here for turkey did you - try this!" as he pointed a slice of smoked meat at me. As I wavered and asked what meat it was, he authoritatively boomed out "beef!" and I was very impressed by the stuff. "Right", he continued, "next time make sure you have this!" Superb stuff; this friendly chap had not only corrected me but let me sample the stuff, too. Could the old place deliver yet again?
A BIT OF HISTORY
Schwartz's was founded in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania. Its location hasn't changed in all that time. They prepare their smoked meat the old fashioned way, with a secret blend of herbs and spices, marinated for 10 days. They claim that their competitors add chemicals to the meat, but they add no preservatives. On their web site they list famous patrons, including Celine Dion, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, Tim Allen and The Rolling Stones.
This place is more of a deli with seating than a restaurant, but there is always a queue outside for places to sit in. At lunch that day the queue (or line-up, in local parlance) was around about 20 people, and even at the 9pm weekday slot we'd decided to eat at, it was still there, albeit shorter. We waited for about 10-15 minutes for a table, which isn't so bad.
From the outside, it looks just like a small deli, which perhaps isn't inaccurate. Rue Saint-Laurent is lined with trendy shops, restaurants and bars and there is nothing to particularly distinguish this place, apart from the line-up. When you enter (still in the queue, most likely, squashed against the door avoiding the onrushing waiters) there is a takeaway counter in front of you to the right, and a seating counter to your immediate right, complete with high, round metal stools with a comfortable red leather seat. Behind the counter is a menu and some pictures of the dishes. I even saw a small sign saying how you can buy their spices for your own use. Everything is written in French and English as you'd expect (the French by law in Quebec, and the English has to be in much smaller letters than the French, but they seem to have got away with this to some extent). This seating goes all the way to the back of the dining area. As the tiled eating area is long and thin, there is only room for tables for 4 against the left wall, of which there are about 8. Directly to the left of the entrance tucked into the window is where you pay. The idea is to leave your tip for the waiter on the table and pay the bill there, noting that they only take cash. You can also buy souvenirs like Schwartz's t-shirts and baseball caps there.
The décor is more or less greasy spoon standard. There is an interesting mix of clientele there; tourists taking photos outside (like me), Anglophones, Francophones, the old, the young. A real cosmopolitan feel prevails. I imagine there weren't many vegetarians there, though. The walls were adorned with magazine, guidebook and newspaper articles from around the globe, including one in Japanese. Clearly a well known place then, re-enforcing what my guide books always told me. On each wooden laminated table there were several condiments to add to your dish; French's mustard, Heinz tomato ketchup, HP sauce and BBQ sauce
The waiters were all youngish on this occasion. It was the case on my last visit some 6 years ago that there were several veterans serving too who'd seen it all. My Quebecquois friend Monsieur Montreal, who was accompanying myself and Ms Larsbaby there, informs me that they aren't seen very much these days, but still make the occasional appearance. Service is adequate, the place being so bustling that you have to make sure you catch their attention when you want something. To be fair this isn't a restaurant and you shouldn't come with the expectation of intimate, patient service as there just isn't the time, but it will be friendly. It was quite impressive to see them switch between French and English in an instant.
Monsieur Montreal , who has been a regular customer all his life, says that only once has he deviated from the de rigueur smoked meat plate. He tried a turkey sandwich or something and apparently it wasn't bad. The menu is actually the paper place mat that you get. As well as smoked meat plates and sandwiches, the menu contains veal, turkey, combination, salami and stuffed chicken sandwiches. Aside from sandwiches and meat plates you can have rib steak, steak combo, chicken combo, liver steak and live entrée. As for extra, there are fresh homemade French fries, pickles, coleslaw, soup pickles, peppers, olives, frankfurters, nash), soft drinks, tea and coffee. Well I must confess to being confused at some of these dishes and some of their sound distinctly porky. If someone Jewish is reading and could explain I'd really be interested to understand why this is! So quite a basic menu really, but let's be fair, the vast majority of the customers are here for the smoked meat.
I had no idea what nash is, so I looked it up. Apparently it's a variation of the Yiddish word "nosh" which means snack. And this is a karnatzel served with rye bread. Erm, and what's a karnatzel? Well it seems to be some kind of minced meat patty. Sounds like a burger to me.
Every time I go there with Monsieur Montreal, I join him in having exactly the same thing, having deviated myself only once as described previously. To drink - black cherry, which is some sort of cherry Coke. To eat - a small smoked meat plate. Add to that a plate of French fries.
Small is a relative term as this dish at a very competitive $9.95 (plus taxes, as is the way in this part of the world) included a large round of sliced white bread (of which you can order more for a small charge) and 15 or so slices of smoked beef! Apparently in his youth Monsieur Montreal used to be able to put away a large smoked meat plate with no problems, but his metabolism can't handle that these days (he's such a skinny chap as well, you'd never believe it). The big plate is a princely $1 extra at $10.95 (plus taxes) for double the meat!!!
Daunted by the artery hardening prospect ahead, I started off with the fries, which were in turn crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were delicious. Perhaps a tad thicker than conventional French fries, these accompanied the meatfest pretty well.
You can order the smoked meat lean, medium or fatty. Connoisseurs would I'm sure go for medium or fatty to get that extra bit of taste but we all opted for lean. It was certainly tasty enough for me; tender, slightly peppery from the peppercorns hiding at the edges, but not overly so. The texture was soft, not tough at all, and delicious. The rich red appearance of the meat was very appealing. I found it good to smother some mustard on the bread which gave the meal a bit of a kick.
None of us could finish our meat, despite ordering more bread to help us wolf it down. In hindsight, this probably bloated us even more. I think I got down to about the last 5 pieces and Monsieur Montreal was almost there, but it was all over for me and Ms Larsbaby at that stage, which is a shame as I really really hate to waste food.
As I said, I go there every time I'm in town, and it didn't disappoint. Ms Larsbaby was also suitable impressed. For Monsieur Montreal it was just another day eating there. This is certainly something different and its basic, down to earth attitude and food really appeals to me. There's something about going back to basics and stripping down a meal just to a plain beef sandwich with its basic but natural tastes that is very welcome in these days of over pretention.
$46 dollars for 3 small meat plates, some fries and 3 black cherry drinks seems like outstanding value to me in terms of quality and quantity, as that equates to about £23. My tip here is unless you are seriously hungry, just go for the smoked meat sandwich rather than the plate. For me, Schwartz's remains the undefeated champion of Montreal smoked meat.
3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard,
Tel.: (514) 842-4813
Fax: (514) 842-0800
Website (English section): http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/index_eng.html
Hebrew Delicatessen serving original smoked meat.