Disclaimer: This meal was partly paid for using a gift card provided by the Boustan head office. The franchise in question was not privy to the origin of said card.
Montreal has a long history with shawarma, the ancient Levantine practice of stacking then slow cooking meat on a spinning vertical spit. One player in particular had a major role in popularizing this Middle Eastern staple here.
Of course I am referring to Boustan, the iconic Lebanese fast-food joint and its Crescent Street location, which I regularly frequented during my McGill University days just over twenty years ago. The institution was famous for its long-time owner Imad Smaidi, also known as "Mr. Boustan", and his signature beef shawarma sandwiches.
After running the independent business by himself since 1986, he eventually sold it in 2012 so he could retire. The new owners had larger aspirations; they would award over fifty franchises in Quebec in addition to cracking open the Ontario market. A short stroll away from my home in Westmount is their latest addition on Atwater Avenue, where I headed for lunch on this sunny pre-Halloween weekend.
tagged: WEEKEND LUNCH
Located at the corner of the Montreal Forum, the newcomer takes over from the bygone HSBC branch. The previous home to the Montreal Canadiens is in desperate need of reinvigoration, after seeing most of its tenants vacate over the years – who remembers the SAQ, Future Shop, Guido & Angelina, Pekarna, Burgers & Benedicts and more recently, the Tim Horton's?
Sharing the space with this Boustan is yet-another loukoumades concept named Dippity D'Oh, following the Mr. Puffs/Lokma model. Baskets of the deep-fried balls with powdered sugar – awameh for us Arabs – were being distributed for free in celebration of the recent launch. I need not tell you my kids got one each and are now Dippity groupies.
tagged: BRING THE KIDS
Accompanying the multiplication of Boustan's locations is an expansion of the offering of late. With every chain aiming to satisfy everyone, the original staples of chicken/beef shawarma sandwiches/plates and sides such as garlic potatoes, tabbouleh and falafel do not suffice anymore.
Add to those kid meals and eyebrow-raising "power bowls" and "vegan shawarma" featuring out-of-place ingredients such as blueberries and vegan protein made from soy fiber and shiitake mushrooms – you could not go less Middle Eastern if you tried to! As for me, I'm a purist and opted for some good ol' classics.
I am happy to report that Boustan's bread and butter still rules. Its iconic beef shawarma is as tasty and well seasoned as ever. Imbibed with tarator, the sandwich contrasts the meat's saltiness with pickled turnips and its juiciness with crunchy coleslaw; the works!
The wheels start to fall off from here on out. Soft potatoes, weak gravy, not much cheese to speak of… there's nothing awfully wrong here per se, but also nothing to write home about. The chicken shawarma shavings did not help that much either; they felt lost in the pile.
A classic salad served next to any Lebanese meal (fast food or not), this one was hand-chopped, fresh and crisp, but alas dry and totally lacking in vinaigrette.
Asides from the dressing, what marks fattoush is purslane and toasted pita chips. This perversion ditched both but tasted decent despite its transgressions.
After what felt like two years of walking by the Forum and seeing Boustan's "coming soon" sign, it is finally here. With its recent expansion, this banner has now eclipsed both Amir and Basha as the most visible and prominent shawarma franchise in town.
It may be cliché to say that quality suffers at the expense of growth, but today the proof was in the pudding. Mr Smaidi should be proud of what he accomplished and relieved to know that his shawarma is still tops, although the rest of the menu is a far cry from what it was. Hopefully he was able to cash in and enjoy his retirement…
Price per person: $11.08
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.