Why bother reviewing an institution that's been around since 1928, a beloved Montreal landmark and Canada's oldest deli, you may ask. Who cares what we have to say, right? Our feeling is that a guide to the city's dining scene is incomplete without mention of this smoked meat pioneer. We tried to avoid the permanent lineup outside by showing up late on a Monday night but lo and behold, it was there despite our efforts!
We once read that the key to Schwartz's smoked meat lies in the layer upon layer of congealed grease accumulated in their smoking facility over time. We suspect the floors have been subjected to the same cleaning standards, judging from the chicken carcass we spotted beneath our feet. However, we don't reckon hygiene to be on anybody's agenda here; the place is packed to the gills, with some patrons sitting on each other's laps!
The old-school, backlit menu lists deli sandwiches, various smoked/grilled meats and a few sides. Although there's choice, virtually everyone here (ourselves included) comes for that famous smoked meat with its signature blend of herbs and spices. Sitting at the counter perched on stools, with a good view of the prep area, we felt tempted to also order something making use of the grill in plain sight.
Thick cut brisket meat piled high on rye bread with yellow mustard. We ordered the meat medium, so we got some of the buttery fat that literally melts in your mouth. A solid sandwich any day, although it got a little smaller over the years.
Cooked to a perfect temperature, this large charred liver had great offal flavor without being overpowering. The sides of vinegary dill pickle and coleslaw help moisten things if it gets too foul. We feel the liver would fare better as a smaller appetizer since the taste gets monotonous.
More smoked meat, although this one was ordered lean. You get the same great aroma from the smoking and spices, but we believe no fat equals no flavor. It's just missing that rich buttery gusto that fat lends.
From our vantage point at the counter, we pretty much had a personal waiter take care of us. Our chap was friendly, chatty and efficient; we couldn't ask for more. With the relentless formation of hungry people outside, the staff's objective is to turn tables quickly, but without making one feel rushed.
What can one possibly say about a legendary establishment that was copied internationally and became subject of a musical? Despite the turmoil and closings plaguing the restaurant industry today, one thing is guaranteed: Schwartz's will keep drawing locals and tourists alike with its tried-and-true formula. As for ourselves, we just think it's a kick-ass place to get a smoked meat sandwich, plain and simple! Just keep your eyes off the floors if you're faint-hearted ;)
Price per person: $13.20
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.