When traveling to a new city – especially Montreal, extensive research is usually done to find great attractions, local museums, shows and or shopping. In such a metropolitan city the things to do are endless, but what lures most travelers to Montreal is the food. Deemed as a “foodie destination”, certain Montreal restaurants have an appeal that border on a cult like following – and by far the tastiest cult is that of Montreal smoked meat…
With a few major players in the smoked meat game, people who pledge alliance to a particular restaurant will argue and fight without shame with anyone who opposes their discerning palate. One of these institutions is without a doubt, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen. This landmark on Saint-Laurent Boulevard has been slicing up smoke meat and satiating Montrealer’s smoked brisket void since 1928. This deli boasts a 10-day brine to their meat, which in tandem to their spice mix, produces the signature taste exclusive to Schwartz’s. The meat is then smoked, chilled, and then placed in a steamer ready to be served.
You can order your meat on a scale of “lean” to “fat”, and locals usually order “medium-fat”; the sweet-spot at which die-hard smoked meat aficionados swear the stars align and magic happens. Sliced from the middle of the brisket where the meat is covered by the fat-cap, it yields thicker and juicier slices – medium-fat is where it’s at.
The classic smoked meat sandwich is piled high, served on fresh rye bread with a schmear of straight up yellow mustard. The clicking of the precision chef’s knife bouncing off the carving fork, slicing meat to order is as intoxicating as the whiffs of steam rising from your sandwich licking off the tart hints of mustard.
Directly across the street from Schwartz’s is another and just as famous Montreal landmark, The Main Steakhouse. With a smoked meat recipe of their own and equally as secretive preparation technique, the ongoing claim for bragging rights on the strip has remained friendly and neighborly for the past 40 years. Montreal’s smoked meat alliances run far and run deep, and many schools have been forged through generations of conditioning and consumption.
Another Montreal smoked meat institution is Lester’s Deli in the Outremont neighborhood. Still family owned and run (for over 60 years!), their spot highlights a great terrace in the summer and fun and kitschy artifacts that line the walls of the restaurant that rival the china cabinet of any bubbi.
Wherever you get your fix, a trip to Montreal isn’t complete without stuffing your face with our famous smoked meat. You can try to order your sandwich with mayo if you’re brave enough to face the glares of locals, but what ever you do, don’t call it pastrami.