Let’s talk about beef. Pastrami to be specific.
Doesn’t that look delicious? Doesn’t that look ridiculously, mouth-wateringly, delicious? You’d think I was showing you a picture from some great New York deli. Or, I suppose, I’d think that.
But this isn’t that. This?!? This isn’t even American. It’s smoked meat. It’s viande fume. It’s Canadian. It’s from Montreal. And my world is shattered.
And it’s not even a super famous place. It’s from a local chain called Dunn’s that was started in 1927 and, according to the people I talked with, it’s average. “Used to be better,” people told me (they sounded like New Yorkers where everyone says everything “used to be better”). But I’m here to tell you. It was plenty good.
Then we went to Schwartz’s. . .
The moment I sunk my teeth into that smoked meat at Schwartz’s, I had to reevaluate my entire world view. Half the reason I live in New York City is for the pastrami. But when I tasted that viande fume, I realized I was living a lie. I thought you couldn’t get pastrami like New York’s anywhere else in the world. But it turns out, Schwartz’s smoked meat is, dare I say, TASTIER than any I’ve had in New York.
The cut at Schwartz’s is almost identical to the cut at Katz Deli. It’s a thick, rough hand-cut. And they’re both piled high. Although Katz’s pastrami IS juicier than Schwartz’s, Schwartz’s spice rub just has more flavor. There’s more to it. I have to admit it: it tastes better.
Even the pickle and slaw are as good as crack.
And not only that, but there seems to be MORE places in Montreal for good smoked meat than there are places in New York City for good pastrami. I couldn’t believe it.
Right across the street, the Main:
It’s open later than Schwartz’s and, although it’s not as good, it is legit. You can see them smoking the meat right there in the restaurant and then displaying it proudly in the window.
Again, I was a happy customer.
And we treked out to what felt like an outer borough of Montreal for Snowdon Deli. The smoked meat there was a little different. And much juicier. They serve “regular” and “old fashioned” and basically it’s just the difference between corned beef and pastrami in New York. Here they are side by side:
It is so juicy it tastes as if the meat had been dipped in au jus or something before hitting the rye bread. It makes for a super delicious riff on what I’d come to expect as a classic Montreal smoked meat sandwich. And at Snowdon, the kreplach soup on the side might even have outshown the sandwich. It tasted . . . cozy. It made me feel like I was curled up inside . . . a womb.
If I were an old Jewish man (which I pretty much am in my mind and pretty much will be in actuality very soon), and I had to pick a city – New York or Montreal – to live out my twighlight years enjoying Jewish comfort food, I might just have to pick Montreal. Hey, I’m as surprised as you are. But I was clearly wowed by the delis there.
One thing I AM secure about though, is that I’ll take a New York bagel over a Montreal bagel any day of the week. That IS a debate that people are having, and I was very excited to taste a Montreal bagel for myself. So we walked through the snow to St Viateur:
But one bite and I knew I was living in the right place for bagels. I respect Montreal bagels. I appreciate that they’re hand-made and all. But they’re sweet, almost like a cake. And they’re dinky (which the people in Montreal I spoke with thought was a good thing, and I can see how you wouldn’t want a big ass bready thing for breakfast) but I prefer my big New York bagels.
I’m not saying they weren’t good. They are. But they are no Ess A Bagel.
I had to try Fairmount too in the interest of fairness. But again, I was not impressed (with anything other than the old school sign).
And neither was Melissa:
Hopefully, I missed out on some great Montreal bagel that’s less famous but more scrumptious than these places. I’ll make sure to try again next time I’m in that great city. I’ll have plenty of time when I retire there.
Eat Your Way Through NYC On A Famous Fat Dave Five Borough Eating Tour