I was in Montreal for the week, for work. And you don’t visit the city, without making a stop at the world famous Schwartz’s for their original smoked meat. This is even if you don’t have an appetite for the stuff, as is my case. I have never found the style of meat all that tasty and what I have had was excessive in a sandwich and incredibly salty. But I had also never had Schwartz’s before this occasion. And I must say not only is it the best smoked meat I have ever had, it is one I did not mind. Still not my favourite sandwich, but worth trying for all those who haven’t yet.
Schwartz has been a Montreal landmark for over 90 years so they are doing something right. Located in little Portugal, it is easy to spot with the line out the door. That and their window stockpile of herb crusted beef brisket on display.
Given my graveyard work shifts we actually visited early on a weekday, so we were able to walk in without reservation and be seated at the bar immediately. For the full experience you want to dine in and get a feel of the homely diner. There is not much to it aside from its walls being plastered with news articles of the diner, as well as photos of all its celebrity sightings.
However, if you are just looking to grab one of their sandwiches, or to take some of their vacuum sealed smoke meat to go, I advise visiting the deli, located on the left hand side of the restaurant instead.
There, they have same meat, the same bread, and the same mustard that make up their staple smoke meat sandwich; simply made in a more modest setting with standing room only dining. This way you get to beat the line, which was the case when I returned on the last day of my trip to bring home some refrigerated meat with me. I would gather everything I needed to be able to make their sandwiches at home in Vancouver BC. But little did I know there were different types of cuts of smoke meat available, and that they are not all made equal. Some are fattier than others and I made the mistake of picking up lean, which didn’t quite land the same in my self-made sandwich. So learn from my lesson and check the type of meat you are purchasing from the freezer before paying for it at the counter. Although, in my defence I did ask the clerk which meat is the one they use in the sandwiches and he did said “any”.
Regardless, I picked up 2 packs along side a loaf of sliced bread, their specialty branded mustard, and a can of cherry coke to take home with me, tucked away in my check-in luggage.
But, I digress, back to the dine -in diner experience. The staff are plentiful and friendly, given their popularity and the need to have enough to serve a line that could grow at any minute. They do engage in banter and are helpful with suggestions for identified first timers.
You order from their light up menu overhead, or from their paper menu that also doubles as the pre-set placemat before you. We would ask what was their most popular item, “the one that everyone orders” and get that.
This would be their classic smoke meat sandwich, which we coupled with a pickle on the side. Necessary, as I believe every sandwich needs a fresh factor and their tangy mustard can only do so much to round out the heavy meat to bread ratio.
The meat is sliced and the sandwich is assembled to order. An operation you can see, if seated at the bar. Although oddly, even given their tourist attraction reputation, the staff seemed apprehensive about photography. I was watched by the staff as I leaded in to get my shot. And even more so by the older gentleman who manned the cash register at the front. He was cloistered away in his own box as the money man, collecting payment after you were finished eating.
The sandwich was fully loaded with layers upon layers of tender and slightly fatty smoked meat. Tasty enough, but not necessary for my tastes. I would have liked a jus to dip into, a grainer mustard, and some mayo for zip and moisture. But I can see why everyone likes their meat and would line up just to have their sandwiches fresh.
I preferred their smoked meat over a poutine. The classic assembly of thick cut and fried potatoes topped with cheese curds and smothered with gravy, before being topped with so much smoke meat that it fell from the casserole dish on to the table. Tasty on the onset but it does grow heavy and one toned mid way. But once again, this is where the pickle came in and/or the sweet and fizzy cherry coke we had as a recommended drink. The latter too balanced out the salty bites with its cleansing sugars.
We left full and with leftovers that didn’t make it to the next day, happy to have had the hallmark experience.
3895 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, Quebec H2W 1X9, Canada